Fact Check: Misinterpreted CDC Director Quote About 75% COVID Deaths With 4+ Comorbidities Was About Vaccinated People

Fact Check

  • by: Ed Payne
Fact Check: Misinterpreted CDC Director Quote About 75% COVID Deaths With 4+ Comorbidities Was About Vaccinated People Vax Protects

Did Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "confess" that over 75% of COVID deaths occurred in people with at least four comorbidities? No, that's not true: The percentage is correct but extremely important context is missing. All of the 1.2 million people in the study from December 2020 to October 2021 were fully vaccinated. Unvaccinated people were not part of the results. Of the 36 people who died, 28 had four or more comorbidities.

The claim appeared in a YouTube video (archived here) published by Homo vivus in terra on January 7, 2022, under the title "CDC Director confesses at least 4 comorbidities in over 75% of the COVID listed deaths!" It said:

Dr Rochelle Walensky CDC Director said on GMA "the overwhelming number of death [sic] over 75% occurred in people who had at least 4 comorbidities, so really these are people who were unwell to begin with, and yes really encouraging news..."

#cdc
#COVID
#Comorbidities

This is what the post looked like on YouTube on January 11, 2022:

GMA Walensky.png

(Source: YouTube screenshot taken Tue Jan 11 at β€β€Ž16:19:03 2022 UTC)

The YouTube video takes an excerpt of Walensky's interview with ABC's "Good Morning America" (GMA) on January 7, 2022, but only provides the second half of her comments on a study evaluating the efficacy of COVID vaccines in preventing severe illness. ABC also aired a truncated version of what she said. Here are Walensky's edited comments:

The overwhelming number of deaths, over 75%, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities. So really, these are people who were unwell to begin with and yes, really encouraging news in the context of omicron ...

Her edited comments generated some controversy on both sides of the vaccine debate. Matthew Cortland, a lawyer who identifies as chronically ill and disabled, was among those who took the CDC director to task on Twitter for her comments:

Walensky responded to the criticism:

People on the anti-vaccine side of the debate saw the CDC director's edited comments as confirmation that the COVID shots were unnecessary because mainly the medically fragile were dying. This is what Donald Trump Jr. said:

The new CDC study only includes fully vaccinated people and does not represent those who have not gotten their COVID shots. Of the more than 1.2 million vaccinated people in the study, 36 of them died of COVID-19. Of that number, 28 of them had four or more comorbidities. Only a tiny fraction of those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are dying. But of that group, more than 75% had at least four elevated risk factors.

On January 10, 2022, GMA published a video of Walensky's comments in full context. This was her complete response to a question about the "encouraging headlines" coming out of the study on how vaccines were working to prevent severe illness:

You know, really important study, if I may just summarize it: A study of 1.2 million people who are vaccinated between December and October. And demonstrated that severe disease occurred in about 0.015% of the people who were -- received their primary series -- and death in 0.0003% of those people. The overwhelming number of deaths, over 75%, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities. So really, these are people who were unwell to being with. And yes, really encouraging news in the context of omicron. This means not only just to get your primary series but to get your booster series. And yes, we're really encouraged by these results.

Possibly acknowledging the controversy surrounding the CDC's director's comments, ABC added this note to the end of the extended clip:

ABC clip.png

(Source: YouTube screenshot taken Tue Jan 11 at β€β€Ž18:10:39 2022 UTC)

The CDC recommends the COVID vaccine for everyone 5 and above. Its website says:

A growing body of evidence shows that the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination outweigh the known and potential risks. CDC recommends an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna) in most circumstances based on an updated risk-benefit analysis.

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.


  Ed Payne

Ed Payne is a staff writer at Lead Stories. He is an Emmy Award-winning journalist as part of CNN’s coverage of 9/11. Ed worked at CNN for nearly 24 years with the CNN Radio Network and CNN Digital. Most recently, he was a Digital Senior Producer for Gray Television’s Digital Content Center, the company’s digital news hub for 100+ TV stations. Ed also worked as a writer and editor for WebMD. In addition to his journalistic endeavors, Ed is the author of two children’s book series: “The Daily Rounds of a Hound” and “Vail’s Tales.” 

Read more about or contact Ed Payne

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