Tagged KHN & PolitiFact HealthCheck

DeSantis Advances Questionable Link Between Lockdowns and Despair

The result of lockdowns “has been the destruction of millions of lives across America as well as increased deaths from suicide, substance abuse and despair without any corresponding benefit in covid mortality.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Feb. 2, 2020

For months, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has boasted about his state’s “open for business” strategy in dealing with covid-19 and how it’s working better than so-called lockdown states.

Unlike in some other states, all Florida public schools are open for in-person learning, restaurants and bars have few restrictions, and the state has barred local governments from penalizing individuals for not wearing a mask in public.

In a recent rant against social network companies such as Facebook and Twitter, DeSantis suggested that states that had instituted heavy restrictions on residents experienced severe repercussions for residents without reducing the number of covid deaths.

“Lockdowns at the time of the pandemic were favored by the, quote, ‘narrative’ and so, in the name of, quote, ‘science,’ articles and posts warning against lockdowns were taken down and censored,” said DeSantis. “The result has been the destruction of millions of lives across America, as well as increased deaths from suicide, substance abuse and despair, without any corresponding benefit in covid mortality.”

We wondered whether that was true. Have state restrictions done such significant harm without providing any boost in the fight against covid deaths? So we dug in.

Locking In on Lockdowns

To reduce the spread of the coronavirus, states have enacted — and then sometimes relaxed or lifted — various restrictions, including mask mandates, limits on restaurant capacity, stay-at-home orders and bans on large gatherings.

DeSantis, a Republican, has bristled at such statewide orders, even resisting pleas from local officials in Florida and criticizing other jurisdictions for implementing them. He has consistently questioned their effectiveness. Late last year, for instance, he claimed that states with lockdowns had covid transmission rates twice as high as Florida’s. We rated that Half True.

We asked DeSantis’ office for any evidence supporting his more recent claim. The response reveals a mixed bag of information.

Check the Data: Did Florida’s Path Lead to Less ‘Despair’?

To support the governor’s claim that other states have seen higher numbers of deaths from suicide, substance abuse and despair than Florida has during the pandemic, DeSantis’ office sent information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing “all cause” mortality rates increased slower in Florida in 2020 — coinciding with the pandemic’s first months through June 3 — over 2019 rates than in California and New York — two states that have opted for more regulations on public gatherings and mask-wearing. DeSantis’ analysis showed Florida’s rate rose 15% compared with 16% in California and 29% in New York.

But the “all causes” category goes far beyond deaths associated with suicide and drug abuse. It includes deaths from cancer, heart disease, lung disease and dementia, for example.

DeSantis’ office did not provide any data showing how rates of suicide and drug abuse in Florida compared with those in so-called lockdown states. It sent us a Miami Herald article that said in Florida, according to preliminary medical examiners’ statistics, 2,975 people died by suicide in 2020, down 13% from the previous year. But the article did not have nationwide data or figures from California or New York.

Concerning overdose deaths, DeSantis’ office did not provide specific information. However, health experts said the pandemic likely did increase opioid overdoses. But the latest, provisional CDC data on drug overdose deaths shows Florida’s numbers rising faster than the national average.

Comparing the 12-month period ending in June 2020 to the prior 12 months, the period for which data is available, Florida had a 34% increase in the rate of overdose deaths compared with a 20% national average among states. California had a 23% increase and New York had an 18% increase.

Meanwhile, federal suicide data reflecting the months in which the pandemic has transpired will not likely be available until 2022. Experts say that anecdotal evidence suggests a possible uptick in suicide rates during the pandemic. In addition, an online tool offered by the nonprofit Mental Health America to help screen for mental health issues showed a slight increase last year in people having suicidal thoughts.

Nonetheless, Paul Gionfriddo, the group’s CEO, said he knows of no studies showing that so-called lockdown states have higher rates of suicide than those with fewer restrictions.

