Did NBC Report Vaccinated People Have Higher Levels of SARS-CoV-2?

Memes claimed that vaccinated people were therefore contributing to the mid-summer COVID-19 surge.

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Claim

NBC reported that vaccinated individuals have higher levels of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, and were therefore contributing to the summer 2021 surge in cases.

Rating

What's True

The text shared in a now-viral meme was authentic and did, in fact, come from a CNBC report published on July 27, 2021. It was also true that preliminary data suggest that vaccinated individuals carry high levels of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

What's False

However, the quote itself was taken out of context to suggest that vaccines are ineffective. The widely shared screenshot of the article failed to include the rest of the article, which said that, "Federal health officials still believe fully vaccinated individuals represent a very small amount of transmission."

Origin

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Following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) reversal of its COVID-19 mask guidelines in late July 2021, a number of misleading memes online alleged that such a turnaround meant some expert guidance was inaccurate or proved to be ineffective at preventing the spread of COVID-19. 

One such claim spun media reports to argue that newly available data proved vaccinated people were responsible for a surge in infections seen at the end of the summer. The text read, “NBC News is reporting that new data suggests VACCINATED people have higher levels of virus in them and can infect other people. That would mean the new surge may be caused by them not the unvaccinated.” 

The above screenshot was sent to our team by Snopes readers.

The meme cited a USA Today story published on July 27, 2021. In it, the news outlet referenced a CNBC article that announced the CDC had planned to reverse its guidelines on wearing masks to recommending vaccinated people wear masks indoors as the number of cases rose. It read: 

NBC News, citing unnamed officials aware of the decision, said it comes after new data suggests vaccinated individuals could have higher levels of virus and infect others amid the surge of cases driven by the delta variant of the coronavirus.

It is true that the above copy was published by CNBC. But the meme failed to include the rest of the article:

Federal health officials still believe fully vaccinated individuals represent a very small amount of transmission. Still, some vaccinated people could be carrying higher levels of the virus than previously understood and potentially transmit it to others.

In short, the original writer of the meme drew an unfounded conclusion based on one sentence from a CNBC news report without including the full breadth of the article for further context. As such, we have rated this claim as a “Mixture” of truth.

The text shared in the now-viral meme was authentic and did, in fact, come from a CNBC report published on July 27, 2021. However, the quote itself was taken out of context to suggest that vaccines are ineffective. The widely shared screenshot of the article failed to include the rest of the article, which read that, “Federal health officials still believe fully vaccinated individuals represent a very small amount of transmission.”

The meme arose shortly after the CDC reversed its mask policy after an uptick in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in late July 2021. As Snopes previously reported, the delta variant has caused an estimated 75% of recent COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and will likely cause more. Experts still contend that receiving a COVID-19 vaccine is the best protection against the delta variant, but breakthrough cases have still been reported in vaccinated individuals.

“The Delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 is surging in the United States. New data show Delta is different than past versions of the virus; it is much more contagious. While rare, some vaccinated people can get Delta in a breakthrough infection and may be contagious,” wrote the CDC in an Instagram post at the time.

It’s not the first time quotes from the CDC press briefing were taken out of context to suggest that COVID-19 vaccines were ineffective or “failing.” (For reference, the audio recording of that meeting is available via the CDC website. You can also view a transcription of the full introductory statement issued by CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky here.) Contrary to these misleading memes, the health agency reaffirmed its recommendation that all individuals over 18 should be vaccinated and argued that if more Americans had been vaccinated, there would not be a surge in cases.

“As CDC has recommended for months, unvaccinated individuals should get vaccinated and continue masking until they are fully vaccinated in areas with substantial and high transmission,” said Walensky, adding that vaccinated individuals continued to represent a small portion of the transmission occurring throughout the U.S.

“We continue to estimate that the risk of a breakthrough infection with symptoms upon exposure to the Delta variant is reduced by sevenfold. The reduction is 20-fold for hospitalizations and death,” she added.

None of that is to say that vaccinated individuals do not carry high levels of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Data released on Aug. 6 by the CDC showed that vaccinated people infected with the delta variant can carry viral loads similar to those of unvaccinated people, reported Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. A preliminary analysis of U.K. data published by the British Medical Journal on Aug. 19 similarly found that fully vaccinated adults can “carry the same viral load of the delta variant as those who are unvaccinated.” But in both cases, health experts further argued that being fully vaccinated remains the most effective strategy at preventing severe disease, that breakthrough infections among vaccinated people are uncommon, and that most new COVID-19 infections in the U.S. are seen in the unvaccinated.

As of May 2021, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended that anyone over 18 receive either the fully approved Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine or one of two vaccines available in the U.S. under an Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. As of this writing, the CDC recommended that vaccination is the “most important strategy to prevent severe illness and death.”