Florida Governor Ron DeSantis got a ridiculous fact check from the local NBC station in Orlando following comments he made on Friday. During a press conference in Lakeland, Fla., DeSantis blasted messaging for the COVID-19 vaccine:
The messaging on this has been horrific. The message should be “get a vaccine because it’s good for you to do it. It works, you’re not going to have to be doing anything like, abnormally. You can live your life.” I mean that has got to be what the message is.
Unfortunately, I think the message has been very muddled. When you tell people, “oh yeah, yeah, this important. Go get the vaccine,” but then you’ve still got to social distance, you can’t do this, you can’t do that, you can’t eat in a restaurant. Some of the people are still saying that kind of stuff.
I think it’s a huge, huge blunder to be able to do it. The challenge for us is going to be we’re going to have vaccine available you’re not going to able probably to fill up the appointments. And I think that’s going to be consistent throughout the country.
My view is if you get a vaccine, vaccines are effective, you’re immune, so act immune. If you tell people the opposite, then gee, you know why if it’s not effective for them and it’s not going to change anything, then what’s the point of going through it?
The response of WESH Channel 2 in Orlando rebuked the governor in no uncertain terms:
Let’s get the facts: That statement is false, because it has no basis in medical research.
It’s also misleading because it gives the public a false sense of security.
“It’s really premature to be pulling back too much,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Fauci said no vaccine is 100% effective at guarding against the virus, and even if that was the case, people who have been inoculated can still spread it to those who have not gotten a shot.
I guess the staff at Channel 2 missed a couple of pieces of news that support DeSantis’s position. In one study published by the CDC in late March, researchers tracked 4,000 individuals for 13 weeks with weekly COVID-19 tests. Of the 2,479 fully vaccinated participants, only three tested positive using a nasal swab test, while eight of the 447 with a single dose did. Of the 994 unvaccinated individuals, 161 tested positive for COVID-19.
This finding prompted CDC Director Rochelle Walensky to say on March 29 in an interview with Rachel Maddow: “Our data from the CDC today suggests that vaccinated people do not carry the virus, don’t get sick, and that it’s not just in the clinical trials but it’s also in real-world data.”
Scientists pushed back, and the CDC walked back Walensky’s comments, as they generally do when she dares to give encouraging news. An agency spokesperson told The New York Times:
Dr. Walensky spoke broadly during this interview. It’s possible that some people who are fully vaccinated could get Covid-19. The evidence isn’t clear whether they can spread the virus to others. We are continuing to evaluate the evidence.
As Fortune pointed out, the study did support Walensky’s statement.
Participants in the study who were fully vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines were 90% less likely to be infected with SARS-CoV-2. Of infections that did occur, only 10.7 percent were asymptomatic. Taken together, this means vaccinated people are highly unlikely to transmit the virus when they are not suffering symptoms. This also means that as vaccination rates continue to rise, the virus will have fewer and fewer possible hosts.
No vaccine is 100% effective, and no one expects that it will be. No one became severely ill or died in the vaccinated group studied, and most of the 11 people who tested positive had symptoms. Because of how the nasal swab PCR tests work, in the absence of symptoms, it is impossible to know if the virus detected in the asymptomatic individuals was capable of replicating.
To transmit a virus, an individual must be carrying a sufficient load, and the viruses must be capable of replicating. A normal immune response will leave viral debris in a recovered patient’s nose that the PCR test can detect. This debris is why the CDC does not recommend retesting for at least 90 days post-COVID-19. They cite research that demonstrated that individuals could test positive and not transmit the virus:
Recovered patients can continue to have SARS-CoV-2 RNA detected in their upper respiratory specimens for up to 12 weeks after symptom onset. (31,33,34) Investigation of 285 “persistently positive” adults, which included 126 adults who had developed recurrent symptoms, found no secondary infections among 790 contacts to these case patients. Efforts to isolate replication-competent virus from 108 of these 285 case patients were unsuccessful. (31)
These findings support the conclusion of a study in Wuhan, China, that tested 10 million residents for COVID-19. Researchers identified 300 asymptomatic individuals. None of their 1,174 close contacts tested positive.
As Dr. Fauci noted last July, if the cycle threshold (Ct) of the PCR is 35 or greater when it detects the genetic material, the ability to replicate is not likely. Some tests in the U.S. have a Ct as high as 40. In January, the WHO issued guidance that these tests are one data point in a clinical picture. A positive test alone is not diagnostic for COVID-19:
Most PCR assays are indicated as an aid for diagnosis, therefore, health care providers must consider any result in combination with timing of sampling, specimen type, assay specifics, clinical observations, patient history, confirmed status of any contacts, and epidemiological information.
The CDC released data earlier this week that demonstrated near-zero rates of infection with COVID-19 post-vaccination. Out of an estimated 77 million fully vaccinated Americans, 5,800 tested positive more than 14 days post-vaccine. Of the number, 29% were asymptomatic, so the same question about their positive tests should apply.
This data taken together supports DeSantis’s assertion that the vast majority of vaccinated individuals can have confidence in the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines. It also shows that the idea of entirely asymptomatic individuals having the ability to transmit COVID-19 should receive some skepticism. “Even if there’s a rare asymptomatic person that might transmit, an epidemic is not driven by asymptomatic carriers,” Fauci himself said on Jan. 28.
Nothing in life will be 100% risk-free, and no medical treatment is 100% effective. However, taking all the data together, the risk of becoming severely ill with COVID-19 post-vaccination or being able to transmit sufficient replication-competent virus to someone else is exceptionally low. Dr. Fauci, the public health bureaucracy, and the media want us to believe vaccinated, recovered, and healthy individuals must mask and socially distance. For this to be true, someone needs to explain what is different about COVID-19 than every other respiratory virus in history. Or just concede that DeSantis is sending the correct message.