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Jeff Cercone
By Jeff Cercone March 7, 2022

Dr. Rochelle Walensky referenced CNN report from 2020, before she joined CDC

If Your Time is short

  • In November 2020, CNN reported that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 95% effective at preventing COVID-19.

  • At that time in 2020, Dr. Rochelle Walensky was a professor at Harvard Medical School and head of the infectious diseases division at Massachusetts General Hospital. In a March 3, 2022 interview, Walensky referenced the CNN report she heard in 2020, before she became CDC director.

It would be troubling if the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relied on the media for updates on the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s what one social media post alleged after a recent interview of CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

A March 5 Facebook post read, "It’s always a good look when the medical director of the nation’s largest infectious disease organization that has 2,000 employees dedicated to managing (COVID-19) says she gets reports from CNN!" The post linked to a YouTube video, that again makes the claim.

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.)

The interview the post refers to took place March 3 in St. Louis at the Washington University School of Medicine, Walensky’s alma mater.

"I can tell you where I was when the CNN feed came that it was 95% effective, the vaccine," Walensky said, responding to a question about what public health officials could have done better during the pandemic. "So many of us wanted to be helpful. So many of us wanted to say, ‘OK, this is our ticket out, right?’ ‘Now we’re done.’ So I think we had perhaps too little caution and too much optimism for some good things that came our way."

Featured Fact-check

Walensky’s press secretary, Jason McDonald, confirmed to PolitiFact that she was referring to the initial news from Pfizer and BioNTech that studies showed their COVID-19 vaccine to be 95% effective, which the companies announced to the world on Nov. 18, 2020.

On that date, Walensky was not working for the CDC, so it makes sense that she heard the news about the vaccine from CNN or other news outlets, just like the rest of us.

Walensky served as chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and as a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School when then-President-elect Joe Biden nominated her to lead the CDC. She officially started the director job on Jan. 20, 2021. 

Our ruling

A Facebook post alleges that the CDC director said she gets her updates about COVID-19 from CNN.

The claim is misleading because Walensky was referring to the initial news that Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine proved 95% effective after a phase 3 study. That news came on Nov. 18, 2020, two months before she started the CDC job.

Now, as CDC director, she has access to information from those who report to her. We rate claims that say otherwise False.

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More by Jeff Cercone

Dr. Rochelle Walensky referenced CNN report from 2020, before she joined CDC

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