November 29, 2021

On Nov. 19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration expanded eligibility for COVID-19 booster shots to all adults.

The plan to offer a third dose of the vaccine to all adults was openly discussed in the months leading up to the official announcement. But some are taking Dr. Anthony Fauci’s recent statements about boosters to suggest that the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said the COVID-19 vaccines aren’t working.

“Fauci Admits Covid Vax Doesn’t Work,” reads the headline on a video circulating on Facebook. The video shows a clip from Infowars creator Alex Jones’ Nov. 14 show in which Jones cuts to audio from a Nov. 12 interview Fauci gave to The Daily, a popular podcast from The New York Times.

In it, Fauci can be heard saying the following:

We’re starting to see waning immunity against infection and waning immunity in the beginning aspect against hospitalization. And if you look at Israel — which has always been a month to a month-and-a-half ahead of us in the dynamics of the outbreak, in their vaccine response and in every other element of the outbreak — they are seeing a waning of immunity, not only against infection, but against hospitalizations and, to some extent, death, which is starting now to involve all age groups — it isn’t just the elderly. So, if one looks back at this, one can say, you know, it isn’t as if a booster is a bonus, but a booster is an essential part of the primary regimen that people should have.

But Fauci did not “slip in” any admission of the vaccines not working during the interview with The Daily host Michael Barbaro, as Jones asserts.

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Jones cherry-picked from Fauci’s comments and distorted what Fauci said. In reality, Fauci was promoting boosters — along with a continued push to get the unvaccinated immunized — as a means to prevent continued surges in infection like the ones experienced as a result of the delta variant.

“I think it would be a misrepresentation to say that the vaccines don’t work,” Fauci told Barbaro later in the podcast. “I don’t think we’ve given that the full rein to prove what it is that you need to make them work. And that’s the reason why I say, again, it’s my scientific opinion and projection that boosters will be an essential part of the protection.”

Infowars has spread other vaccine misinformation. And Jones was recently found liable for defamation against the families of victims from the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which Jones has portrayed as a hoax. We reached out to Jones through Infowars but did not hear back before publication.

Boosters don’t mean vaccines aren’t working

Vaccines provide both short- and long-term protection against disease. The initial surge of antibodies experienced immediately after vaccination wanes naturally over time. But certain immune cells, like memory B cells, remain circulating for much longer and mount a more rapid response when they encounter the virus.

The fact that a booster is needed does not mean that vaccines aren’t working. Booster shots are a standard approach used to help the body achieve longer-lasting immunity. A booster for the tetanus vaccine, for example, is recommended every 10 years.

Waning numbers of antibodies, moreover, doesn’t mean that their protective effects have completely disappeared. “Overall, antibody levels are decreasing, but their ability to protect against infection isn’t,” said Ted Ross, director of the University of Georgia’s Center for Vaccines and Immunology, in a press release. “The quality is still there even if the total quantity has gone down.”

Asked by Barbaro about the current state of the pandemic in the U.S., Fauci stated that it’s “a mixed bag leaning towards the positive.” Vaccine implementation has been going well, he said, but the situation is also “sobering” because while cases have plateaued, over 70,000 new cases a day is a high baseline for a potential resurgence. With over 60 million people yet unvaccinated and vulnerable to infection from circulating variants, this puts even vaccinated people at risk.

In the interview excerpted by Jones, Fauci mentioned the waning immunity observed in Israel, a country that has been seen as a bellwether for the pandemic because of its earlier COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Given this observed decrease in protection, Fauci called boosters a necessary step to ensure lasting protection. An Oct. 23 study conducted in Israel found that a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines reduced COVID-19-related hospitalization by 93%, COVID-19-related death by 81% and severe COVID-19 infections by 92%, compared with only two doses.

“A booster might actually be an essential part of the primary regimen that people should have,” Fauci said.

Our ruling

Jones claimed in a video that “Fauci Admits Covid Vax Doesn’t Work.” Fauci’s statements, however, were cherry-picked and removed from their full context. Fauci said that booster shots bolster the protections offered by vaccines. He did not say they are a sign that vaccines are failing.

We rate this statement False.

This fact check was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for this fact check here and more of their fact checks here.

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Vivian Lam is a contributing writer for PolitiFact based in San Francisco. They currently serve as the assistant health and biomedicine editor at The Conversation…
Vivian Lam

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