News4JAX ran a statement Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made through the Trust Index.
While speaking to a crowd in Osceola County on Tuesday night, DeSantis said that you are more likely to get infected with COVID-19 if you get multiple booster shots, based on the data he has reviewed. He made that claim as he was criticizing U.S. military vaccine mandates.
″How is that saying, ‘Thank you for your service,’ by kicking people out over something that doesn’t stop you from getting infected in the first place? And that’s what’s so unbelievable about all this stuff, and I think if you look at the data now, people who have had multiple boosters are actually more likely to get infected right now,” DeSantis said at the Florida Sheriffs Association 2022 Summer Conference Awards Banquet.
News4JAX contacted the governor’s office to find out what data DeSantis was referring to when he said that COVID-19 booster shots make you more susceptible to catching the coronavirus.
Here was the response that News4JAX received from Bryan Griffin, the deputy press secretary with the governor’s office:
“Upon a quick review of my own accord, if you go to the CDC’s website: https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#rates-by-vaccine-status and reference the graph ‘Rates of COVID-19 Cases by Vaccination Status and 2+ Booster Doses* in Ages 50+ Years’ (filtered for cases) you can see that those who received boosters after being vaccinated had more reported COVID infections than those who didn’t get boosters. Here’s a screenshot for you:” (See graphic below)
The data on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website that Griffin pointed us to shows the rates of COVID-19 cases by vaccination status solely for people age 50 and up.
Taking a close look at this CDC graph starting from the bottom, the blue line dotted on the graph represented people who were vaccinated but not boosted. The solid purple and blue line above it show people who have received one or two boosters. So the CDC data does show a greater frequency of cases among boosted people than among vaccinated but not boosted people. But it’s worth noting the black line on this graph showing cases among unvaccinated people is significantly higher than among any vaccinated group.
Doctors tell News4JAX that this information from the CDC is only a snapshot of the people being tested and infected with COVID-19 because a huge portion of America’s population is home testing and not reporting their illness, and the data only covers Americans age 50 and older.
Doctors also say the graph the governor’s office sent us is reported data and not a controlled study of the effect of the booster shot on individuals.
Dr. Todd Husty, an emergency medical specialist and a county medical director in Central Florida, told News4JAX on Friday that the data that the governor’s office sent us doesn’t support the claim the governor made.
“I think it’s just really important not to draw conclusions from raw data. A lot of this data came from sources that have stated this is raw data and you should not be drawing conclusions, not without adjusting for all the other factors that are out there,” Husty said.
According to Husty, this graph isn’t statistically relevant.
“There are a couple of reasons why it is not statistically relevant and not scientifically relevant. One is because there’s very little data down there at the bottom. But the other is who went to get tested and why? And that’s a huge question,” Husty said. “That is unadjusted data. That’s just raw data of this many people tested positive and this percentage of people or this many per 100,000.”
Husty says DeSantis’ claim was based on a very small set of data.
“The concept that those that are vaccinated and boosted are more at risk somehow is just, it just flies in the face of everything that we know. We know that people that are vaccinated and boosted are three times less likely to get omicron,” Husty said. “Wow. I mean, we know that. So why don’t we go with that? Which is the vaccine works.”
Before we heard back from the governor’s office, News4JAX on Thursday spoke with Husty and another medical professional, both of whom say the governor’s statement is misleading. Husty said then that he believed he knew the source of DeSantis’ information.
“It was from Walgreens, from their testing centers they test in their stores,” Husty said.
Husty says the number of people who test positive for COVID-19 at Walgreens after getting their booster shots doesn’t accurately represent the number of Floridians affected by COVID-19.
“You can’t take an isolated data set like that and then make this big glowing statement of, obviously, that means that vaccines don’t work and they make you more susceptible. It wasn’t that kind of data. It wasn’t good enough to do that,” Husty said. “And even Walgreens has come out and said you can’t make a conclusion from this data, it’s not conclusive data.”
We also took DeSantis’ claim to epidemiologist Jonathan Kantor who had this to say on Thursday about the governor’s allegation: “Yeah, I think it’s absolutely not the case that, you know, for your average person, if you get extra boosters, you’re more likely to get COVID. There is, you know, mechanistically no way that that is going to be really making sense.”
Kantor says people who get COVID-19 boosters are more likely to get tested in an environment where COVID-19 reporting is taking place, pointing to the thousands of people who are testing positive at home and not reporting their illness to anyone.
“So I don’t think that drawing conclusions from the tiny fraction of people that we’re seeing right now who are getting tested in a pharmacy or in the testing center is really appropriate,” Kantor said.
Husty said, “I understand politics get into things, you know, in medicine, and we’ve had a lot of politics in COVID, and I find it a shame.”
So DeSantis’ claim that “people who have had multiple boosters are actually more likely to get infected right now,” the Trust Index team rates as not true. We stand by that decision after reviewing the data that the governor’s office provided. Experts tell us you can’t draw that conclusion solely from the data that the governor’s office cited.
We asked the governor’s office to speak on camera with us about the data on Friday, and Griffin emailed this response: “Jeremy Redfern with the Florida Department of Health can also consider any further questions you have on the topic if they are legitimate health-related questions, but if this is a ‘gotcha’ attempt, as it feels from the initial publication of the ‘fact-check’ this morning, we really do need to focus on the people of Florida.”
Redfern, who is the press secretary for the Florida Department of Health, responded, “How is this still rated ‘not true’ when these data provided by Bryan show otherwise?”
The state did not speak with us on camera Friday.