Conservative Woman article falsely claims vaccines don’t work

18 August 2021
What was claimed

The Covid-19 virus is not spread asymptomatically. Only sick people give it to other people.

Our verdict

False. The virus can be spread by asymptomatic and presymptomatic people.

What was claimed

We should never do any testing of asymptomatic people. All we’re doing is generating false positives.

Our verdict

False. Testing people who don’t have symptoms uncovers many people who have asymptomatic and presymptomatic Covid-19. The false positive rate of Covid-19 tests is very low.

What was claimed

The World Health Organisation as of June 25th has said no asymptomatic testing.

Our verdict

False. The WHO said it only recommended asymptomatic testing for at-risk groups.

What was claimed

Natural immunity is robust, complete, and durable. It cannot be improved upon by vaccination, or any other method.

Our verdict

False. Studies have shown natural immunity to Covid-19 can wane, and that, among people who have been infected, those who have been vaccinated are less likely to be reinfected.

What was claimed

Covid-19 is easily treatable at home. About 85% of hospitalisation and death is completely avoidable with early treatment.

Our verdict

The studies on which this claim is made have limits. Some new, expensive Covid-19 treatments can reduce the risk of hospitalisation and death.

What was claimed

The current Covid vaccines are obsolete as they do not cover the new variants.

Our verdict

False. All the vaccines mentioned have shown efficacy against the main Covid-19 variants, albeit to varying degrees.

What was claimed

Vaccinated people are still being hospitalised and getting sick.

Our verdict

The vaccines are not perfect. Some people who have been vaccinated do fall sick and die of Covid-19. But their risk of this is far lower than people who have not been vaccinated.

An article from TCW Defending Freedom (formerly, The Conservative Woman) reports what it claims are “five key Covid truths that could have saved us from self-destruction.”

It sources these to Dr Peter McCullough, a Texas-based cardiologist, and says “he has all the necessary scientific back-up to support his claims.”

He doesn’t. We take a look at the claims and why they are mostly false.

Covid-19 can be spread by asymptomatic people

Dr McCullough claims the virus is not spread asymptomatically, and can only be spread by sick people.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies notes that asymptomatic individuals can transmit the virus, albeit to a lesser extent than people who have symptoms.

Dr McCullough’s statement also doesn’t acknowledge the role presymptomatic people play in transmission. That is, people who are not “sick” at the time, but are infected and do go on to develop symptoms in the future.

A meta-analysis on the topic last year estimated that between 46% and 69% of ‘symptomatic’ cases were transmitted by people who were presymptomatic at the time.   

People with Covid-19 can display no symptoms 

Next Dr McCullough claims asymptomatic testing only generates false positives and the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on 25 June there should be no asymptomatic testing.

This is not true. People who test positive for Covid-19 by PCR are more than 99% likely to have some of the virus in their body and be a “true positive”. Many who have no symptoms may go on to become ill, or infect others.

And the WHO didn’t say there should be “no asymptomatic testing” on 25 June. It said it only recommended testing of people without symptoms “for specific groups including contacts of confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases and frequently exposed groups such as health care workers and long-term care facility workers.”

It added: “Widespread screening of asymptomatic individuals is not a currently recommended strategy due to the significant costs associated with it and the lack of data on its operational effectiveness.” 

Vaccination boosts immunity, even among previously infected people

Talking about immunity, Dr McCullough says that natural immunity is “robust, complete and durable” and cannot be improved by vaccination.

A study from the University of Oxford found that, among healthcare workers who had been infected, the majority of those who had experienced asymptomatic disease and a “significant minority” of those who had experienced symptomatic disease, “did not exhibit a measurable immune response at six months post infection.”

It found that six months after infection: “People who produced a weak immune response signature failed to show any neutralising antibodies against the Alpha variant, with none mounting a neutralising antibody response against the Beta variant”

This shows that natural immunity is not always complete, nor durable. 

A study from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that vaccination reduced the risk of re-infection among people who had already been infected with the virus. 

This shows that natural immunity can be “improved upon by vaccination.”

Some medicines have been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalisation following Covid-19 infection.

Dr McCullough goes on to say that Covid-19 is easily treated at home and that 85% of hospitalisation and death is avoidable with early treatment.

He has made this claim before, citing as evidence studies, some of which he contributed to, claiming that the use of hydroxychloroquine, zinc, ivermectin and other medications are effective in reducing the risk of hospitalisation from Covid-19.

Whatever benefit there might be to treating infected patients with drugs early in their infection, these papers are not the best evidence base on which to make a statistical claim about that benefit.

Two of the papers did not compare patients in the treatment group to a control group, meaning it is difficult to say whether hospitalisations were in fact lower compared to an untreated group. About the other, a Wellcome Trust review said: “No demographic data, clinical characteristics or co-morbidities were available for the control group; it is therefore not possible to tell whether the treated group and controls were comparable.”

All the papers cited are observational studies, not trials, meaning their results have limited application, as one of the papers acknowledges.

The drugs discussed in the papers include hydroxychloroquine, ivermectin and dexamethasone. 

The University of Oxford’s RECOVERY trial into the efficacy of different drugs in treating Covid-19 has found that dexamethasone reduced deaths by up to a third among hospitalised patients, and the drug is now routinely prescribed to serious patients. However, a review into the evidence supported the WHO’s recommendations that corticosteroids, like dexamethasone, shouldn’t be prescribed to people with mild and moderate cases of Covid-19.

The RECOVERY trial also found hydroxychloroquine was of no benefit to hospitalised patients, while another trial found hydroxychloroquine did not reduce the risk someone with Covid-19 needed to be hospitalised. 

Studies on Ivermectin are ongoing and the data is less conclusive as we have written about before.

As for the efficacy of treatments before hospitalisation, the US Food and Drug Administration has granted authorisation to two treatments for people with Covid-19 at risk of hospitalisation following positive trial results

Both treatments are reported to cost thousands of dollars and need to be administered by intravenous drip. They are not “simple, available drugs” which allow for easy at-home treatment, as TCW claimed is possible with other drugs.  

The vaccines work against new variants

The final “truth” offered in the article is that none of the Covid-19 vaccines work against the new variants and vaccinated people are still being hospitalised with the disease.

This is false. 

Data from Public Health England shows the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are highly effective against the Delta variant. Canadian researchers found the Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines were highly effective in preventing serious illness from the Delta and Beta variants. 

And data from South Africa shows the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 71% effective at preventing hospitalisation from the Delta variant and 67% effective against the Beta variant.

The vaccines are not 100% effective against any variant, so some vaccinated people are still being hospitalised and getting sick. But the rate is far lower than among people who haven’t been vaccinated.

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as false because vaccines are effective against Covid-19 variants, and are useful for people who have been previously infected, the disease can be spread by asymptomatic people, and tests on people without symptoms find many real cases of infection.

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