White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during the daily press briefing in the White House in Washington, DC on September 29, 2021 ( AFP / Brendan Smialowski)

White House press secretary's Covid-19 case triggers vaccine misinformation

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Social media posts claim that because White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was fully vaccinated when she tested positive for Covid-19, shots against the disease do not work. But US health authorities say that while the vaccines are effective at preventing serious illness and death, breakthrough cases among some individuals who have received the shots will still occur.

"Jen Psaki has Covid... how is she gonna stand up there and tell people to get vaccinated when she is living proof that the vaccine is ineffective?" says a November 1, 2021 tweet.

Screenshot of a tweet taken on November 1, 2021

A Facebook post shared the day before said: "And once more proof the UNTESTED, UNAUTHORIZED, FUTILE, INEFFECTIVE, INADEQUATE & EXPERIMENTAL CVD-19 vaccine and/or vaccination jab/injection is ineffective and useless," including a link with the news about Psaki's health.

More examples of the claim about Psaki appeared on Facebook here and on Twitter here and here.

The posts are the latest example of high-profile vaccine breakthrough infections igniting false claims about Covid-19 shots.

Former US secretary of state Colin Powell's death in October from complications caused by Covid-19 sparked a wave of misinformation, even though the retired four-star general had a type of cancer that experts said undermines the efficacy of the shots, and data shows his age left him especially vulnerable.

After deciding not to travel to Europe with US President Joe Biden because members of her household tested positive for Covid-19, the White House spokeswoman posted a statement on Twitter on October 31 announcing that she too had the disease.

"While I have not had close contact in person with the President or senior members of the White House staff since Wednesday -- and tested negative for four days after that last contact -- I am disclosing today's positive test out of an abundance of transparency," the statement said.

Biden tested negative on November 1.

Vaccine efficacy

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website emphasizes that Covid-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and notes that "some people, who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, will still get sick because no vaccine is 100% effective -- these are called breakthrough cases."

The CDC "closely monitors" data about vaccine safety and effectiveness, which shows that "Covid-19 vaccines are effective at preventing infection, serious illness, and death," and that "most people who get Covid-19 are unvaccinated."

The risk of infection, hospitalization and death are all much lower for vaccinated individuals, meaning the vaccines are doing their job, the agency's website says.

Psaki said that her illness has not been severe, crediting the shots: "Thanks to the vaccine, I have only experienced mild symptoms which has enabled me to continue working from home."

The Comirnaty/Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Janssen vaccines have been authorized for emergency use or approved in the US by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), after a group of doctors thoroughly analyzed "safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality data" submitted by the vaccine manufacturers.

"In evaluating requests for emergency use authorization for Covid-19 vaccines, the FDA determined that the available data provided clear evidence that the known and potential benefits outweigh the known and potential risks of each vaccine," the agency said.

The shots work, and "when you get a Covid-19 vaccine, you are choosing to protect yourself and make a difference for your children, parents, grandparents, and other loved ones," the FDA's website says.

AFP Fact Check has debunked other inaccurate claims about vaccines here.

COVID-19 VACCINES