Washington Post “Fact Check”

Johnson posts full response to The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) answered questions from a Washington Post “fact checker” on Tuesday, at length and in detail. His answers were largely disregarded, as the newspaper appears to have been interested only in checking the box before publishing a smear. The senator’s interest is in transparency. He has released the entirety of the newspaper’s questions and his answers.

Washington Post: Why is Senator Johnson using VAERS data to suggest the covid vaccine is causing thousands of deaths, when there is no proof of a single death occurring as a cause of the vaccine? senator Johnson said in the interview: "I’m talking to doctors who have since Day One been concerned about vaccines [for] people who have already had covid, because you die not of covid, you die of the immune-system overreaction to covid. So there’s a concern there."

Senator Johnson: The senator did not imply causality. As we already told CNN last week, the senator is not suggesting the deaths were directly caused by the covid-19 vaccine. He is simply saying we need to take the VAERS findings seriously and research what is going on. When you write that the senator “implied causality,” what is the basis for your claim? Provide evidence that the senator implied causality.  

The senator was asked a question about adverse events following the vaccine. He referenced reports to VAERS, which is the CDC/FDA system for reporting adverse events, and which is explicitly stated by the CDC as the “early warning system used to monitor adverse events that happen after vaccination.” The senator, as you know, stated that he is only reporting what is being reported to VAERS. It is a statement of fact that there are over 3,000 reports of deaths in VAERS among people who received a Covid vaccine. The reason he is concerned is that this is in contrast to the last five flu seasons, over the course of which there have been 119 reports of deaths to VAERS among people who received a seasonal flu vaccine.

See the figures from VAERS regarding flu vaccines, at left.

Compare it to figures from VAERS regarding Covid vaccines, lower.

To your second question, about vaccinating people who already have had Covid and about “immune system overreaction”:

One of the physicians the senator reached out to was noted cardiothoracic surgeon and PhD immunologist Dr. Hooman Noorchashm. The senator asked Noorchashm to summarize the relevant science for you, and this was Noorchashm’s reply:

“Of course we should be concerned about vaccinating people who have already had COVID. 

“For starters, most such persons are already naturally immune and, according to a large recent Israeli study, these folks stand to derive little to no added protection from indiscriminate vaccination. Of course, this is something every reasonable physician should be relatively certain of, even without a study: most naturally infected people are going to be naturally immune. The point is that when we deliver unnecessary medical care, including an unnecessary or marginally beneficial vaccination in naturally immune people, that's where unjustifiable harm could happen because of "one-size-fits-all thinking." 

“Secondly, no reasonable physician would administer a vaccine to an infected person, because the vaccine could actually make things worse. It's a fact that at the moment millions of Americans are infected either asymptomatically or have very mild symptoms, indiscriminately vaccinating these folks is a big mistake. 

“Third, COVID disease is, in fact, an inflammatory disease. In about 5-10% of infected the virus forces the immune system, specifically T-cells and macrophages, to get hyperactive and that's what causes severe illnesses and deaths in these folks. The concern is that force activating the immune system using the vaccine in people who've had recent infections could hyperactivate a COVID inflammatory response. Anecdotally, I think it's highly likely that this is what happened to Dr. J. Barton Williams of Memphis, TN and to Mr. Christopher Sarmiento of NM. Here's my perspective on the issue from back in April 2020, when I was working on getting FDA and OWS (including 2 EUA applications) to look at cyclosporine as a way to ameliorate the hyperinflammatory COVID-19 response - this effort was basically shut down at the time: 


“We should be very careful about indiscriminately vaccinating people who do not need the COVID-19 vaccine because they've already been already infected and are already immune. It's as simple as this: unnecessary vaccinations can only cause harm and vaccinating infected people is a mistake. Literally, millions of Americans, and many more worldwide, fall into this category right now.”

The immune system overreaction referenced here is the so-called “cytokine storm.” Definitions are easy for you to find. One is: “A cytokine storm, or hypercytokinemia is a potentially fatal immune reaction consisting of a positive feedback loop between cytokines and immune cells, with highly elevated levels of various cytokines. The primary symptoms of a cytokine storm are high fever, swelling and redness, extreme fatigue and nausea.”

Or you could simply reference your own newspaper’s coverage. For instance, this from last May:

     But many scientists have come to believe that much of the disease’s devastation comes from two intertwined causes.

     The first is the harm the virus wreaks on blood vessels, leading to clots that can range from microscopic to sizable. Patients have suffered strokes and pulmonary emboli as clots break loose and travel to the brain and lungs. A study in the Lancet, a British medical journal, showed this may be because the virus directly targets the endothelial cells that line blood vessels.

