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VERIFY: No, this company didn't say getting COVID-19 is safer than getting the vaccine

A popular anti-vaccination Instagram account took a press release out of context. The company, Merck, told us the viral post is false.

WASHINGTON — As of January 26, 23.5 million Americans have received at least one dose of the COVID-91 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Almost 3.5 million have received a second dose. But with more widespread vaccinations come more misinformation.

Two anti-vaccination Instagram accounts with almost 100 thousand followers combined, and a tendency to spread misinformation about COVID-19, posted this week that "Vaccine manufacturer Merck scraps covid vaccine, saying studies show it's more effective to get the virus and recover than get the vaccine."

The posts each have thousands of likes, so the Verify team talked to experts about why this is untrue and misleading.

QUESTION:

Is natural COVID-19 infection and recovery more effective than getting the COVID-19 vaccine?

ANSWER: 

No. Pharmaceutical company Merck scrapped their vaccine in early trials because it was not as effective as other vaccines. Some Instagram post takes their information out of context.

SOURCES:

PROCESS:

As of January 27th, the only COVID-19 vaccines approved for administration in the U.S. are Pfizer and Moderna. 

Meanwhile, several other pharmaceutical companies are in the midst of clinical studies for their own vaccines. Until January 25th, Merck was one of those companies.

That's when they released a press release announcing they were ending the development of their two SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 vaccine candidates. The release says "This decision follows Merck’s review of findings from Phase 1 clinical studies for the vaccines...the immune responses were inferior to those seen following natural infection and those reported for other SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 vaccines."

A popular Instagram account took this out of context and appears to convey that this press release shows that natural infection and recovery is more effective than a vaccine. A spokesperson for Merck told us this is outright false.

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Credit: WUSA9 VERIFY
Instagram post falsely claims COVID infection and recovery is better than vaccine

Merck's early vaccine trials showed low effectiveness compared to natural infection and other vaccines. They never said that it is better to get COVID-19 and recover than get any vaccine.

In a statement to Verify, Merck praises the other vaccines on the market, saying "We are encouraged by the recent progress of other authorized and late-stage COVID-19 vaccine candidates that have set a high bar for efficacy and safety. This is good news for our industry and for society."

According to the CDC, scientists are still studying whether a COVID-19 infection provides any future immunity. 

So far, a few people have been re-infected, but they say it is rare. They say in their vaccine FAQ, "Experts do not yet know how long someone is protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19. The immunity someone gains from having an infection, called “natural immunity,” varies from person to person."

We can Verify that Merck did end their vaccine trials, but they say the claim that "it's more effective to get the virus and recover than get the vaccine" is outright false.