Federal health officials testified at a Senate committee hearing that about 60% of their employees have been vaccinated against COVID-19 so far. But viral online posts have distorted their comments to misleadingly claim that half of the employees “are refusing” the vaccines. The officials did not say anyone had refused to get vaccinated.
There are three COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S. that have all received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. More than 279 million vaccine doses had been administered in the U.S. and 60.5% of adults had received at least one shot as of May 21. (See SciCheck’s articles on each of the vaccines: “A Guide to Moderna’s COVID-19 Vaccine,” “A Guide to Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 Vaccine” and “A Guide to Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 Vaccine.”)
On May 11, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, testified at a Senate committee hearing on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
Questioned by Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina about the number of their employees who have received COVID-19 vaccines, Fauci estimated that “around 60%” of NIAID staff have been vaccinated and Marks said a similar percentage of FDA employees have been vaccinated.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also testified before the Senate committee but did not state how many CDC employees have been vaccinated.
But since then, viral social media posts and digital stories have distorted what Fauci, Marks and Walensky said.
The headline on an article that claims more than 18,000 views on WeLoveTrump.com reads, “Half of CDC, NIH, and FDA Employees Refused the Experimental COVID-19 Jabs.” (Along with twisting Fauci’s words, the headline misrepresents his government position. He is director of NIAID, which is one of 27 institutes and centers that make up the National Institutes of Health.)
A similar Instagram post shows a screenshot of a now-deleted tweet posted by the account @Breaking911 reading, “NEW: About 40-50% of CDC, FDA employees are refusing the COVID-19 vaccine according to Fauci, Marks.”
The percentages in these claims distort the health officials’ responses to say that “40-50%” of their employees have “refused” the vaccine.
While reviewing ongoing COVID-19 prevention measures and guidance during the Senate committee hearing, Burr posed the question to Fauci, Marks and Walensky.
Burr, May 11: This question, I’m going to go to Dr. Fauci, Dr. Marks, and Dr. Walensky. What percentage of the employees in your institute, your center, or your agency, of your employees, has been vaccinated?
Fauci: I’m not 100% sure, Senator, but I think it’s probably a little bit more than half, probably around 60%.
Burr: Dr. Marks?
Marks: I can’t tell you the exact number, but it’s probably in the same range. Some people vaccinated at our facility, and others outside of the facility.
Burr: Dr. Walensky?
Walensky: We’re encouraging our employees to get vaccinated. We’ve been doing town halls and education seminars. Our staff have the option to report their vaccination status, but as you understand, the federal government is not requiring it, so we do not know.
None of the federal health officials said members of their staff refused to get COVID-19 vaccines.
An FDA spokeswoman told us in an email: “The post’s suggestion that a majority of staff have refused to get their vaccine is absolutely false. The FDA is offering COVID-19 vaccines to employees and we know employees are also choosing to receive vaccines through local, state or privately operated vaccination sites. Because the FDA does not mandate vaccinations or require staff to report their vaccinations, we do not know the exact percentage of our staff who have not yet been vaccinated, but we have been encouraged to hear from the large number of our staff who have chosen to be vaccinated.”
We reached out to the CDC and NIAID to clarify if any employees were refusing vaccines, but did not hear back. We will update this article if we get a response.
Update, May 28: After we published our article, the NIAID sent us a statement that said Fauci “did not say that 40 to 50% are refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine.” The statement continued: “To our knowledge, the percentage of NIH staff who have received a vaccine at NIH or self-reported receiving a vaccine in the community is close to 67%. The actual number may be higher since self-reporting is voluntary and there may be staff who received the vaccine in the community but have not reported it to us.”
Editor’s note: SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over our editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation. The goal of the project is to increase exposure to accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines while decreasing the impact of misinformation.
Breaking911 (@Breaking911). “NEW: About 40-50% of CDC, FDA employees are refusing the COVID-19 vaccine according to Fauci, Marks.” Twitter. 14 May 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “COVID Data Tracker.” Accessed 21 May 2021.
“Dr. Fauci, CDC Director Testify Before Senate on COVID-19 Guidelines.” Transcript. Rev.com. 11 May 2021.
Food and Drug Administration. Email from FDA spokeswoman sent to FactCheck.org. 19 May 2021.
“Half of CDC, NIH, and FDA Employees Refused the Experimental COVID-19 Jabs.” WeLoveTrump.com. 15 May 2021.
McDonald, Jessica.“A Guide to Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 Vaccine.” FactCheck.org. 13 April 2021.
McDonald, Jessica.“A Guide to Moderna’s COVID-19 Vaccine.” FactCheck.org. 9 April 2021.
McDonald, Jessica.“A Guide to Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 Vaccine.” FactCheck.org. 9 April 2021.
McDonald, Jessica. “Q&A on COVID-19 Vaccines.” FactCheck.org. Updated 18 May 2021.
National Institutes of Health. “List of NIH Institutes, Centers, and Offices.” Accessed 21 May 2021.