     The second is an exaggerated response from the body’s own immune system, a storm of killer “cytokines” that attack the body’s own cells along with the virus as it seeks to defend the body from an invader. …

     “What this virus does is it starts as a viral infection and becomes a more global disturbance to the immune system and blood vessels — and what kills is exactly that,” Mehra said. “Our hypothesis is that covid-19 begins as a respiratory virus and kills as a cardiovascular virus.”

This table, presented by one of the physician witnesses at one of the senator’s hearings on Covid response, illustrates the role of immune response in mortality:

Washington Post: Who are these doctors? Does any medical research available to the public support this extraordinary claim from Senator Johnson, for which no evidence is available? Senator Johnson previously issued a statement saying, "It is a legitimate question as to whether people at very low risk of suffering serious illness from Covid, particularly the young and healthy, should be encouraged to take a vaccine that is being administered under an Emergency Use Authorization — in other words, before it has been fully tested and fully approved."

Senator Johnson:

See Dr. Hooman Noorchashm statement in response 1 above.

The senator has spoken with doctors all over the world and he will not name names because they fear reprisal from the media, from their own institutions, and from the government.

In addition to Dr. Hooman Noorchashm, these doctors have testified in front of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee:

  • Dr. Peter McCullough, a cardiologist and vice chair of medicine at Baylor University Medical Center, Dr. Harvey Risch, senior professor of epidemiology at Yale University, Dr. George Fareed, trained at Harvard University and the National Institutes of Health. Combined, these physicians have more than 900 scientific research publications, extensive drug development experience, and more than 80 years’ clinical practice, including treating more than 1,000 high-risk COVID patients.
  • Dr. Pierre Kory, associate professor of medicine at St. Luke’s Aurora Medical Center, Dr. Jayanta Bhattacharya, Professor of Medicine at Stanford University and Senior Fellow at Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, Ramin Oskoui Chief Executive Officer, Foxhall Cardiology, and Jean-Jacques Rajter a pulmonologist at Broward Health Medical Center.  This is just a small sampling of doctors the senator has spoken to worldwide.

An Israeli study is showing that natural immunity from having had Covid-19 is at least as effective as vaccine immunity.

Evidence from the UK is raising safety concerns about vaccinating previously infected individuals.

Washington Post: Has his view changed now that the FDA has extended the EUA for the Pfizer vaccine to people ages 12 to 15 after a clinical trial with 2,260 participants? We previously fact-checked Senator Johnson when he claimed that natural immunity probably is stronger than vaccine immunity. I note that he also invited a known vaccine skeptic, Jane Orient, to testify in the Senate. We previously fact-checked Senator Johnson when he claimed that natural immunity probably is stronger than vaccine immunity. I note that he also invited a known vaccine skeptic, Jane Orient, to testify in the Senate.   

Senator Johnson: See Israel study link in response 2 above

In the senator’s opening statement from his Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing on Early Outpatient Treatment on December 8, 2020, he says, “So here we are again, holding a second hearing to obtain and distribute information on what is known about early treatment of COVID.” He continues, “So let me be clear: This hearing, like the first hearing, is focused on early treatment of COVID. It is not about vaccines. End of story. In my opinion, discouraging, and in some cases prohibiting, the research and use of drugs that have been safely used for decades has cost tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of people their lives.” As your own link to the EUA states: “The issuance of an EUA is not an FDA approval (licensure) of a vaccine.” The fact sheet recipients receive, also linked in your reference, states: “The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine has not undergone the same type of review as an FDA-approved or cleared product.”

Washington Post: Is Senator Johnson an anti-vaxxer? If he is concerned that the government is not being fully forthcoming with vaccine information, why has he been spreading so much vaccine misinformation?

Senator Johnson: The senator strongly supported Operation Warp Speed, and celebrated its astonishingly rapid success. He doesn’t have anything against vaccines and has gotten annual flu shots since the 1970s and is up-to-date with all other standard vaccinations. He believes government’s role is to help ensure transparency so that people have as much information as possible to make an informed decision for themselves.

Again what has the senator said that isn’t true? What is misinformation? We’ve answered and proved there’s nothing untrue or misinformation. If you proceed to write this hit piece, you should know that you are acting with actual malice.


Dr. Hooman Noorchashm Exchange with The Washington Post:

To: Hooman Noorchashm

From: Salvador Rizzo, Washington Post

Tuesday, May 11, 2021 at 7:10 PM

Hi, Dr. Noorchashm, this is Sal Rizzo at the Washington Post Fact Checker. I wanted to confirm with you whether you sent this statement to Senator Ron Johnson, which I received from his office today, attributed to you. If you can confirm tonight, that would be great. Thanks.


