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Correcting this week’s misinformation: week of May 16, 2024

Is money the main motivator in vaccination?

The Claim:

Anti-vaxxers claim that a leaked Anthem Health document proves that physicians only recommend the COVID vaccine for a $250,000 bonus.

The Facts:

This program shows how well vaccines work. Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield is a for-profit insurance company, which makes money when people pay them and then don’t end up needing more expensive medical care. Anthem then pays money to make sure their customers are vaccinated because vaccines prevent severe illness in their customers, so they won’t end up needing health care services, which would cut into the company’s profits.

If vaccines caused injury, insurance companies like Anthem would be on the hook. Insurance companies would only promote an intervention like vaccines if vaccines prevented injury and death. They even offered incentives to their own associates, something that would seem an odd choice for a for-profit organization if they believed the vaccines would harm recipients.

Additionally, this is hardly a leaked document as it is on the Anthem website, along with similar incentive programs for different vaccines.

Is the government hiding thousands of vaccine injuries?

The Claim:

A journalist who believes he is vaccine-injured pressed Dr. Deborah Birx on the topic of government transparency and vaccine injuries. This interview is taken out of context and used by anti-vaxxers as part of their conspiracy theory about the dangers of vaccination.

The Facts:

What Dr. Birx actually said was that vaccines are incredibly effective (she’s right! The latest vaccine reduced the chance of getting COVID by 54%). She did say that while some people, possibly thousands, might have had a vaccine reaction, millions had Long-COVID.

An estimated 17 million people in the US currently have Long-COVID, and up to 43 million say they’ve had Long-COVID at one time. The latest studies, however, show that the COVID vaccine reduces the risk of Long-COVID after infection by up to 69%, which is great news for those who have been vaccinated.

There could be a very rare risk of Long-COVID-like symptoms after vaccination, though, but the number of people protected from COVID and Long-COVID enormously outweighs the number of people who may have had adverse events after the vaccine. It’s not even close.

Did RFK Jr prove that vaccines are all bad?

The Claim:

In an interview with a left-leaning podcaster, Presidential candidate RFK Jr. claimed that despite high vaccination rates, the U.S. had a disproportionately high COVID-19 death rate compared to countries with low vaccination rates and that vaccines are associated with serious side effects and deaths, particularly in young people, with clinical trials insufficiently sized to reflect the risks accurately.

The Facts:

In this interview, RFK Jr. makes many claims. Lets just start with the first few.

He claims that the U.S. has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, which corresponds to one of the highest death rates in the world, none of which is true. The United States is 47th on the list of the percentage of its citizens with at least one vaccine. That’s about 25% of the world’s countries more vaccinated than the US.

The US was also 14th on the list of rates of death from COVID. Many of the countries with very high vaccination rates were some of those with the lowest mortality rates, such as Qatar and Vietnam. While some of the countries with the lowest vaccination rates, like Bulgaria, have some of the highest mortality rates.

He mentions Haiti, which has both a very low vaccination rate and a low mortality rate, but he fails to mention that the average age in Haiti is 23, making it a much younger population than most countries. COVID tends to be much less deadly for those who are younger.

He also says that Pfizer claimed that the vaccine was 100% effective because during clinical trials, there were two COVID deaths in the placebo group and only one in the vaccine group, and that “two is 100% of one.” There are several problems with this statement from RFK Jr. First, his math is off, given that 2 is 200% –not 100%– of 1.

More importantly, the FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) in December 2020 was clear about the available effectiveness data, specifying that the vaccine was 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 disease. Neither in the EUA authorization nor the final authorization has it ever been claimed that the vaccine was 100% effective. A 100% effective vaccine would entirely eliminate the possibility of contracting a disease–something no vaccine claims to do.

He appears to be wildly misunderstanding or misinterpreting the research and the evidence in these points.

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