Gionfriddo said DeSantis may think he is mitigating the harmful effects of loneliness by not limiting public gatherings. But loneliness is not the only reason people cite in considering suicide, he said. Grief, financial insecurity and other factors also play a role, he said.

John Auerbach, president and CEO of Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit think tank, said it’s difficult to pinpoint the psychological impact of restrictions to reduce infection because rules vary by state and within states, and such regulations have been imposed and lifted at different times.

Auerbach said he knows of no evidence that links states’ covid restrictions to suicides or drug overdose deaths.

“There are many contributing factors to suicide and drug overdoses,” he said. The pandemic itself is having the biggest effect on heightening people’s risk of dying from suicide and drug abuse — not the states’ different approaches to prevent the transmission of infection, he added.

“It is the underlying pandemic that is at the root of increased risks,” Auerbach said.

Factoring In Covid Mortality Rates

DeSantis also argued that statewide restrictions did not bring any corresponding benefit in limiting covid mortality.

We asked his office for evidence. They again pointed to the CDC increase in “all cause” mortality data that showed California’s rate was slightly higher than Florida’s. But those statistics cover all causes of death, and people are still dying of diseases and conditions besides covid.

We then consulted three epidemiologists to get their take. They all said the governor was playing loose with the facts. They stressed varying factors that affect states’ mortality rates — from the weather to socioeconomic indicators to access to health services.

The epidemiologists pointed to the latest CDC data, which indicated that Florida’s covid mortality rate is higher than California’s and seemed to undercut DeSantis’ position that lockdowns have only hurt states.

As of Feb. 22, Florida ranked 28th in covid death rates while California ranked 33rd, according to the latest CDC data, as compiled by Statista.

“That would bolster the argument that restrictions are one factor involved in lowering death rates,” said Nicole Gatto, an associate professor of public health at Claremont Graduate University in California.

Numerous others also have an effect, Gatto said, so it is impossible to compare states using current data based on their strategies.

“I do think it is an oversimplification to make the assertion that the governor did without further study of the numerous variables involved, characteristics of the population, timing of interventions and the limitations of the data,” she said.

Our Ruling

DeSantis said lockdown states have seen “increased deaths from suicide, substance abuse and despair without any corresponding benefit in covid mortality.”

The pandemic certainly has caused anxiety and distress across the country, and state and local restrictions designed to tamp down on the coronavirus’s spread have also affected people’s financial and emotional well-being. But currently, no clear data supports DeSantis’ strongly worded claim. Researchers agreed that more research is necessary before such broad conclusions could be drawn. In addition, experts said that covid death rates vary by state and numerous factors beyond state strategies to combat the virus affect this metric.

We rate the statement Mostly False.

Sources:

Gov. Ron DeSantis news conference, Feb. 2, 2021

Telephone interview with Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of Mental Health America, Feb. 12, 2021

Mental Health America, Take a Mental Health Test, Mental Health America online screening tool, accessed Feb. 12, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Vital Statistics Rapid Release: Provisional Drug Overdose Death Counts — CDC data on overdose deaths, Feb. 7, 2021

Email correspondence with Meredith Beatrice, DeSantis spokesperson, Feb. 10 and 11, 2021

Telephone interview with John Auerbach, president and CEO of Trust for America’s Health, Feb. 12, 2021

Email interview with Nicole Gatto, MPH, Ph.D., associate professor of public health at Claremont Graduate University, Feb. 18, 2021

Email interview with William Miller, professor of epidemiology at the Ohio State University, Feb. 18, 2021

Telephone interview with Dr. Robert Murphy, professor of medicine and biomedical engineering and executive director, Northwestern University’s Institute for Global Health, Feb. 18, 2021

Statista, Death rates from coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United States as of Feb. 17, 2021, by state, accessed Feb. 22, 2021

Miami Herald, “One Pandemic Positive: Suicides in Florida Actually Plummeted. Experts Worry It Won’t Last,” Feb. 10, 2021

PolitiFact, “Is Florida Doing Better on COVID-19 than ‘Locked Down’ States? Dec. 2, 2020

It’s Time to Get Back to Normal? Not According to Science.

