From roaming government strike forces sent door-to-door to persuade people to get their shots, to reports of thousands of deaths linked to vaccination, The Frontier fact checked claims circulating on social media and statements made by Oklahoma elected officials about COVID-19 vaccines.
About 40% of Oklahomans were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Aug. 4, lagging behind the national rate of 49.9%. Meanwhile, hospitalizations continue to rise in the state as the Delta variant of the virus spreads.
Our reporters used public records and interviews with experts to separate facts from misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.
Claim: Federal data shows coronavirus vaccines have killed almost 12,000 people.
Source: Sen. Warren Hamilton, R-McCurtain, sent a letter to Gov. Kevin Stitt with this statistic.
Fact check: False
The U.S. Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) received 6,490 reports of deaths after vaccination against COVID-19 from Dec. 14 to Aug. 2, representing about 0.0019% of the more than 346 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines that have been administered.
However, those numbers come with notable caveats.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires healthcare providers to report any death after a COVID-19 vaccination. A report to VAERS doesn’t mean the vaccine caused the death, only that the death occurred sometime after the individual received the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Researchers have said many of the reported events are coincidental. More than 165.5 million people in the U.S. have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to CDC data.
Anyone can report adverse events to VAERS. The reports might “contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental or unverifiable,” according to the CDC. VAERS’ purpose is not to determine whether a vaccine caused a health problem, but the data it collects can help the federal government detect and investigate potential patterns that might indicate an issue with a vaccine.
VAERS data only includes initial reports that have not been investigated or verified. The database doesn’t include corrections or amendments made during follow-ups by investigators.
Claim: A 1989 Oklahoma law says “A worker shall not be required as a condition of work to be immunized unless otherwise required by federal or state law.”
Source: Don Spencer, president of the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association, said in a July 29 Facebook post: “It’s time for the Oklahoma Legislature to protect individuals from business requiring FORCED Vac_cinn@tions on employees.
“1989 state law that says ‘A worker shall not be required as a condition of work to be immunized” unless otherwise required by federal or state law.’”
Fact Check: False
The Frontier couldn’t find any Oklahoma law with the same wording or meaning. Spencer also was unable to provide The Frontier with any citation or proof that Oklahoma has such a law on the books. There is a 1989 Oregon law with the same wording that Spencer quoted on Facebook. A group of Oklahoma Republicans recently cited the Oregon law in a letter calling for a ban on vaccine mandates for health care workers.
In a phone interview with The Frontier, Spencer acknowledged that he may have been confused about whether the law he cited on Facebook was from Oregon.
Claim: Medical facilities have been denying in-person treatment to unvaccinated people.
Source: Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Hominy, said in a press release on July 28: “We have received reports from Oklahoma Families for Freedom that medical facilities have been denying in-person treatment to unvaccinated individuals as well. This is medical discrimination and must stop”.
Fact check: Mixed
The Frontier was unable to find adequate evidence to prove or disprove claims made by the group Oklahoma Families for Freedom, but the Oklahoma State Medical Association said some providers may decide to treat the unvaccinated through alternative means.
The group Oklahoma Families for Freedom has a Facebook page, but it does not list a phone number or mailing address. A person who responded to messages The Frontier sent to Oklahoma Families for Freedom on Facebook also would not give their name. The person said the health care provider Utica Park Clinic refused to give them in-person treatment at its Owasso location and would only provide care via a virtual visit or over the phone.
Utica Park Clinic is part of Hillcrest HealthCare System and has locations across Northeast Oklahoma. Rachel Smith, a spokeswoman for Hillcrest, said Utica Park Clinic will provide in-office care to anyone regardless of their vaccination status at any location.
Oklahoma Families for Freedom told The Frontier via Facebook that it has received similar reports about other facilities refusing in-person treatment for the unvaccinated, but declined to provide any additional information because it “was provided in confidence.”
Dr. Mary Clarke, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, said the organization has not heard of any accounts of patients being denied treatment due to their COVID-19 vaccination status, but telemedicine is an option.
“Some physicians may choose to see unvaccinated patients through telehealth appointments or at alternate times, but that is far from denying care,” Clarke said in a statement to The Frontier. “It’s purely a precaution to keep their more vulnerable patients and the health care professionals who serve them safe from contracting the disease. We have a responsibility to protect the health of all of our patients and will work to ensure they are seen.”
Claim: Government officials are going door-to-door trying to “convince” more Oklahomans to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Source: In two separate statements, Sen. Warren Hamilton, R-McCurtain, and Rep. Jay Steagall, R-Yukon, condemned door-to-door programs. Logan County Sheriff Damon Devereaux has referenced “strike forces” sent by the federal government to persuade people to take a vaccine.
Fact Check: Mixed
While President Joe Biden’s vaccination outreach efforts include support for door-to-door information campaigns to encourage more people to get vaccinated, government officials are not going to people’s houses or ordering people to get the shots.
Biden emphasized the need for a door-to-door campaign to provide Americans with more information about vaccination in a speech in July.
“Now we need to go to community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood, and oftentimes, door to door — literally knocking on doors — to get help to the remaining people,” he said.
White House officials later added that local community outreach efforts have been happening since this spring.
“The best people to talk about vaccinations are local, trusted messengers: doctors, faith leaders, community leaders,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki during a July 8 press briefing. “They are not members of the government.”
Keith Reed, deputy commissioner of the Oklahoma State Department of Health, said he does not know of any state, city or county officials that have plans to knock on doors in Oklahoma. But nonprofit groups, churches or other private organizations may have plans for door-knocking campaigns, similar to political campaigns, he said.
Claim: Oklahoma hospitals are violating workers’ Fourth Amendment rights and the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act by requiring employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Source: The group Oklahoma Families for Freedom said in a July 30 Facebook post that “Oklahoma Hospital’s are forcing their employees to take the Covid jab or be terminated. This is against the 4th Amendment and Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.”
Fact Check: False
Some COVID-19 vaccine skeptics have argued that the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act bars employers from requiring the shots because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has only approved the vaccines for emergency use. That’s not true, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. While employers are required to tell workers that they have an “option to accept or refuse” a COVID-19 vaccine, the law does not bar employers from requiring vaccination as a condition of employment, the Justice Department said in a memo dated July 6.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects people from unreasonable search and seizure by the government but would not apply to a private entity such as a hospital that requires employees to get a vaccine, said Oklahoma attorney Mark Hammons, founder and former president of the Oklahoma Employment Lawyers Association.
Claim: Vaccines are effective and available to anyone who wants one.
Source: Gov. Kevin Stitt’s communications director Carly Atchison said ”vaccines are effective & available to anyone who wants one” in a July 27, 2021 tweet.
Fact Check: Mostly True
Numerous studies have found that the three major vaccines available in the United States produced by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are between 72 percent and 95 percent effective at preventing infection or serious medical issues from COVID-19. Early data indicates the vaccines also are effective at preventing symptomatic cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant and can prevent hospitalizations for breakthrough cases.
While access to vaccines has significantly expanded in Oklahoma since the first doses arrived in December 2020, shots are not yet available for children under age 12 and are also off limits for some people who may have allergic reactions. Residents of any state can now make an appointment to get the shots online via Oklahoma’s COVID-19 vaccination portal.
True: A claim that is backed up by factual evidence
Mostly True: A claim that is mostly true but also contains some inaccurate details
Mixed: A claim that contains a combination of accurate and inaccurate or unproven information
True but misleading: A claim that is factually true but omits critical details or context
Mostly False: A claim that is mostly false but also contains some accurate details
False: A claim that has no basis in fact