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Andy Nguyen
By Andy Nguyen August 19, 2021

Facebook post omits context about COVID outbreak aboard British naval ships

If Your Time is short

  • Breakthrough infections, where someone who is fully vaccinated gets infected, are expected with the COVID-19 vaccines and other vaccines. 
  • The vaccines are highly effective at protecting people who are infected from developing severe symptoms or becoming hospitalized.

Skeptics of the COVID-19 vaccines have often seized on reports of breakthrough infections, — when vaccinated people contract the virus — to cast doubt on the vaccines’ effectiveness.

A recent Facebook post fits that pattern. The Aug. 12 post is a screenshot of a tweet from a user named Melissa Tate, in which she claims sailors aboard a British naval ship were infected with COVID-19 despite being vaccinated.

"100 sailors isolated at sea. All vaxxed. All with COVID 7 weeks following deployment," the tweet reads.

Tate, a conservative author who has shared pandemic-related misinformation, also includes a link to a BBC News story about the COVID-19 outbreak with her tweet. 

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

Both the tweet from Tate and the BBC story are real, and the description of the incident is accurate. But they leave out important context about the situation.  

The Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth was about seven weeks into a 28-week deployment with several other ships when the navy announced 100 cases of the virus were discovered on the ship during routine testing around July 4, according to the BBC. Positive cases were also found on other ships in the fleet.

Around 3,700 crew members are part of the fleet, with about 1,600 people serving on the aircraft carrier.

None of the infected sailors developed any serious symptoms from the virus or have been hospitalized.

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"Our crew are double vaccinated, so you'll be glad to know there is no serious effects on any of the crew, and we will manage it," Ben Wallace, the United Kingdom’s defense secretary, said in a July 13 press conference, the Independent reported.

The positive cases did not affect the fleet's deployment, according to France 24. The Royal Navy implemented safety precautions such as face coverings, physical distancing and contact tracing to help curb the outbreak's spread.

Although Wallace did not say which type of vaccine sailors received, the Moderna, Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are currently authorized for use in the United Kingdom.

Studies have shown the COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at protecting people against the virus, although recent research suggests the delta variant of the virus has diminished the protection somewhat. No vaccine has been shown to be  100% effective, and breakthrough infections do occur. In those cases, studies continue to show that vaccination significantly reduces the risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death.

Recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that, of the more than 166 million people who have been fully vaccinated in the United States, there were 8,054 people — a tiny fraction of 1% — with breakthrough COVID-19 infections who were hospitalized or died. About three-quarters of them were 65 or older. Not all the hospitalizations or deaths were related to COVID.

The CDC says that because its monitoring depends in part on passive and voluntary reporting — and only 49 states and territories report their data to the CDC — the figures are likely an undercount and may not be completely representative of all breakthrough infections in the country.

Our ruling

A Facebook post reshared a tweet claiming 100 sailors aboard a British naval ship contracted COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated against the virus. 

That did happen, and such breakthrough infections are expected. The 100 sailors were among a crew of 1,600 on an aircraft carrier. None of the infected sailors developed any serious symptoms or were hospitalized; the cases were discovered during routine testing. 

We rate this claim Mostly True.

Our Sources

Facebook post, Aug. 12, 2021

Melissa Tate’s tweet, July 29, 2021

Archive.Today, Melissa Tate's tweet, Aug. 15, 2021

BBC News, "HMS Queen Elizabeth: Covid outbreak on Navy flagship," July 14, 2021

Newsweek, "Fact Check: Was Wuhan Lab Leak Theory Confirmed by House Foreign Affairs Committee," Aug. 3, 2021

Independent, "Royal Navy flotilla reports Covid outbreak with 100 cases despite all sailors being vaccinated," July 14, 2021

France 24, "Covid hits Britain's flagship after Cyprus port call," July 14, 2021

National Health Service, Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines, accessed Aug. 17, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ensuring COVID-19 Vaccines Work, accessed Aug. 17, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 Vaccine Breakthrough Case Investigation and Reporting, accessed Aug. 17, 2021

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Facebook post omits context about COVID outbreak aboard British naval ships

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