Fact-check: NC lawmaker ‘flat-out wrong’ about COVID vaccines

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic and misinformation continues to spread — even from elected leaders.

CBS 17 News fact-checked an email sent by state Rep. Larry Pittman (R-Cabarrus) to every member of the General Assembly and found it was full of dubious claims.

The email, a response to a Forsyth County man who said he lost his brother to COVID-19, was CC’d to the House and Senate members, the founder of a group skeptical of vaccines and a Cabarrus County school board member.

In it, Pittman offered his sympathies before dovetailing into several claims that Dr. Alexa Mieses Malchuk of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine said were not factual — even calling it a “threat to public health.”

“To me, the part that is most disappointing about something like this is that people in our society look to political leaders and other public figures for guidance,” Malchuk said. “We know when they see their favorite athlete or their favorite politician getting vaccinated, it has the potential to change the way that they think about the COVID vaccine. 

“So to have a public figure and political leader spreading misinformation, I actually think it’s a threat to public health,” she said. “And I’m really sorry that I’m here to see it.”

CBS 17 made numerous attempts to contact Pittman after obtaining the email in question, emailing him twice since last week, calling both phone numbers listed for him on his official NCGA website and stopping by his office at the General Assembly on Monday afternoon. No one answered, and CBS 17 did not receive a response.

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THE CLAIM: Pittman wrote that “the fact that the shot is killing a lot (of) people has been ignored or downplayed.”

THE FACTS: “I mean, that’s just flat-out wrong,” Malchuk said. “The vaccine is not killing people. In fact, it’s saving hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives, not just here in the United States, but across the globe.”

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THE CLAIM: Pittman wrote that “most of the masks people are using cannot stop this ‘virus’ from getting through, and when a masked person breathes out or coughs, it is clear that air, which may be bearing all kinds of infectious substances, escapes around the mask.”

THE FACTS: Numerous studies have shown the effectiveness of masks, including one from the ABC Science Collaborative — a team of doctors at Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill — that showed how the use of masks cut transmission in schools.

“We’ve known for a long time that wearing a mask can help protect others around you, as well as yourself from getting all sorts of illnesses, including COVID-19,” Malchuk said.

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THE CLAIM: Pittman says “the RNA in shots actually causes one’s body to create the ‘virus,’ and that this is not really a vaccine.”

THE FACTS: He appears to be talking about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which are based on messenger RNA. Those vaccines use genetic information from the virus — but not the viruses themselves — to trigger an immune response. They carry no risk of causing the disease in someone who is vaccinated with one, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Now, mRNA enters the cell, but it never enters the nucleus,” Malchuk said. “It doesn’t alter our DNA or anything like that. Instead, what it does is it tells our cells how to fight the COVID-19 virus. It does not make your cells make the virus. It just teaches your cells how to fight the virus.”


CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March 2020, compiling data from federal, state, and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.


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