Fact check: Indiana doctor spreads false information about COVID-19 vaccines

The claim: COVID-19 vaccines don’t slow the virus’ spread

© Marta Lavandier, AP Andres Veloso, 12, gets the first dose of the Pzifer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Monday in Miami. Florida is reporting a surge of cases caused by the highly contagious delta variant.

As the delta variant floods hospitals nationwide with COVID-19 patients, a video of an Indiana school board meeting has reached millions of people on social media – and it’s filled with vaccine misinformation.

The video shows the Mount Vernon Community Schools Aug. 6 board meeting. During the public comment portion, Dr. Dan Stock, a functional medicine physician in Hamilton County, Indiana, tells the board “everything being recommended by the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the state board of health is actually contrary to all the rules of science.”

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Stock, whose website has promoted alternative treatments for conditions like cancer and autism, takes particular aim at the COVID-19 vaccines during his seven-minute diatribe.

“No vaccine prevents you from getting (an) infection,” he said. “So you cannot stop spread, you cannot make these numbers that you’ve planned on get better by doing any of the things you’re doing.”

That claim is wrong.

While no vaccine offers bulletproof protection, the coronavirus vaccines are effective in limiting the spread of COVID-19. Breakthrough infections are possible, but they make up a small portion of total coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Public health data shows the bulk of COVID-19 cases are among unvaccinated individuals.

Fact check: 6 of the most persistent misconceptions about COVID-19 vaccines

Social media platforms have removed versions of the video for violating rules against coronavirus misinformation. But as of Aug. 17, USA TODAY still found clips circulating online, and Stock’s comments have also been promoted in blog posts.

“He really sounded official, but the fact was most of what he said was just patently false,” Dr. Gabriel Bosslet, an associate professor of clinical medicine at Indiana University’s School of Medicine, told CNN on Aug. 12

USA TODAY reached out to Stock and social media users who shared his claims for comment.

COVID-19 vaccines help prevent virus’ spread

More than 50% of Americans have received the coronavirus vaccines in full. They aren’t 100% effective at preventing infection, but data from clinical trials and the vaccine rollout shows they help slow the virus’ transmission.

All three coronavirus vaccines approved for emergency use in the United States were found to be safe and effective in clinical trials involving tens of thousands of participants.

The shots from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna were found to be 95% and 94% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 cases, respectively. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, meanwhile, was found to be about 72% effective in preventing moderate to severe COVID-19 cases – a number that was lower in part because its trial was conducted while COVID-19 cases were higher in the U.S.

None of the coronavirus vaccines – or any vaccines, for that matter – are 100% effective. Breakthrough infections are possible.

Fact check: CDC didn’t say COVID-19 vaccinated are ‘superspreaders’, vaccines failing

Stock raised this point when he questioned why vaccines that are “supposedly so effective” could allow a breakout during summer “when respiratory viral syndromes don’t do that.”

But that statement ignores the fact that, among common infectious diseases, only measles is more contagious than the delta variant. Stock also asserted the vaccines themselves are the reason for the recent influx of COVID-19 cases and deaths (they’re not) and that the findings of a CDC study suggest vaccines don’t work.

That study found nearly three-quarters of people who tested positive for COVID-19 after Fourth of July celebrations in Provincetown, Massachusetts, had been fully vaccinated. The study doesn’t support Stock’s claims, though, because the cluster occurred in the county with the state’s highest vaccination rate, in an environment that was particularly conducive to the virus’ spread. Most of the infections were mild.

“Bottom line? P-town outbreak would’ve been a nightmare if no one was vaccinated,” Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, wrote in a July 30 tweet.

Breakthrough infections aren’t evidence the vaccines are useless, as Stock claims. The CDC says the vaccines “reduce the risk of people spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.”

“No vaccine needs to stop infection for it to have massive public health benefits or stop transmission,” Katelyn Jetelina, an assistant professor who studies epidemiology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, wrote in an Aug. 10 Facebook post.

Fact check: COVID-19 vaccine protects both the person vaccinated and those around them

If the vaccines had no effect on the spread of the coronavirus, it stands to reason that vaccinated people would make up a significant portion of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.. But that’s not the case.

In mid-July, more than 97% of people who had been hospitalized for COVID-19 were unvaccinated, according to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. Nearly all deaths have been among unvaccinated Americans.

The same holds true for cases. A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis shows that, in every state that reports data on breakthrough infections, unvaccinated people make up more than 94% of COVID-19 cases.

That doesn’t mean the vaccines are a get-out-of-jail-free card, though.

