A report from two dozen experts — including a doctor named to President-elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board — recommended using existing social service programs to connect people with COVID-19 vaccine distribution. The report did not advise requiring vaccination in order to receive such services, as social media posts falsely claim.
When a COVID-19 vaccine is approved and ready, health officials will need to coordinate its distribution to hundreds of millions of people and help the public overcome misperceptions.
Dubious websites and social media posts, however, are spreading a falsehood about a report outlining distribution strategies, wrongly accusing a member of President-elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 advisory team of wanting to mandate vaccination by tying it to food assistance.
On Instagram, users shared screenshots of a Nov. 12 headline from the website Natural News, falsely claiming, “VAX THE BLACKS: Joe Biden’s Covid-19 taskforce member recommends withholding food stamps and rent assistance from those who refuse coronavirus vaccines.”
Natural News was banned by Facebook earlier this year for using foreign trolls to spread its unreliable content.
The vaccine story, which also appeared on an affiliated website called Distributed News, specifically says that Dr. Luciana Borio, recently named a member of Biden’s Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board, “says that people who refuse to be vaccinated should be deprived of food stamps and rent assistance.”
That is false.
The story offers a distorted take on one part of a July report published by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security — “The Public’s Role in COVID-19 Vaccination: Planning Recommendations Informed by Design Thinking and the Social, Behavioral, and Communication Sciences.” The report was the result of a working group of about two dozen experts, including Borio.
The report did not recommend that vaccine “mandates” be tied to social service programs, such as food stamps and rent assistance, as the Natural News story claims.
Instead, one of the report’s recommendations is to “Make Vaccination Available in Safe, Familiar, and Convenient Places.” The report explains that making vaccines widely available will “entail local and state health departments’ developing vaccination capacity, creating local adaptations to meet communities — and, particularly, vulnerable populations — where they are, and communicating timely information in clear and accessible ways.”
One corresponding action item says this:
Local and state public health agencies should explore collaboration with interagency and nongovernment partners to bundle vaccination with other safety net services. For example, the WIC nutrition program serves as a key mechanism for connecting low-income pregnant women with nutrition supports and clinical services, and immunization screenings and vaccine promotion are built into the WIC program. Bundling services (eg, food security, rent assistance, free clinic services) that are already being provided to particularly vulnerable populations in the context of COVID (eg, older adults, low-income adults, Black and minority communities) could be a way to build trust and streamline vaccine provision. Early, rapid-response, community-based research (Recommendation #4) can help broaden planners’ understanding of how the intended beneficiaries of vaccines think about where these products fit into their lives overall, based on their own definitions of health and well-being.
In a statement provided to us in response to the viral story, Dr. Monica Schoch-Spana and Emily K. Brunson, the lead authors of the Johns Hopkins report, said that they “do NOT advocate that such social supports ever be withheld in connection with an individual’s vaccination status.”
The statement said the viral story contained “factual inaccuracies and misleading statements” about the report’s recommendations, and that the authors “take exception to the singling out and professional misrepresentation” of Borio.
“We support voluntary vaccination during the pandemic, once safe and effective SARS-CoV-2 vaccines become available. We argue that SARS-CoV-2 vaccines should NOT be mandated,” the statement added. “We do advocate the provision of timely, accurate, and meaningful information so that individuals can make well-informed decisions about whether or not to accept vaccination for themselves or dependents in their care.”
Schoch-Spana and Brunson further said they “support efforts to make SARS-CoV-2 vaccines readily available to everyone who wants one, including individuals with limited means.” One way to do that is to provide the vaccines “at places where these individuals already go such as WIC clinics and food banks,” they said.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.
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“Biden-Harris Transition Announces COVID-19 Advisory Board.” Press release, Biden-Harris Transition. 9 Nov 2020.
Collins, Ben and Brandy Zadrozny. “Troll farms from North Macedonia and the Philippines pushed coronavirus disinformation on Facebook.” NBC News. 29 May 2020.
“The Public’s Role in COVID-19 Vaccination: Planning Recommendations Informed by Design Thinking and the Social, Behavioral, and Communication Sciences.” Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. July 2020.
Schoch-Spana, Monica, and Emily K. Brunson. Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Email statement to FactCheck.org. 18 Nov 2020.