As a new surge of COVID-19 cases closes schools and hospitalizations spike, Oklahoma candidates for office and public officials continue to spread inaccurate information.
Many candidates in 2022 state and local elections are running on anti-vaccine platforms and Oklahoma legislators have filed dozens of bills that seek to limit vaccine mandates and other public health measures.
The Frontier previously fact-checked some public officials about the virus and the safety and efficacy of vaccines, but misinformation persists as the pandemic enters its third year.
Claim: The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention admitted that 75 percent of COVID-19 deaths are from people who have at least four comorbidities.
Source: Oklahoma Congressman Kevin Hern shared this claim from RNC Research, an arm of the Republican National Committee, on Twitter.
“The CDC just confirmed what most Americans have known for a long time: COVID-19, while a serious health issue, has been largely politicized from the beginning,” Hearn said in the tweet. “It’s time to do away with using politics to fight a pandemic and get back to our normal lives.”
Fact check: False
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Rochelle Walensky was asked during an interview on Good Morning America on Jan. 7 about a scientific study on the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines and whether the country should rethink how it deals with COVID-19.
“The overwhelming number of deaths, 75 percent, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities. So really, these are people who are unwell to begin with.” Walensky said.
RNC Research shared a clip of the interview on Twitter with the comment “Biden’s CDC Director: ‘The overwhelming number of death (sic), over 75%, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities.’”
But Walensky’s remarks during the interview were in reference to a recent study that looked only at vaccinated individuals’ response to the disease, rather than the whole population. The study found that out of a sample of more than 1.2 million people who got their primary vaccination between December 2020 and October 2021, 2,246 people or .18% developed COVID-19, and out of those, only 189 developed a severe illness. Out of the severe cases, 36 died. More than 77 percent percent of the vaccinated people who died had at least four comorbidities or risk factors.
It was later revealed that Good Morning America had edited part of Walensky’s response where she prefaced her comments on comorbidity with other findings from the study. GMA subsequently released the full video.
The death rate for those fully vaccinated against COVID is around .54 people per 100,000, while the death rate for the unvaccinated is around 3.47 per 100,000, according to the latest data from the CDC. Studies show that vaccination significantly lowers the risk of hospitalization from COVID. The CDC has also warned since the early days of the pandemic that older adults and people with underlying health conditions were also at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
In a response to The Frontier, Hern Spokeswoman Miranda Dabney said in an email: “Rep. Hern never said anything about vaccinated or unvaccinated in the tweet. Any inference to that end from The Frontier is nothing more than conjecture and commentary.”
Claim: COVID-19 vaccines may contain aborted fetal tissue.
Source: Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate Dr. Mark Sherwood, a naturopathic doctor, makes this claim on his campaign website: “This horrific cocktail of diabolical ingredients including potentially ABORTED (murdered) FETAL (pre-born babies) T ISSUE (cells and cloned cells) FRAGMENTS (not the cells themselves, but specific objects within the cells).”
Fact check: False
COVID-19 vaccines do not contain aborted fetal tissue, according to the CDC.
The Johnson and Johnson vaccine was produced using lab-replicated fetal cells, called fetal cell lines, but does not contain the actual cells, according to information complied by Reuters. These cells were replicated from fetal tissue collected decades ago. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine was produced using fetal cell lines developed from tissue collected from an aborted fetus in 1985. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines used fetal cell lines in the testing stages, according to information compiled by Reuters. Sherwood’s campaign did not respond to messages from The Frontier.
In response to The Frontier, Sherwood did not provide any documentation to support his claim.
“If you’ll read the statement carefully, we use the word “potentially“ for a reason,” Sherwood said in a Facebook message. “There is so much uncertainty around this issue at present that this question is paramount to many persons. We, at present, have high skepticism about the openness and transparency regarding vaccines in general.”
Claim: Natural immunity is effective to combat COVID-19.
Source: “At one point we were told that the natural immunity was 27 times more effective than the vaccine, and yet, when all of these mandates roll out, they don’t give any respect to natural immunity,” Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor said at a press conference to discuss state litigation fighting federal vaccine mandates.
Fact Check: Mixed
A COVID-19 infection will produce natural immunity that can defend against reinfection, but that protection lasts only about 90 days, said Dr. Mary Clarke, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association.
By contrast, someone who receives a COVID-19 vaccine will have protection for around six months.
“We have at least double the time of immunity (from the vaccine),” Clarke said, noting that these timelines could change as more is learned about the virus.
The CDC still recommends all eligible individuals receive a COVID-19 vaccine because the level of immunity gained from natural infections varies from person to person while vaccine-based immunity is more consistent. Vaccination after a natural infection also “significantly enhances protection” against severe illness and death, the agency said.
In Oklahoma, 83 percent of recent hospitalizations due to COVID were unvaccinated individuals, according to the latest data from the State Department of Health.
O’Connor’s office pointed to a study from Israel that found people who had a prior infection were 27 times less likely to get a second symptomatic case of COVID-19 than vaccinated people.
The study has not yet been peer-reviewed, according to an online abstract.
Claim: The vaccinated, not the unvaccinated, are spreading mutant variants of COVID-19.
Source: Oklahoma City mayoral candidate Carol Hefner shared this claim from Dr. Janci Chunn Lindsay on Facebook in August 2021.
Fact check: False
Dr. Dale Bratzler, the University of Oklahoma’s chief COVID officer, said the claim that the vaccinated are spreading mutant variants of COVID-19 is “absolutely not true.”
Research from the CDC found vaccinated people are less likely to spread the virus to others.
Those who are unvaccinated are also much more likely to be hospitalized because of a COVID-19 infection.
“Vaccinated people get less infections and they don’t get as sick if they do get infected,” Bratzler said.
Hefner’s campaign did not respond to a phone message.
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