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VERIFY: No, a Biden COVID-19 advisor did not recommend withholding food stamps from those refusing vaccines

The Verify team looked into claims that a member of the president-elect's COVID-19 Advisory Committee said to withhold food stamps from those refusing vaccines.

WASHINGTON — Question:

Did Biden's COVID-19 Taskforce recommend withholding food stamps from vaccine refuses as claimed in various online posts? 

Answer:

No. The rumor is a misrepresentation of the findings of a report put together by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and the Texas State University. A member of Biden's COVID-19 Advisory Board was a member of the working group that created the report in question.

Amid many other suggestions, the report recommended that public health agencies "bundle vaccination with other safety-net services" like food stamps. The report does not recommend that these vaccines are mandatory in order to receive such benefits. 

Sources:

"The Public's Role in COVID-19 Vaccination", July 2020 Report from Johns Hopkins Center For Health Security and Texas State University

Monica Schoch-Spana, Senior Scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Emailed Statement

Process:

With major developments surrounding the Pfizer vaccine, the Verify team has seen many claims spreading on social media. One claim that's been bouncing around since mid-November had to do with vaccines and food stamps. 

"When you vote for tyrants, you get tyranny," wrote one person on Twitter. "Biden's COVID-19 Taskforce recommends withholding food stamps from vaccine refusers." 

The Verify team took a closer look at these posts, and found that many were linking to an article posted on a website called "The Truth About Vaccines."The same article can be found on various other domains.

The article makes various claims about Dr. Luciana Borio, who was named to President-elect Biden's COVID-19 Advisory Board in early November. 

"A prominent member of Biden's Covid-19 taskforce says that people who refuse to be vaccinated should be deprived of food stamps and rent assistance," the article reads. 


The article links to a report from The Johns Hopkins Center For Health Security and Texas State University as proof. Borio was one of 23 members of the working group that put together the report. 

The goal of the report was to provide recommendations "on how to advance public understanding of, access to, and acceptance of vaccines that protect against COVID-19."

The Verify team read through the report and found no references to food stamps being held back if people refuse a vaccine. To read the whole report for yourself, click here.

The report does make the following recommendation, relating to food stamps and vaccines:

"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. Early, rapid-response, community-based research (Recommendation #4) can help broaden planners’ understanding of how the intended beneficiaries of vaccines think about where these products fit into their lives overall, based on their own definitions of health and well-being."

The Verify team reached out to the two co-chairs of the working group, Monica Schoch-Spana and Emily Brunson, who sent the following statement: 

"As co-convenors of the Working Group on Readying Populations for COVID-19 Vaccine, and as lead authors of the working group’s July 2020 report, we would like to spotlight factual inaccuracies and misleading statements made about this document in the Distributed News post, 'Vax the Blacks.' 

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. We do advocate the provision of timely, accurate, and meaningful information so that individuals can make well-informed decisions about whether or not to accept vaccination for themselves or dependents in their care.

We support efforts to make SARS-CoV-2 vaccines readily available to everyone who wants one, including individuals with limited means. We advocate the inclusion of vaccination sites that are familiar, easy to access, and feel safe. We recommend that one option to make vaccination more accessible, particularly to poor groups, is to provide vaccination at places where these individuals already go such as WIC clinics and food banks.

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.

In addition to the above inaccuracies, 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."

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