The science says “open the schools, stop wearing masks outside, and everyone at low risk should start living normal lives.”

Blog post by conservative talk show host Buck Sexton posted on Facebook, Feb. 8.

A popular Facebook and blog post by conservative radio host Buck Sexton claims scientific research indicates life should return to normal now despite the persistence of the covid-19 pandemic.

“Here’s what the science tells anyone who is being honest about it: open the schools, stop wearing masks outside, and everyone at low risk should start living normal lives. Not next fall, or next year — now,” reads the blog post, posted to Facebook on Feb. 8.

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about PolitiFact’s partnership with Facebook.)

KHN-PolitiFact messaged Sexton via his Facebook page to ask if he could provide evidence to back up the statement but got no response.

So we reviewed the scientific evidence and talked to public health experts about Sexton’s post. Overall, they disagreed, noting the ways in which it runs counter to current public health strategies.

Let’s take it point by point.

Opening the Schools

In March, when government and public health leaders realized the novel coronavirus was spreading throughout the U.S., many public institutions — including schools — were ordered to shut down to prevent further spread. Many students finished the 2020 spring semester remotely. Some jurisdictions did choose to reopen schools in fall 2020 and spring 2021, though others have remained remote.

Throughout the pandemic, researchers have studied whether in-person learning at schools contributes significantly to the spread of covid. The findings have shown that if K-12 schools adhere to mitigation measures — masking, physical distancing and frequent hand-washing — are adhered to, then there is a relatively low risk of transmission.

And getting kids back into the classroom is a high priority for the Biden administration.

n a Feb. 3 White House press briefing, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said data suggests “schools can safely reopen.” The CDC on Feb. 12 released guidance on how schools should approach reopening. It recommends the standard risk-mitigation measures, as well as universal masking, contact tracing, creating student learning cohorts or pods, conducting testing and monitoring community transmission of the virus.

Susan Hassig, associate professor of epidemiology at Tulane University, said science shows that schools can open safely if “mitigation measures are implemented and maintained in the school space.”

Here’s some of the latest research that tracks with these positions:

  • Only seven covid cases out of 191 were traced to in-school spread in 17 rural K-12 Wisconsin schools that had high mask-wearing compliance and were monitored over the 2020 fall semester.
  • Mississippi researchers found most covid cases in children and teenagers were associated with gatherings outside of households and a lack of consistent mask use in schools, but not associated with merely attending school or child care.
  • Thirty-two cases were associated with attending school out of 100,000 students and staff members in 11 North Carolina schools, where students were required to wear masks, practice physical distancing and wash hands frequently.

Of course, there are some limitations to these studies, which often rely on contact tracing, a process that can’t always pinpoint where cases originate. Some of the studies also rely on self-reporting of mask-wearing by individuals, which could be inaccurate.

Additionally, Hassig pointed out that not all school districts have the resources, such as physical space, personnel or high-quality masks, to open safely.

Sexton’s assertion that schools can reopen leaves out a key piece of information: that safe reopening is highly dependent upon use of mitigation measures that have been shown to tamp down on virus spread.

‘Stop Wearing Masks Outside’

Because the coronavirus that causes covid is relatively new, the research on outdoor mask use is limited. But so far science has shown that masks prevent virus transmission.

The CDC study published Feb. 10 reported that a medical procedure mask (commonly known as a surgical mask) blocked 56.1% of simulated cough particles. A cloth mask blocked 51.4% of cough particles. And the effectiveness went up to 85.4% if a cloth mask was worn over a surgical mask.

Another experiment from the study showed that a person in a mask emits fewer aerosol particles that can be passed on to an unmasked person. And if both are masked, then aerosol exposure to both is reduced by more than 95%. A multitude of reports also show more generally that mask-wearing is effective at reducing the risk of spreading or catching other respiratory diseases.