“The exact rates of breakthrough cases are unknown at this time because cases may be asymptomatic and, until recently, the CDC didn’t recommend that vaccinated people be tested following exposure,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said in an Aug. 2 post from the university. “For this reason, updated guidance states that vaccinated people should resume wearing a mask in indoor public areas, especially where there is high transmission of COVID-19.”

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that the coronavirus vaccines don’t slow the virus’ spread. The vaccines aren’t 100% protective against infection, but data from clinical trials and the vaccine rollout shows they help prevent the spread of the coronavirus by reducing disease. The best available evidence shows that unvaccinated people make up the majority of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S.

Our fact-check sources:

  • Indianapolis Star, Aug. 11, An Indiana doctor’s COVID comments went viral. They were also full of misinformation.
  • Media Matters for America, Aug. 10, A new Plandemic-like misinformation video has earned tens of millions of Facebook engagements via streaming platforms
  • USA TODAY, Aug. 4, The delta variant is ‘ripping through the unvaccinated’ and crowding hospitals in Florida, Texas
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed Aug. 12, COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States
  • First Draft, Aug. 11, A video of Indiana doctor Dan Stock went viral. It’s loaded with Covid-19 misinformation
  • PolitiFact, Aug. 11, No evidence that COVID-19 vaccines causing the summer surge in COVID-19 cases
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration, accessed Aug. 12, COVID-19 Vaccines
  • USA TODAY, March 27, Comparing the COVID-19 vaccines
  • USA TODAY, July 20, Those fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can be infected, but serious illness is rare: ‘Nothing in this world is 100%’
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 30, Outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 Infections, Including COVID-19 Vaccine Breakthrough Infections, Associated with Large Public Gatherings — Barnstable County, Massachusetts, July 2021
  • Dr. Ashish K. Jha, July 30, Twitter
  • Kaiser Family Foundation, accessed Aug. 12, COVID-19 Vaccine Breakthrough Cases: Data from the States
  • USA TODAY, July 31, Some COVID hot spots see increase in vaccinations; Massachusetts outbreak shows ‘vaccines are working’: Live COVID-19 updates
  • The White House, July 16, Press Briefing by White House COVID-⁠19 Response Team and Public Health Officials
  • Vox, Aug. 3, Breakthrough cases aren’t the cause of the US Covid-19 surge
  • Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Aug. 2, Delta Variant: New Data on COVID-19 Transmission by Vaccinated Individuals
  • USA TODAY, May 28, Fact check: Coronavirus variants come from mutations, not vaccines
  • PureHealth, accessed Aug. 12, About
  • The Gateway Pundit, Aug. 9, EPIC VIDEO: Dr. Dan Stock: “Everything Being Recommended by the CDC and State Board of Health Is Actually Contrary to All the Rules of Science” …UPDATE: YouTube Removes Video
  • Associated Press, June 29, Nearly all COVID deaths in US are now among unvaccinated
  • WFAA, Aug. 11, Fact-checking Dr. Stock’s COVID-19 claims at Indiana school board meeting
  • The White House, July 16, Press Briefing by White House COVID-⁠19 Response Team and Public Health Officials
  • Katelyn Jetelina, Aug. 10, Facebook
  • CNN Transcripts, Aug. 12, DON LEMON TONIGHT
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Aug. 16, Key Things to Know About COVID-19 Vaccines

Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.

Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

Twitter: Employees must be fully vaccinated before returning to the office. Ascension: The private healthcare provider headquartered in St. Louis will require all employees to be vaccinated by November. Facebook: The company announced it would be requiring all workers in the U.S. to be fully vaccinated. United Airlines: New employees will have to be fully vaccinated. DoorDash: The food delivery service announced in a blog post that corporate workers would be required to be fully vaccinated if returning to offices. The Washington Post: New and current employees will be required to be vaccinated before returning to the office. Saks Fifth Avenue: The retailer will require that all employees be vaccinated. United Airlines:  All employees in the U.S. are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by late October. Lyft: Corporate employees must be fully vaccinated before returning to the office. Netflix: Employees must be fully vaccinated before returning to the office. Google: Employees must be fully vaccinated before returning to the office. Morgan Stanley: Employees will be required to be vaccinated before returning to office. Amtrak: New employees must show proof of vaccination before start of employment and current employees will be required to be fully vaccinated. Disneyland: The Walt Disney Company – parent company to Disney World and Disneyland –  requires all salaried and non-union hourly U.S. employees to be fully vaccinated. Employees working on-site will have 60 days to get vaccinated, and new hires will need to be fully vaccinated before beginning work.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Indiana doctor spreads false information about COVID-19 vaccines

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