CLAIM: Dr. Anthony Fauci, in a recent science paper, admits that COVID-19 vaccines don’t work.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The scientific journal article doesn’t say the vaccines don’t work. The article’s authors say their paper acknowledges current vaccines for respiratory viruses don’t prevent all infections, but that they do prevent the most serious symptoms. Fauci and another coauthor said the article makes the case for exploring new approaches to make respiratory virus vaccines more effective.
THE FACTS: Social media users are claiming Fauci, who stepped down last year as chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden after leading the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, has acknowledged the COVID shot isn’t effective.
They point to an article published Jan. 11 in the scientific journal Cell Host & Microbe that’s titled: “Rethinking next-generation vaccines for coronaviruses, influenzaviruses, and other respiratory viruses.”
The article was written by Fauci and two top officials at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: Jeffery Taubenberger, deputy chief of its infectious disease lab, and David Morens, a senior advisor to the agency’s director.
Many of the social media posts include a screenshot of an article from a website known to push anti-vaccine conspiracies.
“Dr. Anthony Fauci now admits the mRNA Covid vaccines hardly work and might not be approvable,” the story headline reads.
“Sounds familiar,” quipped an Instagram user who shared the screenshot in a post that has been liked more than 1,200 times as of Friday.
But the paper’s authors argue that the social media posts twist their words.
“The article DOES NOT say these vaccines don’t work, just that they don’t work as well as we want them and need them to work,” Morens wrote in an email Friday.
In their paper, the authors acknowledge that current vaccines for the flu, COVID and other respiratory viruses aren’t effective in protecting against any and all illness over a person’s entire life, whereas vaccines for other respiratory illnesses such as measles, mumps, and rubella effectively confer lifetime immunity.
They then suggest exploring new approaches to respiratory virus vaccines. That includes, among other things, utilizing a “nasal spray or even a lung spray; trying different vaccine schedules and repeat doses; seeing if there is a way to boost the innate immune system,” according to Morens.
“The only thing new in this paper is the tying together of well known scientific and public health knowledge into a bigger picture of challenges to development of new vaccines,” he wrote. “It asks, in essence, OK, these vaccines aren’t perfect, so what are some of the things we might try to do to improve them?”
Fauci, in a separate email, stressed the COVID-19 vaccine has proven effective in preventing the severest symptoms that could lead to hospitalization and death.
“That is the life-saving aspect of the vaccine,” he wrote. “Point in question: I got infected even though I was vaccinated and boosted, but I had a very mild infection. Given my age, if I had not been vaccinated, the chances are that I might have gotten severely ill.”
Juliet Morrison, a microbiology professor at the University of California, Riverside, agreed that the social media posts are misleading.
“There is no ‘bombshell’ here,” she wrote in an email, referencing how some online are characterizing the piece. “The paper is saying that the current approach doesn’t work as well as it could, so we need to explore new approaches.”
Megan Ranney, deputy dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, added that credible scientific research backs up the paper’s premise.
“That claim is hogwash,” she wrote in an email. “The data is clear (and the paper is clear) that Covid vaccines have significantly decreased severe disease and hospitalization, and that they decrease (but do not eliminate) infection and transmission.”
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.