FACT FOCUS: Indiana doctor’s speech spreads COVID falsehoods

Aug 12, 2021, 9:10 PM | Updated: Aug 13, 2021, 9:59 am
FILE - In this Monday, Jan. 11, 2021 file photo, a pharmacist gives a woman a Moderna COVID-19 vacc...

FILE - In this Monday, Jan. 11, 2021 file photo, a pharmacist gives a woman a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine shot at an apartment complex in Merrillville, Ind. Some vaccines, including those used against COVID-19, don’t completely eliminate the possibility of infection, and breakthrough cases can occur. However, the COVID-19 vaccines are extremely effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalization. (Kale Wilk/The Times via AP, File)

(Kale Wilk/The Times via AP, File)

An Indiana doctor’s recent appearance at a small community school board meeting northeast of Indianapolis has racked up tens of millions of views across social media this week, with users falsely claiming it included facts about COVID-19 that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the federal government don’t want you to hear.

In reality, Dr. Dan Stock’s 6-minute speech to the Mount Vernon Community School Corporation in Fortville, Indiana, on Aug. 6 was loaded with falsehoods about the disease and the vaccines used to fight it.

For example: While it’s true that breakthrough cases can occur in a small percentage of vaccinated people, Stock’s overarching claim that vaccines are ineffective against COVID-19 is false. Vaccines remain safe and effective at preventing severe symptoms and death, even as the highly transmissible delta variant has fueled surges in cases worldwide.

Stock identifies himself as a doctor of functional family medicine — a field that focuses on using a holistic approach to identify the root causes of disease. He did not respond to repeated voicemail messages from The Associated Press requesting comment.

Here’s a closer look at the facts around some of his claims in the video.

CLAIM: The Indiana State Board of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “don’t bother to read science” before giving health advice, and “everything being recommended by the CDC and the state board of health is actually contrary to all the rules of science.”

THE FACTS: It’s the opposite. Public health guidance from both governmental bodies relies heavily on science.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC and state health departments have frequently updated their guidance to reflect new scientific research that teaches us more about the virus and how it spreads. To say these agencies don’t rely on science is a fundamental misrepresentation of what they do.

“Throughout this pandemic, we have relied on data and science to make recommendations, and we will continue to do so,” Indiana Department of Health Media Relations Coordinator Megan Wade-Taxter told the AP in response to Stock’s claims.

As for Stock’s argument that vaccines are ineffective, Wade-Taxter said 98% of Indiana residents who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since mid-January are unvaccinated.

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CLAIM: COVID-19 and all other respiratory viruses spread through aerosol particles, which are small enough to go through any mask.

THE FACTS: This is misleading. Stock is right that COVID-19 can spread through the inhalation of small particles containing the virus, but he’s wrong to suggest that masks are futile against them.

“Of course masks protect against aerosols,” said Jose-Luis Jimenez, an aerosol expert and chemistry professor at the University of Colorado.

Jimenez said that while high quality masks that are tightly fitted to the face are better at blocking aerosol particles than looser, poorer quality masks, all masks offer some protection against aerosol spread for you and those around you.

University of Denver aerosol scientist J. Alex Huffman agreed, saying Stock’s claim that masks don’t filter any viral particles is “just straight wrong.”

“Aerosol science has very confidently proven that many, many types of material will filter aerosols to varying degrees depending on particle size,” Huffman said.

COVID-19 also spreads when respiratory droplets from coughing, speaking or sneezing land on someone else’s eyes, nose or mouth. Research shows cloth masks are highly effective at blocking those larger droplets from spreading.

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CLAIM: The current summer surge in COVID-19 infections is caused by antibody mediated viral enhancement.

THE FACTS: There’s no evidence for this. With some viruses, such as dengue, scientists have observed a phenomenon called antibody-dependent enhancement, in which antibodies generated by a past infection or vaccine can bind to a virus but not neutralize it. This can cause some people to experience more severe symptoms if they are infected later.

But contrary to Stock’s claim, this phenomenon is not occurring with the COVID-19 vaccines, medical experts confirm.

“This is false. In SARS coronaviruses, nothing like that has been demonstrated,” said Dr. Raul Andino-Pavlovsky, professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine. “There is no case in which the coronavirus vaccine has enhanced disease.”

Experts previously told the AP that there’s been no evidence of antibody-dependent enhancement occurring with COVID-19, even as antibody therapies are used heavily in treatment of the virus and animal studies were designed specifically to look for signs of the phenomenon.

“Though ADE was a theoretical concern at the beginning of the pandemic, we are not seeing it in the clinical trials or in the real world as vaccines roll out,” said Dr. Helen Chu, an immunologist and professor of medicine at the University of Washington.

___

CLAIM: “No vaccine prevents you from getting infection. You get infected. You shed pathogen.”

THE FACTS: This isn’t true. A classic example of a vaccine that prevents infection is the oral polio vaccine, according to Andino-Pavlovsky. The HPV, pneumococcal and meningococcal vaccines also prevent infection, he said.

It is true that some vaccines, including those used against COVID-19, don’t completely eliminate the possibility of infection, and breakthrough cases can occur. However, the COVID-19 vaccines are extremely effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalization. Now that many people have had the opportunity to get vaccinated in the United States, the majority of people dying from COVID-19 across the country are unvaccinated.

The vaccines are safe, effective and constantly improving, Andino-Pavlovsky said.

The AP has previously debunked claims that the COVID-19 vaccines can cause vaccinated individuals to “shed” viral particles to others.

___

CLAIM: People who have already had COVID-19 “get no benefit from vaccination at all.”

THE FACTS: This is false. Vaccines provide a valuable immune boost even to people who have recovered from the virus, medical experts say — and a recent CDC study shows survivors who ignored that advice were more than twice as likely to get reinfected.

The study adds to growing evidence that people who had one bout of COVID-19 get a dramatic boost in virus-fighting immune cells — and a bonus of broader protection against new mutants — when they’re vaccinated.

Ongoing research also suggests immunity from vaccines may outlast immunity from many COVID-19 cases, according to Sabra Klein, a microbiologist and immunologist at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health.

For those who have had a prior infection and are considering not getting the vaccine, experts warn that having COVID-19 does not guarantee the body will produce enough antibodies to prevent serious disease. Meanwhile, the vaccines are shown to offer protection against serious symptoms, hospitalization and death.

“It’s really clear that if you have been infected, you can be reinfected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” said Andino-Pavolvsky. “It has ways to manipulate your immune system and that’s why it’s so successful at producing the pandemic we’re dealing with.”

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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FACT FOCUS: Indiana doctor’s speech spreads COVID falsehoods