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The claim: Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 only benefits the vaccinated person
As Americans continue in their fight against COVID-19, controversy and misinformation about vaccines persist.
One viral image falsely argues that the decision on whether to get vaccinated yourself does not impact other people.
“I’m vaccinated but how can it be a civic duty to get the C19 vaccine when it only benefits me? I can still become infected and transmit C19 to the vaccinated and unvaccinated,” the tweet claims. “The choice to vaccinate should remain a personal one.”
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The image, shared on Instagram on Aug. 11, shows an Aug. 10 tweet from a doctor.
The account frequently tweets support for taking ivermectin to protect against COVID-19, which is not a proven treatment and can be dangerous..
But experts say this approach is wrongheaded. Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 protects the vaccinated, those who choose not to get vaccinated and those who are not eligible to be vaccinated.
USA TODAY reached out to the Instagram user for comments. The Twitter user could not be messaged.
Getting vaccinated protects members of your community
Experts say getting vaccinated has benefits on a personal and community level.
Getting vaccinated reduces individuals’ risk of both getting COVID-19 and giving it to someone else, said Emily R. Smith, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at The George Washington University’s Milkin Institute School of Public Health.
“Getting vaccinated benefits both you and the people in your community!” she said in an email. “Vaccinated people are way less likely to get COVID-19 in the first place. The most recent (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) estimates suggest that vaccinated people are 800% less likely to get COVID than unvaccinated people. If you don’t get COVID, you can’t spread COVID to someone else.”
Susan Hassig, an epidemiologist at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, similarly said that vaccines protect vaccinated individuals by greatly reducing their risk of infection, illness and death. That individual vaccination then protects the broader community by making the vaccinated person less likely to become a host.
“This benefit is most evident when the majority of persons in a community are vaccinated,” Hassig said. “The virus, if introduced, has nowhere to go, and dies out. Cannot spread, cannot mutate.”
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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said this concept, often called community or herd immunity, works to protect members of a community that cannot get vaccinated or for whom the vaccine is less effective, including children and those with certain medical conditions.
“The way we protect newborn babies from life-threatening diseases in the first few months is by those around them being vaccinated,” Hassig said. “It is not just about the individual, but about also protecting others. Failure to vaccinate yourself, especially for a disease as easily transmitted as Covid, places others in harm’s way. Currently, kids under 12 cannot yet be vaccinated.”
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Exactly when we will reach herd immunity is up for debate.
“The reality is that we don’t know when herd immunity will occur. We haven’t had this disease before. We can’t say for sure what percentage of the population needs to be reached,” Dr. Manisha Juthani, an infectious diseases specialist, told Yale Medicine in May. “There is not a certain number or cut-off; it’s a gradient, meaning we’ll know we’ve reached it if we see the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths go down. An overall improvement of our numbers will tell us we are reaching that threshold.”
Getting vaccinated prevents hospitals from being overwhelmed
Smith told USA TODAY that getting vaccinated also benefits others by greatly reducing the likelihood that a vaccinated person who does get a breakthrough infection will become critically ill and need to be hospitalized.
The CDC estimates vaccines are 93%-100% effective in preventing hospitalizations even with the delta variant. This prevents the health care system from becoming overwhelmed.
“Keeping COVID cases out of the hospitals helps others in your community because hospital beds and resources are available for those who need to be in the hospital for other reasons,” she said. “When hospital beds are filled with COVID patients, things like elective surgeries are canceled.”
Our rating: False
Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that getting vaccinated against COVID-19 only benefits the vaccinated person. Epidemiologists agree that getting vaccinated benefits individuals by reducing their risk of contracting COVID-19 and spreading it to other people. This protects those who can’t be vaccinated and those for whom the vaccine is less effective (those with other medical conditions and children under 12). Vaccinations also prevent individuals from getting critically ill and hospitals from being overwhelmed.
Our fact-check sources:
- Emily R. Smith, Aug. 11, email correspondence with USA TODAY
- Susan Hassig, Aug. 11, email correspondence with USA TODAY
- The Washington Post, July 30, Read: Internal CDC document on breakthrough infections
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, accessed Aug. 12, Vaccines Protect Your Community
- Yale Medicine, May 21, Herd Immunity: Will We Ever Get There?
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Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.