Sexton’s post, however, advised that people should stop wearing masks outside. To be sure, public health experts agree the risk of transmitting covid is lower outdoors than indoors. But the experts also said that doesn’t mean people should stop wearing masks.

“The wind might help you a bit outside, but you are still at risk of breathing in this virus from people around you,” said Dr. Rachel Vreeman, director of the Arnhold Institute for Global Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Being outside is “not a guarantee of safety,” reiterated Stephen Morse, an epidemiology professor at Columbia University Medical Center. “Especially when those people without masks are close together.”

The CDC addressed the issue of whether masks are needed outside in the agency’s mask guidelines: “Masks may not be necessary when you are outside by yourself away from others, or with other people who live in your household. However, some areas may have mask mandates while out in public, so please check for the rules in your local area.”

Overall, the prevailing scientific opinion is that, while it may be OK to go maskless outside if you are physically distant from others, ask-wearing is still recommended if you are around others.

‘Everyone at Low Risk Should Start Living Normal Lives’

All the public health experts we consulted agreed this part of the claim is absolutely false. It flies in the face of what scientists recommend should be done to get through the pandemic.

While it’s unclear what exactly the post means by “low-risk” people, let’s assume it’s referring to younger people or those without health conditions that make them more vulnerable to covid. And that “living normal lives” refers to no longer wearing masks, physical distancing or washing hands with increased frequency.

News reports and scientific evidence show that bars, parties and other large gatherings can quickly become spreader events. Moreover, even young people and those without preexisting health conditions have gotten severely ill with covid or died of it.

Even if a low-risk person doesn’t get severely sick, they could still infect others in higher-risk groups.

The sentiment of this post is similar to calls early in the pandemic to let life return to normal in an attempt to achieve herd immunity. But, on the way to achieving that goal, many would die, said Josh Michaud, associate director for global health policy at KFF.

“Everyone going back to ‘normal’ right now, especially in the presence of more transmissible and more deadly variants, would be a recipe for further public health disasters on top of what we’ve already experienced,” he added.

Already almost half a million Americans have died of covid.

The push to “return to normal” is precisely what let the new variants form and multiply, said Vreeman. “If we can ramp up getting people vaccinated and keep wearing masks in the meantime, only then will we have a chance at getting back to ‘normal.’”

Indeed, because of the new variants circulating in the U.S., Walensky and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have urged Americans not to relax their efforts to control the virus’s spread.

Our Ruling

A blog post by conservative talk show host Buck Sexton claims scientific evidence shows that right now we should “open the schools, stop wearing masks outside, and everyone at low risk should start living normal lives.”

Scientific research shows that in order for schools to reopen safely, risk mitigation measures must be put in place, such as requiring masks, rigorous hand-washing and limiting the number of students in classrooms. These changes, though, would not represent a return to normal, but a new normal for students and teachers.

The remainder of Sexton’s statement strays further from current science. Research indicates that you’re safer outdoors than indoors, but public health experts still recommend wearing masks in public, even outside. Science does not support the idea that the time is right for some people to resume life as normal. That would allow the virus to continue to spread and have a large human cost in hospitalizations and deaths, said the experts.

Sexton’s post is inaccurate. We rate it False.

Source List:

ABC News, “’Wrecked Our Lives’: Families of 3 Young Adults Who Died From COVID-19 Share Heartbreaking Stories,” Nov. 19, 2020

American Association of Pediatrics News, Study: In-School Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 Rare in Schools Implementing Safety Measures, Jan. 8, 2021

Buck Sexton website, “Get Ready to Fight ‘Forever Covid,’” Feb. 8, 2021

BMJ Global Health, Reduction of Secondary Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in Households by Face Mask Use, Disinfection and Social Distancing: A Cohort Study in Beijing, China, 2020