To: Salvador Rizzo, Washington Post

From: Hooman Noorchashm

Tuesday, May 11, 2021 at 7:56 PM

Dear Mr. Rizzo,

Yes. I did provide this e-mail to Senator Johnson - and I thank him for this precise focus on this issue.

I will add that Mr. Johnson's level of skepticism about the indiscriminate "one-size-fits-all" vaccination of the previously COVID-19 infected persons being pushed by our public health agencies, is nothing short of heroic in the patient safety and public health arena.

I would like to ask that you, at WaPo, be very carefully skeptical of the current public health and academic establishment narrative on blanket vaccination of the recently infected and naturally immune. It is a HUGE mistake our public health officials are making - both from an ethics perspective and from a public health standpoint. And, I am certain as a physician, immunologist, and public health advocate that if you all attempt to demonize this US Senator on this issue, you will regret it as jounralists. Because the truth and facts of basic science, immunology and medical ethics are stubborn things.

Happy to speak with you, if you wish.


Hooman Noorchashm MD, PhD.


To: Hooman Noorchashm

From: Salvador Rizzo, Washington Post

Tuesday, May 11, 2021 at 8:01 PM

Thank you for confirming. I think I should explain that I am not trying to demonize anyone. Fact-checking is a service for readers who would like a comprehensive review of the available body of knowledge.

Which brings me to the question of natural immunity. I just read the Israeli study. Have you reviewed the below U.S. studies and their different conclusions?

An NEJM study from January found that the Moderna vaccine “has the potential to provide durable humoral immunity” whereas “natural infection produces variable antibody longevity.” Another NEJM study published in April compared two groups of people taking the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines: some who previously had covid-19 and some who did not. The recovered patients generally had higher antibody counts at the start of the vaccination period, but not always, and by the end of the vaccination period both groups had similarly high antibody levels.

What do you make of them?


To: Salvador Rizzo, Washington Post

From: Hooman Noorchashm

Tuesday, May 11, 2021 at 8:24 PM

Mr. Rizzo,

Yes, I am very familiar with the study you are quoting. But to be 100% clear "clinical benefit" and a boost in antibody titers are not to be considered equivalent. "Clinical benefit" is what the Israeli study is addressing and is the relevant parameter to the idea of medical necessity and the medical ethical principle of "beneficence".

Specifically, the variability in the antibody levels in the naturally infected group is highly likely because of the variability in the length of time since infection as compared to the vaccination group where there is less temporal variability. It is VERY likely, therefore, that antibody levels will also decrease with time in the vaccine group. So the spread you see in the natural immunity group is actually a time distortion and has no demonstrated relationship to "clinical efficacy or benefit".

Mr. Rizzo, indiscriminate vaccination of the already immune and naturally infected is a HUGE public health error in patient safety. In America we can walk and chew gum at the same time. I've proposed a #ScreenB4Vaccine approach to the Senator and his colleagues to be circumspect instead of "one-size-fits-all". In fact, for months now, I have been communicating with Drs. Woodcock and Marks about this - to NO effect.

This is NOT about stoking vaccine hesitancy, I assure you - and so you know I am vaccinated myself as are my kids and my elderly parents....My interaction with the Senator is about being rational, ethical and about protecting lives in avoidable harm's way. Of course, it's also about earning America's trust so that people can get vaccinated feeling secure about the medical necessity of their vaccination: That is, if you are NOT immune you will benefit - if you are immune, you only take on the risk of harm with marginal benefit, at best.

I hope my explanation here helps you and I am happy to speak with you if you wish. Do this right, Mr. Rizzo - take the politics out of it.

I trust you will look up my background as a physician-scientist and a public health advocate....Do this one right, Mr. Rizzo.

In friendship and in defense of US public health,

Hooman Noorchashm MD, PhD.


May 5, 2021: Senator Johnson Radio Interview with Vicki McKenna

Vicki McKenna: How many people have gotten seriously injured or died after receiving the COVID vaccines? Do you have the answer to that question Senator?

