Dr. Rochelle Walinsky, one of the country’s top public health officials, shared encouraging news in a TV interview about the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing COVID-19 deaths. But social media posts and articles in an edited clip of the interview were taken to falsely suggest she was downplaying the severity of COVID-19.
“The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just said that more than 75% of deaths from coronavirus have occurred in people with at least four comorbidities,” said a Facebook post from Freedom Works, a conservative and libertarian advocacy group based in Washington. “Because Biden can’t shut down covid, all of this data is suddenly being shared publicly.”
Conservative news websites Western Journal and Town Hall entered, calling them an “appalling” and “appalling” admission.
As Donald Trump Jr, the son of the former president, weighed in on Twitter:
75% of “Covid Deaths” have been in people with at least 4 comorbidities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This is. This tweet.
– Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) January 10 2022
But the allegations, based on an edited clip of an interview that Walinsky gave on ABC’s Good Morning America, miss important context and greatly distort the meaning of her comments.
Walinsky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was referring to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that found that more than 75% of deaths among vaccinated individuals involve people who have at least four comorbidities, such as another disease, risk factor, or health condition. The statistic reinforces the argument that vaccines are effective against COVID-19.
Social media claims did not mention that the study was on vaccinated people, giving the misleading impression that Walinsky was saying that the total deaths attributed to COVID-19 were largely due to other cases.
The posts were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its news feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
The confusion began when ABC News initially released an abridged version of Walensky’s interview on January 7. That version, which went viral online, showed Walinsky responding to a question from White House correspondent Cecilia Vega about how the study appeared to be working to prevent severe disease.
“The massive number of deaths, more than 75%, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities,” Walinsky said. “So really, these are the people who weren’t feeling well at first.”
The clip includes Vega mentioning encouraging news about the vaccine’s effectiveness, but the edit cuts off the beginning of Walinsky’s response, making it clear that she was referring to a study of vaccinated people.
Here is the full exchange:
Vega: “I want to ask you about those encouraging headlines we’re talking about this morning, this new study showing how well vaccines are at preventing severe disease. Given that, is it time to start rethinking how we live with this virus, it’s possible that Does it still exist?”
Walinsky: “A really important study if I could only sum it up, a study of 1.2 million people vaccinated between December and October that demonstrated that severe illness occurred in about 0.015% of people who received their initial series. And death in 0.003% of those people. The sheer number Mortality, more than 75%, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities, so these are really people who are already sick. And yes, really encouraging news in the context of omicron. This means not just to get your base chain, but to get your Booster chain And yes, these results really encourage us.”
The study included just over 1.2 million people who completed the initial vaccination series — two mRNA vaccine shots — from December 2020 through October 2021. It found that serious COVID-19-related outcomes or death were rare among the group — 36 died from COVID-19. Risk factors included being over 65 or having a suppressed immune system. All people who experienced acute illness had at least one risk factor, and 28 of the people who died, or 78%, had at least four, the report said.
After misinformation began circulating over the weekend about Walinsky’s remarks, ABC News published an expanded version of the interview with a note at the end.
PolitiFact contacted the CDC but did not receive a response. ABC News declined to comment.
Websites and social media posts have claimed Walinsky said 75% of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in people with at least four comorbidities.
The allegations, based on an edited clip of a TV interview, misrepresent what she said.
She was referring to a study that included only vaccinated individuals, and said that more than 75% of deaths in that group involved individuals with multiple diseases and other conditions. She cited the statistic as evidence that vaccines were effective in preventing severe disease.
We classify this as a mistake.
This fact check was originally published by PolitiFact, part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for this fact check here and more news validations here.