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Mitigation, Feb. 12, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Guidance for Wearing Masks, updated Feb. 11, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Maximizing Fit for Cloth and Medical Procedure Masks to Improve Performance and Reduce SARS-CoV-2 Transmission and Exposure, 2021, Feb. 10, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, SARS-CoV-2 Transmission Associated With High School Wrestling Tournaments — Florida, December 2020-January 2021, Jan. 29, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 Cases and Transmission in 17 K-12 Schools — Wood County, Wisconsin, August 31-November 29, 2020, Jan. 29, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Trends in Outbreak-Associated Cases of COVID-19 — Wisconsin, March-November 2020, Jan. 29, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Factors Associated With Positive SARS-CoV-2 Test Results in Outpatient Health Facilities and Emergency Departments Among Children and Adolescents Aged <18 Years — Mississippi, September-November 2020, Dec. 18, 2020

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Scientific Brief: Community Use of Cloth Masks to Control the Spread of SARS-CoV-2, Nov. 20, 2020

Chalkbeat, “Do Schools Spread COVID? It May Depend on How Bad Things Already Are Around Them,” Jan. 4, 2021

The Conversation, “Being Outdoors Doesn’t Mean You’re Safe From COVID-19 — A White House Event Showed What Not to Do,” Oct. 8, 2020

Email interview with Susan Hassig, associate professor of epidemiology at Tulane University, Feb. 10, 2021

Email interview with Josh Michaud, associate director for global health policy at Kaiser Family Foundation, Feb. 10, 2021

Email interview with Dr. Rachel Vreeman, director of the Arnhold Institute for Global Health, Feb. 10, 2021

Email interview with Stephen Morse, professor of epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center, Feb. 10, 2021

Johns Hopkins University Medical Center, Coronavirus and COVID-19: Younger Adults Are at Risk, Too, updated Dec. 2, 2020

Kaiser Health News/PolitiFact, “Social Media Image About Mask Efficacy Right in Sentiment, but Percentages Are ‘Bonkers,’” July 6, 2020

medRxiv, Closed Environments Facilitate Secondary Transmission of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), April 16, 2020

Pediatrics, Incidence and Secondary Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 Infections in Schools, January 2021

PNAS, An Evidence Review of Face Masks Against COVID-19, Jan. 26, 2021

The New York Times, “How Safe Are Outdoor Gatherings?” July 3, 2020

The Washington Post, “CDC Finds Scant Spread of Coronavirus in Schools With Precautions in Place,” Jan. 26, 2021

The White House, Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials, Feb. 3, 2021

Can Pfizer and Moderna End the Pandemic by Sharing Their Vaccine Designs? It’s Not that Simple

“Pfizer and Moderna could share their design with dozens of other pharma companies who stand ready to produce their vaccines and end the pandemic.”

— Feb. 3 in a Facebook post

Vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna earned praise for creating highly effective covid-19 vaccines in record time. But are they inadvertently hurting the public by not sharing their technology with other pharmaceutical companies to help speed up vaccine manufacturing and distribution?

That’s what one post circulating on social media claims.

“The vaccine shortage doesn’t need to exist,” reads an image of a tweet shared thousands of times on Facebook. “Pfizer and Moderna could share their design with dozens of other pharma companies who stand ready to produce their vaccines and end the pandemic.”

In short, the situation is not that simple. The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about PolitiFact’s partnership with Facebook.)

The tweet doesn’t mention that the two drugmakers are already partnering with other companies to produce the vaccine. It also makes it appear as if dozens of companies are regulated to make vaccines and have a ready supply of the raw materials, equipment and storage needed to efficiently and effectively produce them. Experts say that’s not the case.

When PolitiFact reached out to the tweet’s author, Dr. James Hamblin, a public health policy lecturer at Yale University and writer at The Atlantic, he acknowledged that using the words “stand ready” in the tweet inaccurately implied the process could begin immediately.

“It takes time and investment to begin making mRNA vaccines,” Hamblin told PolitiFact. “The companies would need the assurance that they not lose money by getting into that space, possibly in some way similar to the assurances given during the research phase of warp speed.” 