Sen. Johnson: Well, I can report what’s being reported on the VAERS system—vaccine adverse effect reporting system, something like that—so it reports that it’s an imperfect system. In general, people are complaining that a very small percentage of adverse effects actually get reported, so again, you have to take this with a grain of salt, but according to the VAERS system, we are over 3,000 deaths within 30 days of taking the vaccine. About 40 percent of those occur on day zero, one, or two. And I met with the group of Republican senators with the NIH Director Francis Collins last week, and I raised that issue with him, because he was talking about, you know, vaccine hesitancy, and I poinedt out that that is becoming a term of derision, right? I said, the people I talked to, and based on the VAERS system, I would say that it’s probably more that people are hesitant to be coerced into participating in the largest drug trial in history. Now, I’ve also got to lay down the predicate, Vicki, I’ve praised Operation Warp Speed, I thought it was brilliant the way the Trump administration and Secretary Azar squeezed all the inefficiencies out and produced this vaccine in record time, and I’m glad people are getting vaccinated. I want this pandemic to be over as quickly as possible, but I don’t think my role is to encourage or discourage people from getting the vaccine. My role is to make sure the government is transparent, that people are fully informed when they make that decision. They need to decide this—you know, how at risk are they, if you’re old, if you have co-morbidities; you’re at pretty high risk for having a very bad outcome if you get COVID, so you’d probably be more likely to take a vaccine that has gone through phase one, the safety protocol, short-term safety, but we’re still in the phase two-three trial, which is ongoing right now through this emergency use authorization. So again, I think we need to be honest and transparent, but when I did ask Dr. Collins about the VAERS report, again, over 3,000 deaths within 30 days, 40 percent within days zero, one, or two. I said, “What do you have to say about this,” well there’s only six deaths that we have tied to the vaccine.

McKenna: That’s not even true. That’s not even true. That’s six deaths tied to the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, and that was the only six that they actually were able to directly connect, so that isn’t even true what he told you. So yes, VAERS is imperfect, and as you have pointed out, the complaint is that not enough people make the reports, and that’s why it’s not as accurate as it could be, because it underreports. That’s the main complaint.

Sen. Johnson: Well, in general, I think people because of the COVID vaccine are certainly reporting at a higher rate than they would for example, the flu vaccine, where you have very few deaths reported on the VAERS system year over year. But again, Vicki, I’ll lay out the other statistics—so if you take that divided by the number of people who’ve been vaccinated, it’s about a 0.0024 percent death rate versus COVID, according to the Oxford Center for evidence-based medicine, it’s about a 0.1 to 0.35 percent infectious fatality rate. So that’s the kind of information people need to evaluate when they choose whether or not they’re going to get vaccines, all right? But what I’m objecting to is the government coercing people, shaming. This is an individual choice, and whatever happened to health privacy? So I am sticking up for people who choose not to get vaccinated.

McKenna: Ok, and I’m glad you are, by the way. But here’s the thing: let’s talk about the 3,000, which is probably a number that’s lagging. 102 million people have received their vaccinations, and here’s what we don’t know: of the deaths, that are associated, at least in time, so in close proximity of time, and don’t seem to have other explanations with the vaccine, how many of them are people who are at 00001 risk—so somebody who’s 18 years old, or somebody who’s 25 years old? How many of the deaths are coming in demographics that are at almost zero risk of serious complication or death of COVID? I don’t have that answer because the government doesn’t want to give me answer. But that’s answer to have. So if you’re making the decision on whether or not you want to choose to get a vaccination and you’ve heard these numbers—and it’s not about vaccine hesitancy, that’s just a way to insult people, that’s just a way for the government to shut down any conversation about what’s going on, and 3,000 people is a seriously large group of people, quite frankly—what’s the risk profile in that 3,000? And that’s what I mean, why can’t I know the answer to that? We’ve heard about women 18 to 34, we’ve heard about people who’ve already had COVID, and they might be in a risk profile that should not be exposed to the vaccine. I don’t know if any of that’s true; I’m not allowed to even ask the question.

Sen. Johnson: So, I’ve broken it down, I’ve gotten the VAERS system, and that’s where I’ve gotten the 40 percent in day zero, day one, or two; about 75 percent of those deaths are people with people 65 and older, which means 25 are under that age. I think that’s roughly half between people 50 and over and people under 50. So again, you can go into the government system, you can do these statistics on your own, but no, you’re exactly right, and that’s the question we ought to be asking: what is your risk of getting seriously ill or dying of COVID if you’re very young? Again, the science tells us if you’re very young it may be more dangerous for you to get the flu than COVID. So should you be exposing yourself, or should a parent expose their child, to a vaccine that we don’t know the long-term safety effect of these. We don’t. Again, I’m not trying to encourage or discourage, I’m trying to encourage people to get informed, and to make an informed decision…

McKenna: Not supposed to.

Sen. Johnson: …based on what their risk of getting seriously ill or dying of COVID versus not knowing exactly what the long-term implications of the vaccine are.

