Officials across the United States are continuing to spread misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines, The Epoch Times has found.
The claims include unsupported or misleading statements about vaccine effectiveness and safety.
The vast majority of the officials responsible for the misinformation were unable or unwilling to provide evidence backing their claims.
The Louisiana Department of Health is among those exaggerating vaccine effectiveness. The agency claims in a promotional message that the vaccines "are 100% effective at preventing serious hospitalizations and deaths."
The message doesn't cite any evidence, and the department didn't respond to a request for comment.
The Louisiana Health Department's statement is one of many that rely on data from 2021, before the Omicron coronavirus variant emerged, or even 2020. That data has little connection with the present state of the COVID-19 pandemic.
South Dakota's health department stated that "nearly everyone in the United States who is getting severely ill, needing hospitalization, and dying from COVID-19 is unvaccinated."
South Dakota officials didn't return an inquiry.
Such statements are "directly related" to the drop in public confidence in health authorities during the pandemic, Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a professor of medicine at Stanford University, told The Epoch Times after reviewing a sample of the claims.
"The public understands when they're being manipulated," he said.
Hyping Vaccines for ChildrenMany state health agencies are offering falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccine safety and effectiveness or downplaying negative information about the vaccines—a continuation of a trend that dates back to when the vaccines became available in late 2020.
One theme emerged over the summer: hyping vaccine effectiveness for young children after U.S. authorities authorized and recommended the Pfizer and Moderna shots for children aged 6 months to 5 years.
“We welcome having COVID-19 vaccines to help protect our youngest Marylanders against severe illness, hospitalization, or even death from this virus and strongly encourage parents to vaccinate their children,” Maryland Health Secretary Dennis Schrader said in a statement.
"Clinical trials proved that the pediatric vaccine is an effective way to prevent COVID infection and serious illness in young children," the Massachusetts Department of Public Health website reads.
But the clinical trials for the age group weren't able to measure efficacy against severe illness, which has been acknowledged by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"The clinical trials weren't powered to detect efficacy against severe disease in this young population," Dr. Sara Oliver, a CDC medical officer, told a meeting over the summer.
Saying the vaccines protect young children against severe disease "is a leap of faith," Dr. David McCune, a hematology and oncology doctor in Washington state, told The Epoch Times.
"It's not supported by the research," he said.
False Statements on New BoostersThe Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently authorized updated booster shots from Moderna and Pfizer. The CDC then recommended them for virtually all Americans aged 12 and older and later enabled children aged 5 to 11 to get one of the new vaccines.
Clinical trials for the bivalent boosters, which contain spike protein components targeting the original COVID-19 strain and the BA.4/BA.4 Omicron subvariants, weren't done—and haven't been completed—on any group of humans as of yet.
The testing on that bivalent, done in adults 18 and older (Moderna) and adults 55 and older (Pfizer), shows that the updated boosters triggered higher levels of antibodies than the old boosters. But the trials didn't provide any efficacy estimates for protection against infection or severe illness.
The dearth of data didn't stop states from promoting the vaccines as tools that would definitely work.
“Adding a component to the boosters that specifically targets the subvariants currently circulating will help restore protection against COVID-19 infections, including hospitalizations, that has decreased over time,” Dr. Dean Sidelinger, Oregon's state epidemiologist, said in a statement.
"The updated bivalent COVID-19 booster, along with the flu vaccine, give parents two powerful tools to protect their children from severe illness and hospitalization," said Sameer Vohra, Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Minimizing Side EffectsMany states emphasize how most side effects are mild. That's true, according to data from the CDC and studies, but a number of states fail to mention serious side effects—such as heart inflammation—that have been linked to the vaccines.
New York, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina, for instance, didn't mention myocarditis, a form of heart inflammation, or thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS), a severe blood clotting issue.
Most of the states that did mention myocarditis promoted the idea that the incidence of myocarditis is higher after COVID-19 infection than after COVID-19 vaccination.
"Myocarditis and pericarditis are much more common if you get sick with COVID-19," the Washington state Department of Health website states.
"The risk of developing myocarditis after a COVID-19 infection is much higher than the risk of developing myocarditis after the vaccine," the Alabama Department of Public Health said in a statement over the summer.
But more papers show a higher rate of myocarditis after vaccination in high-risk groups, especially young men, including one provided by authorities in Alabama.
After that was pointed out, Alabama officials stopped responding.
Outdated InformationA number of states still cite data from 2021 or even 2020, even though more than half a dozen new variants have emerged since COVID-19 first appeared.
"FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines protect against Delta and other known variants," the Oklahoma State Department of Health website states.
The Delta variant stopped circulating in the United States in 2021.
Oklahoma also stated that so-called breakthrough cases, or post-vaccination infections, "happen in only a small percentage of vaccinated people."
That hasn't been true since Omicron displaced Delta in late 2021.
Heavy Reliance on the CDCNearly all of the state health agencies rely heavily on the CDC and other federal agencies.
States that did provide evidence to back claims mostly cited CDC studies and documents.
"By the time a report appears in MMWR, it reflects, or is consistent with, CDC policy," the CDC said in one overview of the publication.
Dr. Todd Porter, a pediatrician in Illinois, said the effort to get virtually all children vaccinated against COVID-19, despite the small amount of efficacy and safety data, is contributing to parents hesitating over other vaccines.
Steps ForwardRegaining people's trust is key to moving forward and involves acknowledging information that was conveyed isn't correct, experts say.
"When a public health authority or federal official says something that's incorrect, it has a responsibility to correct it. And when it doesn't, when it just lets the matter lie, people continue to distrust them even more," Bhattacharya said.
"I think it would go a long way if our nation’s public health institutions could demonstrate humility and acknowledge that in the panic of the pandemic they got it wrong where it comes to children," Porter said.
The urge to get people vaccinated has led to some of the false and misleading claims, according to McCune, who saw the same pattern repeated during the rollout of the new boosters.
"You could have started with the bivalent booster and said, 'This is what we know. We know some things about antibody levels from basic science studies that were done in animal models and from similar vaccines that were given to humans that we have a reason to believe these antibodies are going to improve,'" he said. "And then to say, 'The reason we were approving this is we think that this has overall been a safe program, and we don't anticipate there'll be future problems. We're making a leap here to try and get ahead of it, even though there's some uncertainty.' That's an honest statement, but it's not a very salesy statement."
McCune foresees it taking years to rebuild trust in public health and believes that it will require changes at both the CDC and FDA.