Vaccine Technology Narrows the Field

Both Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines rely on newer messenger RNA technology. (It has been studied for some time but hasn’t been used in a vaccine until now.) The mRNA is fragile and needs to be handled carefully, with specific temperatures and humidity levels to keep it from breaking down. 

It’s highly unlikely, experts say, that “dozens” of manufacturing plants have the capability to get this type of production off the ground immediately. Even if Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna made their vaccine designs open source today, pharmaceutical researchers estimate, it would still take several months for other companies to produce the shots, and by then mass distribution and inoculation will be well underway. 

PolitiFact reached out to both companies for comment but did not hear back.

Dr. Rajeev Venkayya, president of the Global Vaccine Business Unit at Takeda Pharmaceuticals and former director of vaccine delivery at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program, wrote a Twitter thread addressing the complexity and risk of vaccine manufacturing.

Among many other issues, Venyakka said, vaccines are complex biologics and it’s hard to predict whether changes to the manufacturing process will affect the vaccines’ effectiveness or safety.

“Many vaccines are made by growing viruses in cells, and when that doesn’t happen as expected, it can lead to losses in production and delayed timelines. This is an area where cell- and virus-free mRNA vaccine production has a major advantage,” Venkayya wrote

“For these reasons, every aspect of vaccine manufacturing is tightly controlled: raw materials, equipment, production processes, training, operating procedures etc. All of it happens under GMP [good manufacturing practice] regulations, and facilities are regularly inspected.” 

According to the Food and Drug Administration, manufacturers may share any information or data about their products they choose, as they are the owners of the information. But the company is responsible for ensuring that any contract manufacturer is in compliance with the FDA’s good manufacturing practice regulations.

These rules establish minimum requirements for the methods, facilities and controls used in making and packing pharmaceuticals. They aim to ensure that a product is safe for use and that it has the ingredients and strength it claims to have.

Existing Partnerships Are Already Speeding Production

John Grabenstein, associate director for scientific communications at the Immunization Action Coalition, a vaccine information organization that works in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told PolitiFact the tweet wrongly presumes that the companies aren’t already outsourcing production. Grabenstein tracks partnerships between pharmaceutical companies and contract manufacturers. 

He said Pfizer-BioNTech is working with biopharmaceutical companies Rentschler and Polymun, while Moderna has partnered with RoviRecipharm and Lonza. Some of the companies are located exclusively overseas, while others have plants in the U.S. 

Typically, the contractors are doing one of the major portions of production, Grabenstein said, such as manufacturing the bulk product, formulation of the bulk into the final preparation, filling the drug product into vials, or finishing the final packaging, which could include labeling vials, inserting them and paperwork into boxes, and assembling boxes for a carton.

For example, Rovi, one of the companies working with Moderna, signed a contract in July to start filling and packaging 100 million doses of the vaccine in early 2021.

In fewer cases, a full-fledged manufacturer is commissioned to make a mirror image of the original product, from start to finish. 

One example of this is the Serum Institute of India — the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer — which is already producing a parallel version of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine that the institute will market with the trade name CoviShield. The institute launched the construction of new facilities in June to make that happen. The organization recently announced a similar partnership with Novavax

“This is incredibly intricate and the number of facilities and trained personnel is really, really small,” Grabenstein said. “It’s not like you’re just giving a recipe to another restaurant. That ‘recipe’ is thousands and thousands of pages long, and then you have to validate and show that you meet all the really tight performance specifications and prove consistency of process before any of the regulators will let you distribute any of the vaccine.”

Hamblin, the author of the Twitter post, said it’s unlikely the companies would share their vaccine designs, given the current system of intellectual property and funding, though he noted exceptions, like Sanofi.

Sanofi, a French multinational pharmaceutical company, announced in January that it had entered into a partnership with BioNTech, the company that co-developed the vaccine with Pfizer. Sanofi said it will provide the company access to its “established infrastructure and expertise to produce over 125 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine in Europe.” Initial supplies will originate from Sanofi’s production facilities in Frankfurt, Germany, this summer.

