CDC Director Concerned About ‘Breakthrough’ Cases Weeks After COVID Vaccine Rollout: Email

CDC Director Concerned About ‘Breakthrough’ Cases Weeks After COVID Vaccine Rollout: Email
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta on May 5, 2023. (Elijah Nouvelage/AFP via Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber

The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and several other top officials knew in early 2021 that vaccinated people were becoming infected with COVID-19, according to an email obtained by The Epoch Times.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told colleagues in the Jan. 30, 2021, missive that she had spoken with Dr. Francis Collins that morning “and one of the issues we discussed was that of vaccine breakthroughs.”

“Breakthrough” refers to vaccinated people becoming infected.

“This is clearly and [sic] important area of study and was specifically called out this week here,” Walensky said, providing a link to an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In the editorial, immunologist John Moore and vaccine inventor Dr. Paul Offit said there was a “growing threat” of COVID-19 variants emerging that would “escape” the protection bestowed by COVID-19 vaccines, which had been authorized in December 2020.

Early testing found that antibodies conferred by Moderna’s vaccine were less active against one of the new variants that had emerged, they noted.

Moore and Offit called for testing of vaccinated people who were hospitalized with COVID-19, the creation of a national sequencing program to quickly identify new variants and the development of a repository of samples taken from vaccinated people.

Walensky said she had discussed the matter a few weeks prior with Dr. Nancy Messonnier, another top CDC official.

“I understand that [redacted],” Walensky wrote to Messonnier and three other CDC employees.

“Should we discuss? What is the best next step forward?”

Collins, at the time the director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, was discussing the matter with Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the chief architects of the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Walensky.

The email was included in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. Requests for records from roughly the same time seeking what top U.S. officials were saying about breakthrough cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are pending.

Walensky didn’t respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment that also asked for an unredacted version of the email. Collins didn’t return an inquiry. Fauci couldn’t be reached. The CDC stated that it was looking into when it first became aware of breakthrough cases.

An email from Dr. Rochelle Walensky. (The Epoch Times)
An email from Dr. Rochelle Walensky. (The Epoch Times)

Later Statements

A few months after the email, Walensky went on MSNBC and claimed that data from the CDC and clinical trials “suggests that vaccinated people do not carry the virus” and “don’t get sick.”
The CDC has been unable to provide citations supporting the claim. No vaccine is 100 percent effective, experts have told The Epoch Times. There were infections in both the Pfizer and Moderna clinical trials among the vaccinated, although the efficacy of the shots against symptomatic infection from seven days after dose two was estimated to be north of 90 percent.
There were also severe cases in the trials among the vaccinated, including some not counted by Pfizer.

The trials weren’t designed to measure efficacy against transmission and didn’t provide evidence of such efficacy, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“The paper that Walensky discussed with Francis Collins explicitly worried about the possibility of ‘breakthrough’ infections caused by variants. It even addressed a variant circulating outside the U.S. that the authors could not say was causing breakthrough cases in January 2021,” Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a professor of health policy at Stanford University, told The Epoch Times in an email.

“Given that uncertainty, the CDC director should never have endorsed the idea that the COVID vaccines could be used to stop COVID disease spread without definitive proof that they did—proof that she never had. And she should never have endorsed vaccine mandates for a non-sterilizing vaccine.”

Fauci and other top officials had, in 2020 before the email, backed harsh measures during the Trump administration to try to curb the spread of COVID-19, including the forced closure of businesses and schools.

Bhattacharya co-authored the Great Barrington Declaration, which called for the United States to largely rescind restrictions on healthy people and focus on protecting vulnerable populations. Walensky, then not yet the CDC director, co-signed a competing declaration called the John Snow Memorandum that stated that there was no evidence of sustained post-infection immunity and called for keeping the current strategies in place.

Fauci and Walensky were also among the officials who supported vaccine mandates that were imposed by President Joe Biden’s administration in the fall of 2021. And Fauci that year claimed on CBS that people who received a vaccine would “become a dead end to the virus.”

“When there are a lot of dead ends around, the virus is not going to go anywhere,” he said at the time.

Daniel Halperin, an adjunct professor at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told The Epoch Times that the newly revealed email confirms that top officials knew about the prospect of breakthrough cases becoming more prevalent.

“It further calls into question why officials claimed that people who get vaccinated not only are protecting themselves but are also virtually immune from getting infected or transmitting the virus to others,” Halperin said in an email.

Rep. Rich McCormick (R-Ga.), a doctor, told The Epoch Times via email that the officials were “deliberately misrepresenting what they knew to the American people,” noting that he would “continue to fight for transparency and accountability so that the mistakes and abuses of the last three years are never allowed to happen again.”

Both Fauci and Walensky later became infected with COVID-19 despite being vaccinated. The government said the officials experienced mild symptoms. Both took Pfizer’s Paxlovid pill for treatment and eventually recovered.

Walensky has, in recent months, claimed that her statements in early 2021 were correct. Asked for citations for the claim, Walensky’s press secretary, Jason McDonald, provided four studies, including two published by the CDC’s quasi-journal. None found 100 percent protection against symptomatic infection or transmission. Walensky has acknowledged that vaccinated people, as newer variants emerged, could transmit COVID-19 and experience symptoms.
Dr. Anthony Fauci in Washington on Dec. 9, 2022. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)
Dr. Anthony Fauci in Washington on Dec. 9, 2022. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

CDC Information on Breakthrough Metrics

Walensky and Fauci did talk about breakthrough cases about two weeks after the email.
They said on Feb. 17, 2021, that early data indicated that new variants were more transmissible and said their agencies were working with state and local officials to investigate breakthrough cases.

“Investigations of vaccine effectiveness, individual breakthrough infections, and the ability of postvaccination serum to neutralize novel variant viruses are important components of monitoring the effectiveness of vaccination in controlling COVID-19 in an arena of evolving viral variants,” they wrote in an article in the same journal the Offit and Moore piece was published.

In a forum on the same day, Walensky acknowledged that the trials didn’t show 100 percent effectiveness.

“As we start seeing these cases of and surveillance of vaccine breakthroughs, is it because it was one of the 5 percent that we expected would happen if we only have a 95 percent efficacy? Or is it because the breakthroughs that are happening are because of some more—because of a variant that is out there, that has the capacity to evade the vaccine?” she wondered.

Some states reported breakthrough cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in early 2021. The CDC didn’t start providing them until April 15, 2021. The agency stated at the time that 5,814 people who had received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, still tested positive. Nearly 400 of them were hospitalized and 74 died.

The numbers later climbed, although vaccine proponents said they provided proof of the effectiveness of the vaccines because they were such a small percentage of the vaccinated.

The metrics typically were only counted from 14 days after the final dose of a primary series. Trial data and observational data have shown that the vaccines don’t work well in the initial days after administration. And people who became infected but not tested weren’t counted.

The CDC changed its definition of “vaccine” in 2021 after people noted the COVID-19 vaccines were increasingly not protective against infection.
The effectiveness against both infection and severe illness has dropped considerably as newer variants have emerged, with waning recorded during the Delta variant era. Since Omicron emerged in late 2021, there have been signs that the vaccines make people more susceptible to illness.
The CDC currently recommends all unvaccinated people get at least one dose of the unproven bivalent vaccines and that some vaccinated people get an additional shot.
Zachary Stieber is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times based in Maryland. He covers U.S. and world news. Contact Zachary at [email protected]
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