An ABC News appearance by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky prompted confusion this weekend after she referred to vaccinated people killed by COVID-19 with multiple “comorbidities.”
“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?” co-host Cecilia Vega asked on Friday’s “Good Morning America.”
Some social media users said the show appeared to edit out the start of Walensky’s answer – a common practice on television to fit tight time windows.
“The overwhelming number of death, over 75 percent, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities,” Wallensky said in the posted video after Vega’s question. “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.”
Critics jumped on Walenksy’s remarks across the spectrum when they were posted online, with some thinking she was callously encouraged that only those with several underlying factors were dying of the virus, while others thought she was tacitly admitting that the coronavirus death count – officially over 800,000 and counting in the United States – was inflated since those dying had other problems.
However, a CDC spokesman confirmed Walenksy’s remarks about what was “really encouraging” referred to news about the effectiveness of vaccines against the variant, as her “over 75 percent” statement was about a newly released CDC study showing those were the deaths that occurred among vaccinated people against coronavirus. In other words, the study found breakthrough coronavirus deaths among the vaccinated were far more likely to occur among people with multiple chronic conditions or risk factors, such as advanced age or immunodeficiency.
“Among 1,228,664 persons who completed primary vaccination during December 2020-October 2021, severe COVID-19-associated outcomes (0.015%) or death (0.0033%) were rare. Risk factors for severe outcomes included age >=65 years, immunosuppressed, and six other underlying conditions. All persons with severe outcomes had at least one risk factor; 78% of persons who died had at least four,” the CDC study released Friday said.
Some users like writer James Surowiecki said Walensky appeared to make more remarks on “Good Morning America” before her line about the “over 75 percent.”
“Good Morning America screwed over Walensky by the way it edited her comments. If you watch the full section of the clip, she said something before the 75% line, presumably to explain the numbers. But GMA cut it,” he wrote.
ABC News didn’t respond to requests for comment.
A CDC spokesman said she did not mean to offend people with disabilities in a statement to Fox News Digital.
“Dr. Walensky did not intend comments in a recent television appearance to be hurtful toward those with disabilities. She is deeply concerned and cares about the health and well-being of people with disabilities and those with medical conditions who have been impacted by COVID-19. The CDC director continues her commitment to protect all Americans in this next stage of the pandemic,” he said.
Walensky also provided an update on Sunday on Twitter.
“We must protect people with comorbidities from severe #COVID19. I went into medicine – HIV specifically – and public health to protect our most at-risk,” she tweeted. “CDC is taking steps to protect those at highest risk, incl. those w/chronic health conditions, disabilities, & older adults.”