The CDC stated in late summer 2023 that Americans who had received mRNA COVID-19 vaccines were at higher risk of infection from new variants of the virus than those who were unvaccinated.
The CDC’s “Risk Assessment Summary for SARS CoV-2 Sublineage BA.2.86” stated that the new variant may be more capable of infecting vaccinated individuals than previous variants infected those who were vaccinated.
In early September 2023, a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, went viral, reaching over 5.6 million views, claiming that “CDC has stated that Americans who have received mRNA COVID vaccines are now at a higher risk of infection from new variants of the virus than those who are unvaccinated.” The same claim was later copy-pasted by multiple X accounts.
(X user @LeadingReport)
Another post published on X included a screenshot of a Slay News article with the title “CDC: Vaccinated at Higher Risk from Covid Than Unvaxxed.” The post read:
The CDC states that the ‘new variant’ “may be more capable of causing infection in people who have previously received COVID-19 vaccines”.
Does anyone honestly believe these Criminals are going to wake up one day and admit they were wrong?
Nuremberg 2. Nothing less.
The rumor emerged after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a “Risk Assessment Summary for SARS CoV-2 Sublineage BA.2.86” on Aug. 23, 2023.
The introduction of the summary explained what variants of viruses are with regard to a new one identified in several countries the previous week:
All viruses, including the virus that causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2), change over time. These viruses with changes are called “variants.” These changes can affect how contagious a virus is, how well it responds to treatment, and how severely it affects people. Last week, a new variant of SARS-CoV-2 called BA.2.86 was detected in samples from people in Denmark and Israel. At least two cases have been identified in the United States. This variant is notable because it has multiple genetic differences from previous versions of SARS-CoV-2.
It was the “Current Risk Assesment” section of the document that sparked discussion on social media (emphasis ours):
Based on what CDC knows now, existing tests used to detect and medications used to treat COVID-19 appear to be effective with this variant. BA.2.86 may be more capable of causing infection in people who have previously had COVID-19 or who have received COVID-19 vaccines. Scientists are evaluating the effectiveness of the forthcoming, updated COVID-19 vaccine. CDC’s current assessment is that this updated vaccine will be effective at reducing severe disease and hospitalization.
The sentence about the new variant being “more capable of causing infection in people who have previously had COVID-19 or who have received COVID-19 vaccines” did not compare vaccinated individuals to the unvaccinated. The summary stated that those who had previously been infected or vaccinated may be more susceptible to this variant compared to previous variants.
In another part of the document, the CDC explained that the mutations could impact the immunity derived from vaccines compared with other variants (emphasis ours):
The large number of mutations in this variant raises concerns of greater escape from existing immunity from vaccines and previous infections compared with other recent variants. For example, one analysis of mutations suggests the difference may be as large as or greater than that between BA.2 and XBB.1.5, which circulated nearly a year apart. However, virus samples are not yet broadly available for more reliable laboratory testing of antibodies, and it is too soon to know the real-world impacts on immunity. Nearly all the U.S. population has antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 from vaccination, previous infection, or both, and it is likely that these antibodies will continue to provide some protection against severe disease from this variant. This is an area of ongoing scientific investigation.
Given that the CDC had not stated that individuals who had received the COVID-19 vaccine were more susceptible to the new variant than those who had not been vaccinated, we have rated this claim as “False.”
We should add that Associated Press Fact Check debunked a similar false claim that went viral on social media in late August 2023.
In the CDC document, the agency reported that as of Aug. 23, 2023, nine BA.2.86 variant sequences had been reported globally: three in Denmark, two in South Africa, two in the U.S, one in Israel and one in the U.K.:
One of the cases in the United States is in a person detected through CDC’s Traveler-based Genomic Surveillance. The identification of these cases in multiple geographies is evidence of international transmission. Notably, the amount of genomic sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 globally has declined substantially from previous years, meaning more variants may emerge and spread undetected for longer periods of time.
In August 2023, we fact-checked a similar false rumor about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allegedly reversing course and admitting that doctors would be allowed to prescribe ivermectin for treatment of COVID-19. We found out that the FDA never had the authority to prevent doctors from prescribing FDA-approved drugs like ivermectin for off-label uses.