McKenna: If you don’t want…

Sen. Johnson: We are seeing young people die, particularly if you are recently infected or if you’ve been previously infected by COVID. Now I’m talking to doctors who have, since day one, been concerned about vaccinating people who’ve already had COVID, because you die not of COVID, you die of the immune system overreaction to COVID. And so there’s a concern there—again, I think the government needs to be more transparent, more up front, and explain these things to people so they can make an informed choice, not just shame them, not run a bunch of commercials telling everybody they have to get vaccinated. I’m not sure it makes sense for everybody to get vaccinated; I’m just asking the questions, they’re legitimate questions, and I think the government, should be honest and transparent about trying to answer them.

McKenna: Yeah, well now we’ve had legitimate questions declared illegitimate questions because all you’re supposed to do is be a booster for this. All you’re supposed to do is be a booster for this. Why on earth would anybody who’s actually already had COVID get a vaccine, they’ve got antibodies, that’s enough. That’s actually probably stronger protection than the vaccine. Let me say something else about the vaccine: the whole point of Operation Warp Speed was to produce a vaccine that would target people in the highest risk categories—that’s the idea of fast-tracking this and giving an emergency use authorization after initial safety data which didn’t even test on the high risk category of people who are at serious risk of serious illness or death from COVID. It was actually tested on a very healthy population, but fine, alright, the people who this vaccine was meant for are people who are at high risk. So how are we now at the point where if you don’t get your six-year-old kid vaccinated, or if you don’t run out and stick your arm out to take part in a drug experiment, then somehow you’re a horrible person, and you’re the reason we’ll never get to herd immunity, which is garbage, it’s garbage, but you can’t call it garbage, and you can’t bring people, like some of the great doctors you’ve talked to before to explain it without being accused of being an anti-vaxxer?

Sen. Johnson: And that’s my concern. When things don’t make sense to me, and again, I got into all kinds of trouble here. What I think instead what is true, I mean, if you’ve been vaccinated, and the science tells us that it’s a highly effective vaccine—95 percent effective—why do you really care if somebody you’re standing next to isn’t vaccinated? I’m not understanding that. Listen, I want us to get to herd immunity, but I think we’re ignoring the fact that there’s about 30 million people that have been reported to have contracted COVID; I think most experts believe there’s a lot more people that have, so you add that with the number of people vaccinated, and we’re probably getting pretty close to herd immunity. So I just don’t understand this push, particularly when we are certainly seeing anecdotal evidence of people who have been recently affected to get the vaccine and have a very terrible outcome with that. And again, why children? I’m talking about adults having informed consent. A child can’t have informed consent. Why do we push this on children when we know the science tells us they really aren’t at very low risk of having a worse outcome than even if they get the flu, and we don’t make children get the flu vaccine, right?

McKenna: Yes, that’s a good point.

Sen. Johnson: It doesn’t make sense, and that’s what concerns me, that’s where I start asking a lot more questions where I start getting a lot more inquisitive. When things don’t make sense to me, I ask questions.

McKenna: And you don’t even get answers.

Sen. Johnson: I get criticized.

McKenna: Yeah, you get criticized, you get accused, you get maligned, you get smeared. Kids aren’t at risk, and thank God they’re not, that should have been the one thing we should have been celebrating this whole time, is that children were going to be spared from this. It was their grandparents who had the most risk to deal with here. And you make a good point as well: we’re not forcing kids to get flu vaccines, why on earth are we talking about forcing people? But here’s the thing: if you’ve had COVID, or if you’ve had the vaccine, why does anybody care? Why are we talking about vaccine passports? Why are we talking about ordering people to participate in a drug experiment in order to live life as a free citizen in the United States of America when we’re supposedly supposed to have some kind of constitutional protection for our freedoms?

Sen. Johnson: And my point is, we shouldn’t be shaming, we shouldn’t be coercing, we shouldn’t be mandating people to get the vaccine. We certainly shouldn’t be utilizing vaccine passports. Again, this comes from a guy that has probably gotten every flu vaccine shot since, like, the mid-70s, I think my shingles vaccine. I get vaccinated…

McKenna: Me too.

Sen. Johnson: …but I’m defending those people who have chosen not to do so.

McKenna: And you had COVID, for crying out loud.

Sen. Johnson: I did.

McKenna: And you had COVID. Senator Ron Johnson, thank you for being on the program today, really appreciate it. Thank you, as well, for being willing to ask questions, even though just for asking them, of course, you’re just the worst person on earth for asking questions that everybody wants an answer to, thank you very, very much for doing that too.

Sen. Johnson: Have a great day.

McKenna: You too!