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Jason Asenso
By Jason Asenso July 15, 2021

Instagram post misleads on door-to-door COVID-19 vaccination efforts

If Your Time is short

  • President Joe Biden advocated for a plan to knock on the doors of unvaccinated Americans in an effort to inform them about available COVID-19 vaccines.

  • The people involved in the program are not federal employees but local community members and volunteers, a White House spokesperson said.

  • There is no evidence that “coercion” — use of force or threat to get unwilling people to comply — is being used as part of the program.

  • Following clinical trials involving tens of thousands of patients, the COVID-19 vaccines were granted emergency use authorization by the FDA and are considered safe and effective, not experimental.

With U.S. vaccination rates stalling, President Joe Biden announced a new wave of efforts to reach unvaccinated Americans, including sending people door to door to talk about the vaccine.

"Now we need to go to community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood, and oftentimes, door to door — literally knocking on doors — to get help to the remaining people protected from the virus," Biden said during a July 6 speech at the White House.

Though the White House said the push for a door-to-door vaccination campaign has been ongoing since April, Biden’s remarks sparked criticism from some such as Republican Missouri Gov. Henry McMaster, who characterized the effort as "enticing, coercing, intimidating, mandating, or pressuring" people to take the vaccine. A similar sentiment appeared on social media:

"The same people that called President Trump a ‘fascist’ are now sending federal agents door-to-door coercing people to be injected with experimental drugs," read the text in a July 10 Instagram post that we also found widely shared on Facebook.

This is misleading — and these posts were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

First, there’s no evidence that the door-to-door effort involves coercion — the use of force or threats to persuade the unwilling — to get people vaccinated. Second, the White House says the program does not involve federal employees or government members.  Third, while COVID-19 vaccines are being used in the U.S. under emergency authorization, calling them "experimental" ignores the fact that they have been fully tested in clinical trials involving tens of thousands of participants. They have been found to be safe, effective and potentially life-saving, keeping people from getting and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. We rated a similar claim calling the vaccines "experimental" Mostly False.

Door-knocking campaign is similar to other ongoing outreach efforts

Biden’s Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a press briefing that the people knocking on doors aren’t federal employees or members of the government. "They are volunteers. They are clergy. They are trusted voices in communities who are playing this role and door knocking."

The door-to-door campaigns have been organized mostly at the local level and are in the vein of other on-the-ground efforts that have been a staple of public health outreach for years. Cities like Detroit, Washington, Milwaukee and Chicago all run programs that send people door to door to help inform unvaccinated people about the COVID-19 vaccines.

There is also no evidence that these efforts involve "coercion." In Louisiana, for example, where such an effort has been underway for months, health officials say canvassers are given "motivational interviewing" training which starts an open dialogue with residents about their thoughts around COVID-19 vaccines.

"The decision to be vaccinated is a personal one, and the canvassers provide educational information," said Kevin Litten, a spokesperson for Louisiana’s Department of Health. If a resident is not interested in receiving vaccine information, "the canvasser offers materials that the resident can review on their own and then moves on to the next house," Litten said.

In North Carolina’s Mecklenburg County, health officials recently started sending out a health department vehicle staffed by medical professionals who can provide on-site vaccinations if people want them. This "doses to the door" program followed weeks of door knocking to sign people up, especially in neighborhoods with lower vaccination rates that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

"It’s not confrontational," said community organizer Robert Dawkins in an interview with WCNC in Charlotte. "It's not like you've got to get the shot, but it’s our job to dispel those rumors."

Dawkins leads Action NC, one of the organizing groups involved in that canvassing effort. He said the complication with door-to-door outreach has been follow-up, so the addition of the mobile unit is helpful. "We get people that will say ‘Yes I’ll get the shot,’ but the follow-up has always been the issue. Will they go? How can we get people to go out and go?"

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According to Psaki, the Biden administration has funded door-knocking programs like this since April, and this is just one tactic that's been used to increase vaccination rates in June.

She said the results have been measurable. "Alabama: The adult vaccination rate increased by 3.9%; 149,000 additional adults got their first dose in June," Psaki said, with the adult vaccination rate increasing by 4.4% in Florida and 3.5% in Georgia.

"In our view, this is a way to engage and empower local activists, trusted members of the community," Psaki said.

