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No lie: COVID-19 is largely spread by unvaccinated people.
If Your Time is short
Rodgers’ claim misses some key points — the pandemic began among unvaccinated people, before vaccines were available. Furthermore, highly infectious variants such as the delta variant were first detected in unvaccinated populations.
Scientific evidence and studies show that unvaccinated people are more than five times more likely than vaccinated people to catch COVID-19, and over 10 times more likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19.
NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers kicked off quite the social media stir after he tested positive for COVID-19 Nov. 3 and then went on a sports talk show two days later to discuss it.
Rodgers began sharing some falsehoods about vaccines during an appearance on "The Pat McAfee Show" Nov. 5 — and one statement in particular had us doing the discount double fact-check.
"This idea that it’s a pandemic of the unvaccinated, it’s just a total lie," Rodgers said, mentioning that he knew of many vaccinated people who had gotten sick with the virus. "If the vaccine is so great then how come people are still getting COVID and spreading COVID and unfortunately dying from COVID?"
The 37-year-old Green Bay Packer revealed that he chose an alternative treatment against COVID-19 instead of getting vaccinated, because he has an allergy to an ingredient in the mRNA vaccines, and was hesitant about the safety of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after its use was briefly halted in April due to concern about blood clots.
Vaccinated people can get COVID-19 — but unvaccinated people are far more likely to catch and spread the virus, and are at a higher risk of being hospitalized or dying. Here’s what the evidence shows.
First, it’s important to note that the coronavirus spread widely in the spring and fall of 2020, before vaccines were widely available — in other words, the virus took root among unvaccinated people. By the time the first COVID-19 vaccine was approved and distributed for emergency use in the United States in December 2020, the total number of cases in the country had spiked higher than 17.2 million, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The delta variant began spreading quickly in the U.S. in mid-2021, at a time when vaccination rates were rising. But in a previous fact check, Dr. Daniel B. Fagbuyi, emergency room physician and former Obama administration appointee to the National Biodefense Science Board, disputed a claim that vaccinated people were the ones responsible for spreading the COVID-19 variants.
"If that were the case, based on all the other (COVID-19) cases, we wouldn’t have seen all these variants before we got the vaccines," Fagbuyi said.
The alpha, beta and gamma variants were found first in unvaccinated populations. And Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, pointed out that the delta variant was first detected in India, which was largely unvaccinated at the time.
Now that the vaccines are available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in a recent study that unvaccinated participants who had prior infection were over five times more likely to catch COVID-19 than fully vaccinated participants, and another study showed that unvaccinated people are over 10 times more likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19.
Vaccinated people can still catch COVID-19 — no vaccine is perfect — but they contract it at a much lower rate. A New York Times analysis found that a vaccinated American’s odds of getting a breakthrough case of COVID-19 is 1-in-5,000 a day. We reported in September that it could be even lower than that — according to a calculation of CDC data, the chances were about 1-in-5,000 per week, or about 1-in-35,000 per day.
Another answer to Rodgers’ question about breakthrough infections: Some vaccinated people can still be at risk of getting severe cases of COVID-19 because they have immune system deficiencies that may limit the vaccines’ effectiveness. Fewer than 3% of Americans are immunocompromised, and the CDC says that they "may not build the same level of immunity to 2-dose vaccine series compared to people who are not immunocompromised." The CDC recommends that people with moderate to severe immunodeficiency receive a third dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
Gen. Colin Powell’s recent death was one such case. Powell had been fully vaccinated with both doses of the Pfizer vaccine, but was 84 years old and had battled Parkinson’s disease and multiple myeloma. He became sick before he could receive his third dose.
We reached out to Rodgers through the Green Bay Packers, but a team spokesperson told PolitiFact that Rodgers is still on the reserve list as he recovers from COVID-19 and is not yet available to talk to the media.
Rodgers claimed that the idea that the pandemic being one of the unvaccinated is a "total lie."
The virus started and spread among unvaccinated people before vaccines were developed and rolled out, and COVID-19 variants like the delta variant were first detected among populations that were unvaccinated.
Vaccinated people can catch COVID-19, but at much lower rates than those who are unvaccinated. They are even less likely to be hospitalized or die from the virus.
Fewer than 3% of people in the U.S. have immune system deficiencies, which puts them at a higher risk of catching COVID-19. The CDC recommends that people with moderate to severe immunodeficiencies get a third dose of the vaccine to build up immunity.
We rate Rodgers’ claim False.
YouTube, Aaron Rodgers Tells Pat McAfee His Side of Vaccine Situation, Nov. 5, 2021
ESPN, Aaron Rodgers tests positive for COVID-19: Rules for unvaccinated NFL players, when Packers QB could return, more, Nov. 3, 2021
YouTube, Discount double check, Oct. 16, 2021
PolitiFact, Did U.S. pause on Johnson & Johnson vaccine help or harm vaccine confidence? Evidence is mixed, May 14, 2021
Kaiser Family Foundation, This Week in Coronavirus: December 11 to December 17, Dec. 18, 2020
PolitiFact, Evidence shows that COVID-19 variants are largely spread among unvaccinated people, Aug. 25, 2021
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New CDC Study: Vaccination Offers Higher Protection than Previous COVID-19 Infection
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), Sept. 17, 2021
The New York Times Morning Newsletter, One in 5,000, Sept. 7, 2021
PolitiFact, What are the odds of a breakthrough infection? Sept. 16, 2021
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 Vaccines for Moderately to Severely Immunocompromised People, updated Oct. 18, 2021
PolitiFact, What Gen. Colin Powell’s death tells us about COVID-19 and people who are immunocompromised, Oct. 19, 2021
Green Bay Packers, Nov. 8, 2021
Phone interview with Dr. Dan Fagbuyi, emergency room physician and former appointee by the Obama administration to the National Biodefense Science Board, Aug. 23, 2021
Email interview with Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Aug. 23, 2021
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