PolitiFact's July 30, 2021 fact check confirming as "Mostly True" that Gen. George Washington "mandated smallpox vaccines for the Continental Army" surprised us.
It surprised us because is was barely six months (Dec. 15, 2020) ago that PolitiFact effectively told us that immunity acquired from having COVID-19 did not count as any sort of vaccine.
In December 2020, President Donald J. Trump said (bold emphasis added):
I think that the vaccine was our goal. That was number one because that was the way — that was the way it ends. Plus, you do have an immunity. You develop immunity over a period of time, and I hear we’re close to 15 percent. I’m hearing that, and that is terrific. That’s a very powerful vaccine in itself."
For some reason, PolitiFact concluded Trump was saying 15 percent natural immunity could confer herd immunity. But Trump was obviously saying that immunity acquired via means other than the new vaccines would contribute toward herd immunity. PolitiFact gave the impression that claim was false, basically by suggesting natural immunity doesn't count as a vaccine:
Is 15% natural immunity among the American population anywhere close to a "powerful vaccine," as Trump alleges?
No, said the experts. And there’s nothing "terrific" about that level of infection within the community.
We doubt the experts were primarily at fault for misinterpreting Trump's statement, by the way. PolitiFact likely insinuated its misleading narrative in the questions it posed to its chosen list of experts.
PolitiFact's July 2021 fact check reversed on viewing naturally acquired immunity as a vaccine.
The smallpox vaccine didn’t exist when Washington was commander in chief of the Continental Army, but the point remains: he ordered the inoculation of troops against smallpox by the means that was then available, variolation.
So, even though vaccines were not invented until after the Revolutionary War, PolitiFact found it "Mostly True" that Washington mandated vaccinations for the Continental Army.
Variolation, by the way, simply meant intentionally infecting people with smallpox. It was the same virus, but tended to cause less severe illness
It's just another reminder that PolitiFact "fact checks" largely count as subjective exercises.
Note: We also wrote about the fact check of Trump back in January 2021.
Note 2: We doubt scientists have a solid idea why variolation was effective.