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CDC Director Walensky’s ‘Good Morning America’ interview shared out of context

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky’s comments on COVID-19 deaths have been shared across social media out of context. The VERIFY team explains what you need to know.

On Jan. 7, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky was interviewed on ABC’s “Good Morning America” to discuss the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic. Walensky was interviewed on Good Morning America about the current state of the pandemic and to discuss the criticism surrounding the latest CDC guidelines

Since the GMA interview, one quote from the interview about who has died from COVID-19 has been widely shared across social media, including by Donald Trump Jr. 

“75% of ‘Covid Deaths’ were in people with at least 4 comorbidities according to the CDC. That’s it. That’s the tweet,” Trump Jr. wrote on Twitter.

THE QUESTION

Was CDC Director Rochelle Walensky referring to all COVID-19 deaths when she said over 75% of deaths were in people with at least four comorbidities?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is false.

No, Walensky was not referring to all COVID-19 deaths when she stated over 75% of the deaths were in people with at least four comorbidities. 

Walensky was referring to a study that found out of about 1.2 million fully vaccinated people, only 36 died of COVID-19. Twenty-eight out of 36 people, or 78%, had four or more comorbidities.

WHAT WE FOUND

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky appeared on “Good Morning America” on Jan. 7 to discuss the latest CDC guidelines, and to respond to criticism of those guidelines from the American Medical Association (AMA).

On Dec. 27, 2021, the CDC reduced the recommended time for isolation from 10 days to five days for people after they test positive or show symptoms for COVID-19. The American Medical Association issued a statement calling the new guidelines confusing and counterproductive.

During the GMA interview, Cecilia Vega asked Walensky: “I want to ask you about those encouraging headlines that we’re talking about this morning, this new study showing just how well vaccines are working to prevent severe illness. Given that, is it time to start rethinking how we’re living with this virus, that it’s potentially here to stay?”

During the segment that aired, Walensky says: “The overwhelming number of deaths, over 75%, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities, so really these are people who were unwell to begin with. And yes, really encouraging news in the context of omicron, this means not only just to get your primary series but to get your booster series and yes, we’re really encouraged by these results.”

In the full interview that was later posted to GMA’s YouTube channel, in response to Vega’s question, Walensky full answer was: “You know, a really important study if I may just summarize it, a study of 1.2 million people who were vaccinated between December and October and demonstrated that severe disease occurred in about 0.015% of the people who are receive their primary series and death in .003% of those people.  The overwhelming number of deaths over 75% occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities so really these are people who were unwell to begin with. And yes, really encouraging news in the context of omicron this means not only just to get your primary series but to get your booster series.”

The “Good Morning America” segment that aired on Jan. 7 left out the context that the statistic only applies to those who have been fully vaccinated, and does not refer to overall COVID-19 deaths.

The study she was referencing showed that from December 2020 through October 2021, of 1,228,664 persons that were fully vaccinated, only 36 died of COVID-19. According to the study, twenty-eight out of those 36 people had four or more comorbidities (78%). Of the more than 1 million cases, death in fully vaccinated individuals was at 0.0033%.

A comorbidity is the presence of one or more additional conditions co-occurring with a primary condition.

The full episode that aired and left out the context to Walensky's statement can be viewed here, with a television provider subscription. Walensky was interviewed about 34 minutes into the show.

The portion of the interview that was included in the broadcast on Jan. 7 was edited for length. On January 10, GMA published the full version of the interview on their website, with the full context and study statistics. The full interview was also posted to the GMA YouTube channel, with a disclaimer at the end of the video. 

Credit: Good Morning America
A screenshot from 'Good Morning America's' YouTube video shows the disclaimer at the end of the full interview with CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.

The CDC and the World Health Organization say being vaccinated provides greater protection against severe illness and hospitalization and helps reduce the likelihood of someone spreading COVID-19, but it does not eliminate the risk entirely. 

More from VERIFY: Fact-checking Supreme Court justices' claims about flu deaths and kids with COVID-19 in ‘serious condition’

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