Flailing GOP presidential candidate Gov. Ron DeSantis will apparently repeat any lie that he thinks will endear him to the Trump wing of the Republican Party. One of the more egregious examples is his recent assertion: “Every booster you take, you’re more likely to get COVID as a result of it.” Total bullshit.
It’s not clear whence the governor got his misinformed soundbite, but the internet is filled with similar bogus claims by anti-COVID vaccine YouTube grifters like retired British nurse educator John Campbell. So what is really the case?
The governor’s assertion probably stems from a likely deliberate misinterpretation of an August 2023 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) risk assessment summarizing the possible efficacy of current COVID vaccines against the then-new COVID BA.2.86 variant. COVID vaccines are formulated to target specific variants of the virus. The most recent booster targets the XBB.1.5 omicron variant. However, the virus is constantly mutating and throwing up new variants that might break through immune protection that has been primed by a booster to fight XBB.1.5 variant. This is the question that the CDC’s August assessment aimed to address with reference to the BA.2.86 variant.
The CDC summary stated:
Anti-vaccine grifters twisted (deliberately?) the highlighted sentence into headlines like: “CDC Finally Admits That Vaccinated Are Now More Susceptible to COVID Than Unvaxxed.” It did no such thing.
Read the sentence again: BA.2.86 may be more capable of causing infection in people who have previously had COVID-19 or who have received COVID-19 vaccines.
Clearly, all that it is saying is that the new variant may be capable of evading immune protection induced by either infection or vaccination. In other words, both previously infected and vaccinated people might be susceptible to the new BA.2.86 variant. It does not even come close to saying that vaccinated people are more likely to get COVID.
In response to this online bunkum, the CDC appended a clarification in September to its risk assessment (although why one was needed if people had practiced basic reading skills is beyond me) that notes:
Of course, I agree that the CDC massively damaged its credibility during the pandemic, but only the conspiracy-addled will insist that whatever its researchers report now must be always false.
Whatever the CDC’s prior sins, it is nevertheless the case that the virus never stops mutating. The newest and increasingly widespread variant has been dubbed JN.1. Virologists think the JN.1 variant may be the most infectious version yet. The good news, however, is that the current booster formulated for the XBB.1.5 variant continues to provide protection against the worst consequences—hospitalization and death—of JN.1 infection.
As a January 12 news article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reports, “Fortunately, laboratory research and rates of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths suggest that the XBB.1.5 vaccine still protects against severe illness in the JN.1 era.”
“The purpose of vaccination is to decrease the severity of diseases,” explained University of Tokyo virologist Kei Sato in JAMA. “Many people think that the purpose of vaccination is to prevent infection, but this is wrong.”
It would have been fantastic if the COVID vaccines had offered permanent sterilizing immunity the way that vaccines for measles and polio largely do, but reams of evidence do show that current vaccines significantly protect people from the worst consequences of COVID infections. Let’s hope that research on creating a universal COVID vaccine bears fruit sooner rather than later.
In any case, pandering presidential candidates should refrain from passing along anti-vaccine lies to voters.
Disclosure: I was boosted with the XBB.1.5 vaccine in September.