People who were vaccinated against COVID-19 did not get sick or transmit the virus in early 2021, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claimed on June 13.
“That was true for the alpha variant at the time,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on Capitol Hill in Washington.
“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,” Walensky said at the time.
Data from the clinical trials for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines estimated they were about 95 percent effective against symptomatic infection but did not measure efficacy against transmission.
But the CDC has been unable to provide any evidence showing the vaccines prevented transmission or infection.
The agency reported several weeks after Walensky’s remarks that some 5,800 people who were vaccinated had become infected, with 74 dying.
Pressed on the discrepancy between the data and her statement, Walensky said Tuesday that her claim was “generally accurate.”
Walensky told a Senate panel on May 19, 2021, that people who were vaccinated could get infected but that even if that happened, the people “can’t give it to anyone else.”
Walensky said Tuesday the claim was “generally true.”
“I couldn’t tell you the exact data on the vaccine effectiveness on symptomatic disease and severe disease at the time,” she added. “What I can tell you is that we generally saw that if you were to get infected after you had been vaccinated, that you were not carrying the virus by transmitting it to somebody else. You could not transmit it to others.”
“But we know that’s not accurate,” Rep. Jim Jordan said.
“It was at the time,” Walensky said.
“Why not just be accurate? Why not tell the American people the truth?” Jordan wondered.
A spokesperson, for instance, told the New York Times just days after Walensky said vaccinated people couldn’t get sick or transmit the virus that the CDC was still researching the matter. And when the statement was made in May, the CDC website said vaccines reduced the risk of transmission, as opposed to preventing transmission.
Walensky said Tuesday she was speaking “in generalities.”
Jordan said he saw a connection between the White House minimizing Walensky’s opinion and her false statements.
During a White House briefing in February 2021, Walensky said that schools could be reopened even without teachers being vaccinated.
Then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the following day that Walensky “spoke to this in her personal capacity.”
“What happened is you said I’m going to be honest. The Biden administration hung you out to dry ... and then a month later, ‘I better not be totally honest with the American people, so I’m going to say vaccinated people do not carry the virus and they don’t get sick. and everyone understands like ’wow, I know someone whose been vaccinated and they got sick afterwards,'” Jordan said.
Walensky said that she was speaking in her professional capacity whenever she attended press conferences or appeared in front of Congress after she became CDC director in January 2021.
When asked why Psaki made that remark, “you'd have to ask the White House,” Walensky said.
Final HearingWalensky, 54, is set to step down before the end of the month. The hearing was likely her final appearance before Congress.
Walensky said her goal as the CDC’s leader has been to convey facts to people on vaccine effectiveness and other matters to end the pandemic, and encouraged parents to take their children to get all of the vaccines recommended by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, including the COVID-19 vaccine.
The doctor said that the CDC conveyed updated information as the scientific data evolved.
Walensky earned praise from many of the Democrat members of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic.
“Her steadfast leadership mobilized the most successful vaccination campaign in our nation’s history, leading to more than 600 million shots in arms,” Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) said.
Republicans mostly pressed Walensky on her prior statements, and several said the CDC’s actions have contributed to what polling suggests is a decline in trust in the agency.
“I think it’s safe to say that your resignation later this month is going to be an important step in returning America’s trust in an organization that you did great damage to, in my opinion, during your tenure,” Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas) said.