Tucker Carlson Misleads on COVID-19 Vaccines, Masks

By Eugene Kiely and Saranac Hale Spencer

Posted on April 17, 2021

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SciCheck Digest

All of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing symptomatic disease. Yet Fox News host Tucker Carlson baselessly casts doubt on the effectiveness of the vaccines, because federal officials urge fully vaccinated people to wear masks in public settings. 



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All of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing symptomatic disease.

In phase 3 trials, the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines had an efficacy of 94% or higher, which means your approximate risk of getting sick is cut by 94% or more if you are fully vaccinated. In real-world conditions, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released in March found the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were 90% effective in preventing infections — not just symptomatic cases.

Johnson & Johnson’s phase 3 trial reported an efficacy of 72% in preventing moderate to severe disease in the U.S. and 85.9% efficacy in preventing severe or critical disease.

The CDC, however, recommends that for now fully vaccinated people should wear masks in public for several reasons, including a stubbornly high rate of infection, concern about variants and the need for more research on whether asymptomatic vaccinated people can make unvaccinated people sick.

Notwithstanding the data, Fox News host Tucker Carlson baselessly casts doubt on the effectiveness of the vaccines by claiming “people in charge are acting like it doesn’t work,” citing the fact that President Joe Biden wears a mask even though he has been vaccinated.

Carlson made his remarks April 14 on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” A four-minute segment from that show — which included a chyron that said “Fauci Should Be Able to Answer Simple Questions” — was posted to the “Tucker Carlson Tonight” Facebook page.

Carlson, April 14: Why, for example, does Tony Fauci say you have to wear a mask after you get the vaccine? If we’re following the science, and we sincerely hope to, we’re wondering, is Fauci telling Americans who have been vaccinated or who have been recovered from the coronavirus itself, that they aren’t protected against future infections? Is that why he is saying they can’t eat in restaurants or go to bars? These are not trick questions. They’re the most basic of all questions.

Carlson repeated several versions of the same question over and over, even though Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has answered this “most basic of all questions.”

As we have written, it is important not to confuse the virus, SARS-CoV-2, with the disease that it causes, COVID-19. The vaccines protect against COVID-19, which is the disease caused by the coronavirus. It may not, however, protect against infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the vaccinated person may not experience symptoms. 

Fauci explained this in a Dec. 10 interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo before the arrival in the U.S. of the first case a SARS-CoV-2 variant. He did so again more recently at a White House briefing on April 12 and at a House oversight committee hearing on April 15.

At the hearing, Fauci said vaccinated people are not expected to show any symptoms and science needs to conduct more research on whether asymptomatic vaccinated people can make other unvaccinated people sick.

Fauci, April 15: The vaccine trials that were done that showed the high degree 94%, 95% efficacy, the primary endpoint of the vaccine efficacy was to prevent clinically relevant disease, clinically recognizable disease. What we don’t know right now, but we will know as we gather more information, that you can get infected even though you have been vaccinated and because you are vaccinated have no symptoms and therefore you could have virus in your nasopharynx and you could then transmit it inadvertently to somebody else. You are vaccinated, you are protected, you are not getting sick.

So the wearing of the mask is predominantly, predominantly to prevent you inadvertently infecting someone else even though you are protected from disease by the vaccine. As we learn more and more, which we will, and the evidence gets better and better that a vaccinated person has a much lesser chance of getting infected asymptomatically and even if they do, the virus is very likely very low in the nasopharynx. When those data become clear, the CDC being a science-based organization, will use that scientific data to say, “Now a vaccinated person can actually walk around without a mask.”

Fauci said there is another issue to be concerned about and that is the circulation of coronavirus variants — the first of which was discovered in the U.S. on Jan. 25 in a traveler returning to Minnesota from Brazil.

“We want to make sure that if you have full protection against one type of a virus that a variant might come along that might escape the protection. So if you want full protection and you are out in the community where there’s a lot of virus out there, that’s why we still recommend wearing a mask,” he said. “And in answer to question before, when you get the level of virus really low, all of that is going to go away and you are not going to have any–very, very little risk therefore people will not have to wear a mask.”

This is why both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris wear masks even though they’ve been vaccinated.

As Biden explained in a Dec. 3 interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, they’re setting an example for the public. “It is important that we, in fact, the president and the vice president, we set the pattern by wearing masks,” Biden said.

Also before he took office, Biden announced his plan for a “100-day challenge” aimed at slowing the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. It included an appeal for all Americans to wear masks for the first 100 days of his administration as well as administering 100 million shots in the same timeframe.

Two weeks ahead of that deadline, more than 200 million vaccines have been administered in the U.S., about 190 million of which were given since Biden took office.

As for the call to wear masks, the first executive order that Biden signed required those on federal property to wear masks. On his second day in office, Biden signed an executive order requiring masks on public transportation.

We’re still in Biden’s first 100 days, which ends on April 30.

In guidance issued on April 2, the CDC said fully vaccinated people can meet indoors without masks or social distancing with other fully vaccinated people and can have such visits with unvaccinated people who are at low-risk of contracting severe COVID-19 (if the unvaccinated people are from a single household). But the fully vaccinated should wear masks and remain physically distanced from when visiting unvaccinated people from more than one household or in public settings. 

“When you are in the home — you are vaccinated people — or you have a child, and a grandmother, grandfather, whoever it is — as long as they’re in good shape, you don’t have to wear a mask,” Fauci said at the April 12 White House briefing. “But once you go out into that big bad world out there, where there are a lot of infections going on — 80,000 new infections in one day — that there is an issue there that you’ve got to be careful with.”

At the hearing, Fauci directly responded to Carlson’s false implication that vaccines don’t work. “The implication was since you’re asking us to wear masks, the vaccine might not be working,” he said. “My comment to that is that the vaccines were shown, the mRNA vaccines, to be between 94 and 95 percent effective. So my answer to him is merely one of data. Look at the data. The vaccines are highly efficacious and have been shown in the field to be highly effective.”

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