Fact check: No, the US won't tie food stamps to coronavirus vaccines

Posted November 23, 2020 2:40 p.m. EST
Updated November 23, 2020 8:14 p.m. EST

— As drugmakers get closer to vaccines for the novel coronavirus, posts online are claiming that a member of President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus task force recommends withholding federal assistance from people who refuse to get vaccinated.

One Instagram post shares the claim with a screenshot of a Nov. 12 article from a website called "Distributed News." Its headline reads:

"VAX THE BLACKS: Joe Biden’s Covid-19 taskforce member recommends withholding food stamps and rent assistance from those who refuse coronavirus vaccines."

This is wrong. The post wildly mischaracterizes recommendations made over the summer by a working group of medical experts and scholars assembled by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and Texas State University.

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed.

The article identifies the task force member as Dr. Luciana Borio, an infectious disease physician and public health administrator who served in positions at the Food and Drug Administration and the National Security Council during the Obama and Trump administrations.

Borio is a vice president at In-Q-Tel, a strategic investment company, and a member of the working group of medical experts and scholars that published a report in July on readying populations for a coronavirus vaccine.

But none of the report’s recommendations say the government should withhold federal support programs like food stamps or rent assistance to people who refuse to get vaccinated for the virus.

To the contrary, the document mentions food stamps and rent assistance only in the context of combining those services with a vaccine to make it more accessible for low-income and at-risk populations:

"Local and state public health agencies should explore collaboration with interagency and nongovernment partners to bundle vaccination with other safety net services. For example, the WIC nutrition program serves as a key mechanism for connecting low-income pregnant women with nutrition supports and clinical services, and immunization screenings and vaccine promotion are built into the WIC program. Bundling services (eg, food security, rent assistance, free clinic services) that are already being provided to particularly vulnerable populations in the context of COVID (eg, older adults, low-income adults, Black and minority communities) could be a way to build trust and streamline vaccine provision."

The report’s lead authors, Monica Schoch-Spana, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security; and Emily K. Brunson, an associate professor of anthropology at Texas State University, told PolitiFact that the Distributed News article contains factual inaccuracies and misleading statements.

"We support voluntary vaccination during the pandemic, once safe and effective SARS-CoV-2 vaccines become available. We argue that SARS-CoV-2 vaccines should NOT be mandated," Schoch-Spana and Brunson wrote in an emailed statement. "We also take exception to the singling out and professional misrepresentation of Dr. Luciana Borio, an accomplished infectious disease physician who has expertise in medical countermeasures, including vaccines."

Schoch-Spana and Brunson wrote that the group supports efforts to make the vaccines readily available to everyone who wants one, including individuals with limited means.

"We support the provision of vaccinations alongside other services and goods that can help reduce the myriad burdens that the pandemic has placed upon individuals such as lost jobs, interrupted income, food insecurity, evictions, and foreclosures. We do NOT advocate that such social supports ever be withheld in connection with an individual’s vaccination status."

PolitiFact: Pants on Fire

PolitiFact ruling

Social media posts cite an article as evidence that Borio, a member of Biden’s COVID-19 task force, recommended in a July report that the government withhold "food stamps and rent assistance from those who refuse coronavirus vaccines."

This is wildly inaccurate and contrary to the report’s actual recommendations. Nowhere in the document does Borio or anyone else say that the government should withhold those services to those who decide against getting vaccinated.

We rate this Pants on Fire!

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