Today we begin with an investigation regarding the Covid-19 vaccine shortages. There are serious questions about an incorrect claim made by top scientists at CDC: the nation’s premiere public health institute. Critics call it misinformation. CDC chalks it up to an “honest mistake." Whatever it is, it resulted in vaccines going to some who are said to need it the least depriving others who are said to need it the most.
Like a lot of Americans, Congressman Thomas Massie already had coronavirus and wanted to know if he should still get a Covid vaccine.
Most everyone who’s had Covid-19 is considered immune. But how long immunity lasts is unknown—whether it’s after infection or vaccination.
An award-winning scientist himself, Massie quickly found that vaccine studies showed no benefit to people who’ve had coronavirus. Vaccination didn’t change their odds of getting reinfected.
The controversy began when Massie noticed the CDC was claiming the exact opposite.
CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices had just issued a high profile report authored by 15 scientists. It wrongly claimed Pfizer’s study proved the vaccine is highly effective or showed “Consistent high efficacy” for people who’d already had coronavirus—“SARS-CoV-2.”
Rep. Thomas Massie: It says the exact opposite of what the data says. They're giving people the impression that this vaccine will save your life, omr save you from suffering, even if you've already had the virus and recovered, which has not been demonstrated in either the Pfizer or the Moderna trial.
The mystery deepened when Massie contacted CDC for an explanation. Massie says he was so alarmed by the misinformation, he decided to record the calls.
On a December 16th call, CDC’s Captain Amanda Cohn seemed to agree that people who’ve had coronavirus shouldn’t rush to get vaccinated.
Dr. Cohn: People who have had disease, given that there's limited doses right now, we're, we are suggesting that those people wait.
Rep. Massie: Right.
That suggestion, to wait, hasn’t always gotten out.
NBC News Clip, Dec. 10, 2020:
Anchor Lester Holt: Should I get the vaccine if I’ve already had Covid?
Dr. John Torres: Most experts say it’s a good idea because they’re not sure how protected you are after recovering.
Our Full Measure investigation examined the database reporting illnesses after Covid vaccines. It shows numerous people are getting vaccinated— even though they’ve already had the virus.
Some experts say that’s depriving others who need the vaccine most.
CBS News Clip, January 21, 2021:
Anchor Norah O’Donnell: Health officials in many states say they don’t have enough vaccine.
CBS News reporter: It is happening across the country, promised doses not delivered.
On the call, CDC’s Dr. Cohn thanked Massie for flagging their mistaken claim that vaccines were proven to work for people who’ve had coronavirus.
Dr. Amanda Cohn: I think we read that thing so many times that when, you know, we just skipped right over it. We know we can't be perfect, we know we're gonna miss things. You will forever after be known in our office as “Eagle-Eyed Man.”
Rep. Massie: They said, “Thank you for finding the mistake. We're going to fix this.” And I thought, “Well, okay, problem solved. This is how government works.”
But it didn’t quite turn out that way.
Two days later, the same Dr. Cohn who’d promised a fix, joined other CDC doctors in repeating the false information, this time in an online session for medical professionals. They claimed studies show people who’ve had coronavirus do benefit from the vaccine.
Dr. Amanda Cohn (CDC video): “So Sara Oliver, what, should people who’ve had Covid-19 be vaccinated and should they be vaccinated now?”
Dr. Sara Oliver (CDC video): “...Data from both clinical trials suggests that people with prior infection are still likely to benefit from vaccination.”
Then, this past week, a full month after CDC promised to correct the false information, Massie found it was still on CDC’s website.
Rep. Massie: So I called them up on Tuesday, as soon as I could, to ask them why it hadn't been fixed. And it was like, I was starting all over with the same people. And instead of fixing it, they proposed repeating it and just phrasing their mistake differently.
Anstice Brand: I’m always happy to talk with you.
This call with CDC’s Washington DC Director Anstice Brand:
Rep. Massie: If there's a "they," who is refusing to fix something that is factually and provably wrong, I wanna know who “they” is. Because this is gonna result, and it's already resulting in misallocationof the vaccine
Brand: Let me check that and get back to you as soon as possible.
Massie also argued the point in a call with Dr. Sara Oliver, the CDC scientist who gave the misinformation on the web video.
Rep. Massie: Hi, this is Congressman Thomas Massie. Is this Dr. Oliver?
Dr. Sarah Oliver: Yes
Rep. Massie: There was an error and I noticed you are an author on it and I wondered if I could get your help in getting this error corrected. You can't say it's efficacious for people with prior infection. That's an absolutely untrue sentence
Dr. Oliver: Yeah, I mean, we're- we're still recommending that individuals who have prior infection receive the vaccine. Um, but we wouldn't want to put out that if you had COVID before, you shouldn't get the vaccine.
Rep. Massie: Actually, if you've had COVID before, and there's a 75-year-old person who can't get the vaccine and you're 30-years-old, you are, you should not get the vaccine because you are wasting resource. It will lead to people who- who die or have medical complications because we have a limitation of the vaccine. That's why I think it's important that that document get fixed
Dr. Oliver: Okay. I- I can, um, I can talk with MMWR, and with Dr. Cohn and see, if, if we can tweak that language a little bit
Full Measure found several other scientists equally critical of CDC’s incorrect claim. Jay Bhattacharya is a professor of medicine at Stanford University.
Sharyl : CDC has had a scientific policy guidance on its website that claims the coronavirus vaccine has proven equally safe and effective in all age groups, races, and so on— and including for those who previously had a coronavirus infection, COVID-19. Is that your understanding— Is that true?
Dr. Jay Bhattacharya: That second part is not true. People who have had previous infection, the vaccine, the evidence, the trial evidence shows that it is not effective in additionally preventing the disease. Why would it be? You're already immune. If the CDC has on its site, that it is doing the public a disservice, both to people that get vaccinated that don't really need it because they've been previously infected, and also the people who should be prioritized to vaccine, but aren't getting it because of shortages.
We asked CDC, Dr. Oliver and Dr. Cohn for interviews but they declined.
Some of the agency’s response was summed up during Congressman Massie’s final call with CDC this past week. It was with CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat.
Thomas Massie: I feel like right now, we have the tail wagging the dog, that the folks who want to do the messaging, the folks who want everybody to get the vaccine, have pressured the folks who are doing the science, i.e. reviewing the Phase III trial from Pfizer, not to correct the document—but the document is false. So the CDC can do whatever messaging they want. That's, that's the CDC's job, not my job. But they cannot propagate false and incorrect science. So that's my position. And I'm-
Dr. Schuchat: Sure.
Thomas Massie: ... really disappointed it's gone on a month without being fixed. Like, really disappointed
Dr. Schuchat: As you note correctly, there is not sufficient analysis to show that in the subset of only the people with prior infection, there's efficacy. So you're correct that that sentence is wrong and that we need to make a correction of it. I apologize for the delay. But in terms of a large scale, you know, trying to mislead people, I just give you my word that that was not the intent. So really apologize about the confusion that we apparently caused, and perhaps the, as you say, you know, people who are fairly low risk rushing to get vaccine ahead of people who are higher risk.
CDC has now issued a correction. But Massie and other scientists we asked say the new wording still wrongly implies studies show vaccines work in people who have had coronavirus.
Rep. Massie: And instead of fixing it, they proposed repeating it and just phrasing their mistake differently. So, at that point, right now I consider it a lie. I think the CDC is lying about the efficacy of the vaccine based on the Pfizer trials, for those who have already had the Coronavirus.
Sharyl (on-camera): As for how 15 scientists who could have originally signed on to a paper that so plainly misrepresented vaccine studies there is no clear answer.