July 23, 2021

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.

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.

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.

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

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Amy Sherman is a staff writer with PolitiFact based in South Florida. She was part of the team that launched PolitiFact Florida in 2010 and…
Amy Sherman

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