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President Joe Biden interacts with members of the audience during a commercial break for a CNN town hall at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Wednesday, July 21, 2021. (AP) President Joe Biden interacts with members of the audience during a commercial break for a CNN town hall at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Wednesday, July 21, 2021. (AP)

President Joe Biden interacts with members of the audience during a commercial break for a CNN town hall at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Wednesday, July 21, 2021. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman July 22, 2021

Joe Biden exaggerates efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines

If Your Time is short

  • The CDC says that COVID-19 vaccines are effective. However, no vaccines are 100% effective at preventing illness. There will be a small percentage of fully vaccinated people who still get sick, are hospitalized, or die from COVID-19.

  • CDC data shows that as of July 12, more than 159 million people had been fully vaccinated, and there were 5,492 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among them.

President Joe Biden exaggerated when he spoke about the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine during a CNN town hall. "You're not going to get COVID if you have these vaccinations," Biden said.

It is rare for people who are fully vaccinated to contract COVID-19, but it does happen. 

News reports the week of the town hall show that a White House official and a staff member for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi both tested positive for COVID-19, although both were fully vaccinated, as did a handful of Texas Democrats who recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to prevent passage of Texas Republicans’ election bill.

 

A White House spokesperson pointed to other comments Biden made during the July 21 town hall that less sweepingly characterized vaccinations as protecting people from serious illness or death.

"This is a simple, basic proposition: If you’re vaccinated, you’re not going to be hospitalized, you’re not going to be in an ICU unit, and you’re not going to die," Biden said

That, too, is a slight exaggeration, although hospitalizations and deaths among vaccinated people are extremely rare. 

Biden was more accurate when he said vaccinated people who catch COVID-19 are "not likely to get sick. You’re probably going to be symptomless. You’re not going to be in a position where your life is in danger."

Post-vaccination COVID-19 cases occur, but they are rare

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that COVID-19 vaccines are effective. But no vaccines are 100% effective at preventing illness. "There will be a small percentage of fully vaccinated people who still get sick, are hospitalized, or die from COVID-19," the CDC said.

Millions of people across the country have been vaccinated. As of July 12, more than 159 million people had been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. With 48 states and territories reporting, there were 5,492 confirmed breakthrough cases of COVID-19 among them. Those cases included 5,189 hospitalizations and 1,063 deaths. 

That data shows that among vaccinated people, approximately 0.0033% were hospitalized and 0.00067% died, said Cindy Prins, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida.

"So those are extremely rare events," Prins said.

Featured Fact-check

However, "it’s not accurate that you won’t get COVID-19 if you’re vaccinated. We have seen enough breakthrough cases to know that for sure. And even the efficacy and effectiveness data show that the vaccines don’t prevent all cases of COVID-19," Prins said.

It’s difficult to quantify the total number of breakthrough cases. The CDC stopped collecting data on all breakthrough cases in May and is now only collecting data on vaccinated people with COVID-19 who are hospitalized or die.

A CDC spokesperson told PolitiFact in May that zeroing in on severe breakthrough cases is meant to provide vaccine researchers with more reliable data on the cases they’re most concerned about, since not all people with breakthrough infections can be identified, particularly those with asymptomatic or mild illness who do not get tested.

But even when the CDC was tracking breakthrough cases broadly, they were rare. The data that the CDC collected before May 1 show that, of 101 million people vaccinated in the U.S., 10,262 (0.01%) experienced breakthrough cases, Prins said. 

"Bottom line: You can still get COVID-19 if you’re fully vaccinated, but that’s not common, and hospitalizations and deaths from breakthrough cases are very rare," Prins said. "Being vaccinated absolutely helps to prevent COVID-19 infection, and definitely helps to prevent severe disease and death from COVID-19."

We heard similar comments from other experts including Dr. Amesh Adalja, an expert on infectious disease at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security. 

"Breakthrough infections are extremely rare, and when they are detected are often clinically insignificant and/or the result of testing asymptomatic fully vaccinated (people) against CDC guidance," Adalja said. "It is even more unlikely that you are going to develop COVID-19 symptoms severe enough to require hospitalization if you’ve been fully vaccinated."

Our ruling

Biden said, "You’re not going to get COVID if you have these vaccinations."  

Biden exaggerated. CDC data shows that fully vaccinated people have gotten COVID-19, but these cases are rare. But it’s important to note that vaccinated people are far more likely to avoid hospitalization or death.  

We rate this statement Half True.

RELATED: Fact-checking Tomi Lahren on vaccines and COVID-19 survival chances

RELATED: CDC is not manipulating its COVID-19 breakthrough data — it’s changing how it collects it

 

Our Sources

CNN, Part 1: CNN Presidential Town Hall with Joe Biden, July 21, 2021

White House, Remarks by President Biden in a CNN Town Hall with Don Lemon, July 21, 2021

AP, FACT CHECK: Biden goes too far in assurances on vaccines, July 21, 2021

CNN’s Daniel Dale, Tweet, July 22, 2021

CNN, 'I was disappointed': Dr. Wen reacts to Biden's answer on Covid-19 vaccine, July 21, 2021

AXIOS, Scoop: White House official, Pelosi aide test positive for COVID, July 20, 2021

CNN, A White House official and a senior Pelosi aide, both fully vaccinated, have tested positive for Covid-19, July 20, 2021

Texas Tribune, Sixth Texas Democrat in Washington, D.C., tests positive for COVID-19, July 20, 2021

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "COVID-19 Vaccine Breakthrough Case Investigation and Reporting," July 15, 2021

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 Breakthrough Case Investigations and Reporting, April 30, 2021

Breitbart, Fact check: Joe Biden spreads misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines at CNN town hall, July 21, 2021

Email interview, Kevin Munoz, White House spokesperson, July 22, 2021

Email interview, Cindy Prins, University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions’ assistant dean for educational affairs and a clinical associate professor of epidemiology, July 22, 2021

Email interview, Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, July 22, 2021

Email interview, William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and health policy at Vanderbilt University, July 22, 2021

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Joe Biden exaggerates efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines

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