On June 16, 2021, the Boston Herald reported that, 3,791 fully vaccinated people in Massachusetts had so far tested positive for COVID-19. Many were asymptomatic or only experienced mild symptoms. At the time, more than 3.7 million people had been fully vaccinated in the state. This placed the known positive rate of fully vaccinated individuals at around 1 in 1,000. The CDC stated in the past that such breakthrough cases are expected.
In late June 2021, readers inquired about a headline that claimed: “Nearly 4,000 Fully Vaccinated People in Massachusetts Test Positive for COVID-19.”
While the news appeared to originate from the Boston Herald, it was subsequently shared by several far-right websites. Headlines from Fox News and The Epoch Times then led to a massive amount of uninformed and potentially dangerous anti-vaccine discussion, which was hosted by Facebook and Twitter.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), breakthrough cases like the “nearly 4,000” in vaccinated Massachusetts individuals were expected. As of June 12, there had been 3,791 reported COVID cases in the state out of more than 3.7 million vaccinated people. The data came from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Further, the Boston Herald reported that public health experts said that “many of such cases are either asymptomatic or mild.” The number of potentially severe cases was not disclosed.
This key information was not omitted from the aforementioned news stories from right-wing publications. Rather, some social media users appeared to glance at the headlines and advance uninformed and potentially dangerous anti-vaccine discussion based only on the headlines. In an April Fools’ Day story from 2014, NPR famously tested the idea that some people may not read beyond headlines before commenting.
Despite the anti-vaccine misinformation seen in social media comments, USA Today reported in February 2021 that “the vaccines were all 100% effective in the vaccine trials in stopping hospitalizations and death.”
In sum, it’s true that nearly 4,000 fully vaccinated people in Massachusetts tested positive for COVID-19. That meant that around 1 in 1,000 individuals were reported as testing positive, with many of the cases ending up being asymptomatic or mild.
We contacted the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for more information on the nearly 4,000 cases of vaccinated individuals. The most recent data available for the state was from June 19. The updated numbers were 3,907 COVID cases out of 3,866,847 vaccinated individuals.