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FactCheck: Video twists advice on Delta variant and vaccination

An epidemiologist recommended people get vaccinated because some evidence suggests an unvaccinated person who gets the Delta variant is “twice as likely to require hospital treatment”, but a Facebook video twists that advice to claim vaccinated people would be twice as likely to be hospitalized.

The video is part of a series of similar webcasts from Jen DePice, a Philadelphia-area chiropractor who has used Facebook to advocate against the vaccines. Another video in the series, for example, is pinned to the top of her organization’s page with this message: “JUST SAY NO…to the Jab!”

The video we’ll address here has been viewed 48,000 times and has garnered comments such as, “Best news as I’ve not been VAC & have no plans to be.”

In the video, DePice claims that those who are exposed to the delta variant are “twice as likely to require hospitalization if the person was vaccinated.”

There is no support for this statement, and, as we noted, studies have shown the COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the U.S. are largely effective against the Delta variant.

Although DePice says that her claim is based on research “from Harvard,” we could find no such study, and she didn’t respond to a message on her Facebook account asking for further details.

However, it appears that she misrepresented an interview with a Harvard University professor.

The post accompanying the video links to an interview Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health posted with William Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology.

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In that July 8 interview, Hanage said (emphasis added), “Delta’s greater virulence means that unvaccinated people who become infected will be sicker and the burden on the health care system will be greater. Evidence suggests, for example, that an unvaccinated person with Delta infection is roughly twice as likely to require hospital treatment than a person infected with the previously dominant variant.”

Hanage’s point is supported by a Scottish study published in June that found the risk of hospitalization was about twice as high for those with the Delta variant compared with those with the previously dominant alpha variant, but the finding was preliminary.

As we’ve explained, it’s not yet settled whether the Delta variant causes more severe disease than other versions of the virus.Public Health England, for example, posted an assessment on July 23 saying that the Delta variant appeared to increase the risk of hospitalization relative to alpha, but that there was a “low” level of confidence about this.

But, as far as DePice’s claim is concerned, it appears that she has misrepresented what Hanage said about what group is at higher risk to be hospitalized.

She also failed to convey what Hanage said about the value of vaccination against COVID-19 generally.

Hanage clearly advised in that interview: “Get vaccinated if you are not already.”

He explained that the high transmissibility of the Delta variant means that the virus can spread faster than the rate of vaccination around the world. This variant also appears to produce high viral loads early in infection, he said, “which may mean that it’s even more infectious during the period when people don’t yet realize they’re infected.”

A July study from China that has yet to be peer reviewed found that the viral load for those infected with the Delta variant was 1,000 times higher than for those who had the original strain of the virus.

Hanage also noted in the interview that the Delta variant appears to be more able to cause “so-called breakthrough infections in vaccinated people.” But, he said, the resulting infections are “comparatively mild.”

In the U.S., the Delta variant accounted for 83% of COVID-19 cases for the two weeks ending July 17, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated. And on July 16, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said at a press briefing that more than 97% of those who were hospitalized were unvaccinated.

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As we said, the vaccines appear to be effective against the Delta variant, but several studies have emphasized the importance of getting the full dosage of the vaccine if two shots are required, as is the case for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

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