Authorized vaccines are not ‘experimental’ drugs

The term "experimental" is often used by vaccine skeptics. But, as we have reported before, the phrase is subjective and ignores the amount of research that is required before the vaccines are authorized for distribution. Researchers have been studying and working with the mRNA technology that is at work in the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech shots dating back to the 1990s. The viral vector platform used in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was approved for use for other health emergencies such as Ebola.

The mRNA vaccines, such as Pfizer’s and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines "are a new type of vaccine, but are not unknown," a spokesperson with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The mRNA vaccines work by teaching cells how to make a protein, or just a piece of a protein, which triggers the body to produce antibodies that prevent infection.

Viral vector vaccines such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 vaccine, were created in the 1970s. They use a modified, but harmless version of a different virus, called a vector, to make the body produce antibodies.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency use authorization for all three COVID-19 vaccines currently being used in the United States. The vaccines are pending full approval by the FDA, but they have been found safe and effective in preventing COVID-19.

Before they were authorized for emergency use, COVID-19 vaccines were subjected to clinical trials conducted with tens of thousands of participants to collect scientific data. After three trial phases with varying levels of complexity, the FDA determined that the known and potential benefits outweigh the known and potential risks of the vaccines.

Our ruling

An Instagram post claimed that federal agents were going door-to-door "coercing people to be injected with experimental drugs."

Door-to-door canvassing efforts to get people vaccinated have been underway at the local level for months, as part of a push to increase vaccination rates. But the people involved are not federal employees or government members, according to the White House. They have been community organizers and volunteers. Some communities have augmented the effort with on-site mobile vaccination clinics for those who want the shot.

But there is no indication that the door-to-door tactics involve coercion — the use of force or threats to compel someone to do something they are unwilling to do.

What’s more, the COVID-19 vaccines approved for emergency use in the U.S. are not "experimental drugs." They were subjected to clinical trials involving tens of thousands of people before being given emergency use authorization.

We rate this claim Mostly False.

Our Sources

Remarks by President Biden on the COVID-19 Response and the Vaccination Program, July 6, 2021

Henry McMaster, Gov McMaster to DHEC Chair Elam re Fed Door to Door, July 9, 2021

Associated Press, White House calling out critics of door-to-door vaccine push, July 9, 2021

Jen Psaki, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, July 8, 2021, July 8, 2021

Forbes, Governors Of Two Undervaccinated States Say No To Biden's Door-To-Door Vaccine Push, July 9, 2021

​​National Center for Biotechnology Information, The US Public Health Service House-to-House Canvass Survey of the Morbidity and Mortality of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, March 2021

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee infant mortality rate still high, despite years of effort, millions spent, May 7, 2011

PolitiFact, mRNA COVID-19 vaccines were tested in humans, have proven to be safe, effective, June 25, 2021

WCNC Charlotte, Door-to-door vaccination program begins in Mecklenburg County, July 12, 2021

WCNC Charlotte,​​Working to overcome vaccine hesitancy, June 1, 2021

WCNC Charlotte, Fiery debate over door-to-door vaccine programs, July 9, 2021

The Advocate, How door-to-door canvassing became the 'heartbeat' of Louisiana's COVID-19 vaccination campaign, July 11, 2021

City of Chicago, The Chicago Department of Public Health expands door-to-door canvassing in continued push to increase vaccination rates in hard-hit communities June 4, 2021

Wisconsin Public Radio, Milwaukee Launches Door-To-Door COVID-19 Vaccination Effort, July 7, 2021

Washington Post, D.C. community ambassadors go door to door encouraging coronavirus vaccinations, July 10, 2021

Associated Press, Detroit going door-to-door to promote vaccination sites, May 3, 2021

University of Maryland, Baltimore, Social Work Program Sees Record Low in Infant Deaths, June 30, 2021

New York Times, Biden Calls for Door-to-Door Vaccine Push; Experts Say More Is Needed, July 6, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,Understanding mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines, March 4, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Understanding Viral Vector COVID-19 Vaccines, April 13, 2021

U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Emergency Use Authorization for Vaccines Explained, Nov. 20, 2020

Email interview with Kristen Nordlund, spokesperson for the CDC, July 13, 2021

Email interview with Chandra Zeikel, spokesperson  for the CDC, July 13, 2021

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Instagram post misleads on door-to-door COVID-19 vaccination efforts

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