Hamblin noted that if vaccine makers open the intellectual property in a permanent, unconditional way — rather than on a small scale for a finite period — it could help get more companies and governments into the production “in a more permanent, cost-effective way.” 

“If we have to manufacture boosters in specific areas for new strains, for example, or for the next coronavirus, we could be on it right away,” Hamblin said. “Again, speaking hypothetically about that — not implying it will happen or would be quick or easy or anything else.”

Defense Production Act Allows Greater Collaboration But Takes Time

With President Joe Biden invoking the Defense Production Act, couldn’t that serve to help speed things up? Yes, but the law is not as sweeping as some think. 

The Defense Production Act of 1950 gives presidential authority to promote national defense by expediting and expanding the supply of materials and services from the U.S. industrial base.

Dr. George Siber, a vaccine expert on the advisory board of CureVac, a German mRNA vaccine company, told KHN that invoking the act would allow the government to commandeer an appropriate plant to expand production, but that it would still take about a year to get going.

Companies would first have to undertake a thorough cleaning of their equipment and facilities to prevent cross-contamination and would need to set up, calibrate and test equipment, and train scientists and engineers to run it, Siber told KHN.

“Do you want glass? Aluminum? Filter resins? What is the thing that you need?” Grabenstein said. “For example, vaccine manufacturers say, ‘If only I had more glass vials, I could increase my weekly production.’ OK, the government gets you more glass vials. Then it reveals the next bottleneck.”

He added: “Is there production that could be stopped or delayed, and let those machines be used for this goal? Sure, but you still have to clean it, and quality-control that it’s really clean, and then the transfer and validation of process. It’s months or years of commitment. This is not turn-on-a-dime kind of stuff.” 

According to the CDC, nearly 66 million doses of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines had been distributed and roughly 45 million administered by the second week in February.

The U.S. has vaccinated about 10% of the population, putting it about sixth in the world, according to a tracker maintained by The New York Times

Our Ruling

A post claims the covid-19 vaccine shortage doesn’t need to exist because Pfizer and Moderna can share their vaccine designs with “dozens” of other pharmaceutical companies that are ready to produce the vaccines and end the pandemic.

This premise oversimplifies the vaccine manufacturing process.

First, the post doesn’t mention that Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna already have partnerships with various contract manufacturers to help speed up vaccine production. Second, industry experts say it’s highly unlikely “dozens” of pharmaceutical companies that aren’t already producing the vaccines stand ready to do so. Supplies, personnel training and facility compliance are just a few aspects that make the process complex and lengthy.

So, while such partnerships are clearly an asset to rapid vaccine production, they are not entirely practical in the grand sense that this tweet implies.

The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.

Source List:

Facebook post, Feb. 3, 2021

Science Magazine, “Myths of Vaccine Manufacturing,” Feb. 2, 2021

KHN, “Why Even Presidential Pressure Might Not Get More Vaccine to Market Faster,” Jan. 26, 2021

Twitter, Dr. Rajeev Venkayya thread, Feb. 1, 2021 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States,” accessed Feb. 8, 2021

The New York Times, “Tracking Coronavirus Vaccinations Around the World,” accessed Feb. 8, 2021

PolitiFact, “State of Vaccine Supply Is ‘Opaque,’ ‘Hard to Pin Down,’ Experts Say, Feb. 4, 2021 

Modernatx.com, “Moderna and ROVI Announce Collaboration for OUS Fill-Finish Manufacturing of Moderna’s COVID-19 Vaccine Candidate,” July 9, 2020

Food and Drug Administration, “Current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMP) Regulations,” updated Sept. 21, 2020 

Message from Dr. James Hamblin, Feb. 8, 2021

Phone interview, John Grabenstein, associate director for scientific communications for the Immunization Action Coalition, Feb. 5, 2021

Email interview, Alison Hunt, spokesperson for the Food and Drug Administration, Feb 5. 2021