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US: Fact check: Supply chain delays not related to COVID-19 vaccine mandates

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The claim: Resistance to COVID-19 vaccine mandates is responsible for supply chain backups

Trucks hauling shipping containers leave the EverPort terminal at the Port of Oakland on Oct. 14, 2021. © Justin Sullivan, Getty Images Trucks hauling shipping containers leave the EverPort terminal at the Port of Oakland on Oct. 14, 2021.

Ice cream, books and Christmas trees could all be in short supply soon due to a complex combination of rising consumer demand, labor shortages and decreased production capacity worldwide.

But online, some blame COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

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"Trucker's (sic) that refuse the Jab have refused to drive into mandate states and cities... this is why the ports, rail, and warehouses are all backed up," reads text in an Oct. 13 Facebook post. "The 'shipping crisis' is a crisis because those ports and rail terminals are in Blue States."

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The post is a screenshot of an Oct. 10 post from Joyce Bowen on Gab, a social media platform popular with conservatives. Bowen told USA TODAY in a message she copied the text from a comment by user Paul Todd.

"1.4 million of the 3 million truck drivers, including the trucking company I owns (sic), simply drive elsewhere," the text reads. "News won't talk about it, but I'm giving you first hand knowledge of what's happening and why shortages are happening."

In early September, President Joe Biden announced all employers with more than 100 workers would have to require COVID-19 vaccination or weekly testing. Some cities with large ports, such as Los Angeles, also require vaccination to enter public spaces.

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Big trucking companies have spoken out, saying vaccine requirements could potentially push truckers away and worsen supply chain woes. But experts say local, state and federal mandates are not responsible for current nationwide shipping delays.

"The online claim is too strong," John Macdonald, associate professor of supply chain management and logistics at Colorado State University, said in an email. "Drivers from companies I contacted have had no challenges fulfilling their job duties due to vaccination status."

USA TODAY reached out to Todd and the Facebook user who shared the post for comment.

Cargo containers wait to be transported after being offloaded at the Port of Los Angeles, Oct 16, 2021, in San Pedro, Calif. Supply chain issues have caused shortages of goods throughout the country with cargo ships waiting offshore in Southern California to offload. © Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Cargo containers wait to be transported after being offloaded at the Port of Los Angeles, Oct 16, 2021, in San Pedro, Calif. Supply chain issues have caused shortages of goods throughout the country with cargo ships waiting offshore in Southern California to offload.

Delays due to rising demand, production constraints

The reasons for the current supply chain problems in the U.S. predate the Biden administration's recent COVID-19 vaccine requirements. There's no evidence local or state mandates have contributed to delays, either.

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"I have seen nothing to suggest that vaccine mandates are to blame for supply chain backups," David Correll, co-director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's FreightLab, said in an email. "The available supply of both truck drivers and warehouse and dock workers was already considered ‘short’ long before COVID wreaked havoc on our supply chains."

As of 2019, more than 3.5 million Americans worked as truck drivers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with self-employed truckers making up about 29% of the truck transportation industry. But now, the industry is short tens of thousands of drivers.

Opposition to coronavirus vaccine mandates is not thought to be a contributing factor.

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Norita Taylor, director of public relations for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, told USA TODAY in an email that the group has "not heard of any such mandates or connections to (the) bottleneck." Experts who study logistics and freight transportation also say the Facebook post is baseless.

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"I have not heard anywhere that there is a widespread movement among truckers to avoid locations that have vaccine mandates as a matter of local or state policy," Steve Tracey, executive director of the Center for Supply Chain Research at Pennsylvania State University, said in an email. "If this were true, I’d have to assume it would be widely distributed information among reputable industry-focused trucking media outlets – it isn’t."

The reason for supply chain snags across the country has to do with the economic effects of COVID-19.

During the height of the pandemic, consumer spending dropped by record numbers. As more Americans got vaccinated and ventured outside their homes, spending ticked back up. Now, retail sales continue to rise.

The result: an overwhelmed supply chain.

"Over the last 20-30 years, the global logistics and manufacturing industries – much of the manufacturing off-shore in low wage countries – have been well-tuned to keep costs down, resulting in a very lean, efficient, and low-cost system," Chip White, a professor and transportation and logistics expert at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said in an email. "However, lean systems don’t react well to disruptions, and COVID has provided major disruptions in supply, labor, and demand worldwide."

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A backlog of cargo at West Coast ports, staffing gaps in the logistics industry, container shortages and rising shipping costs have all contributed to supply chain problems. Further upstream, there are production cutbacks in countries like China, which has been grappling with a far-reaching power shortage.

Fact check: Image is from Australian refugee incident in 2001

"To better cope with these disruptions, our global supply chains now need to be more resilient and agile, which requires additional buffer manufacturing capacity, freight transportation – rail, trucking and drivers – and warehousing, and inventory levels throughout the supply chain," White said, "all which costs money and will require time to implement."

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that resistance to COVID-19 vaccine mandates is responsible for supply chain backups. Experts say local, state and federal mandates are not responsible for current nationwide shipping delays. The supply chain problems are due to a combination of rising consumer demand, production constraints, cargo backlogs and labor shortages around the world.

Our fact-check sources:

  • USA TODAY, Oct. 15, Grocery store shelves bare? These products may be hard to find amid supply chain disruptions
  • USA TODAY, Oct. 21, Christmas trees, sweaters, gifts in shipping mess: How supply chain issues will affect holiday shopping
  • USA TODAY, Oct. 19, Yes, there could be a book shortage this holiday season. But it is not as bad as you think
  • USA TODAY, Jan. 11, Parler ban: What is Gab, the social network gaining popularity among conservatives?
  • Associated Press, Sept. 9, Biden announces sweeping new COVID-19 vaccine mandates for 100 million Americans
  • The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 14, Big Truckers Say Vaccine Mandate Could Push Drivers Away
  • Thomas Corsi, Oct. 21, Email exchange with USA TODAY
  • Steve Tracey, Oct. 21, Email exchange with USA TODAY
  • David Correll, Oct. 21, Email exchange with USA TODAY
  • Sampath Rajagopalan, Oct. 19, Email exchange with USA TODAY
  • The New York Times, Oct. 18, The Busiest Port in the U.S.
  • Norita Taylor, Oct. 21, Email exchange with USA TODAY
  • Chip White, Oct. 21, Email exchange with USA TODAY
  • Anne Goodchild, Oct. 21, Email exchange with USA TODAY
  • USA TODAY, Oct. 6, LA to require proof of vaccination for most indoor public venues; US to invest $1 billion on home tests: COVID updates
  • USA TODAY, Oct. 15, Supply chain issues: What are they and how will shortages impact the holiday shopping season?
  • CalMatters, Oct. 14, Port backlogs sum up California’s COVID crisis
  • Nallan Suresh, Oct. 19, Email exchange with USA TODAY
  • The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 20, China Takes the Brakes Off Coal Production to Tackle Power Shortage
  • John Macdonald, Oct. 21, Email exchange with USA TODAY
  • Los Angeles Times, Oct. 14, When will supply chains be back to normal? And how did things get so bad?
  • CNN, Oct. 19, Wanted: 80,000 truck drivers to help fix the supply chain
  • USA TODAY, Oct. 18, Fact check: California trucking regulations aren't to blame for cargo backlog
  • U.S. Census Bureau, June 6, 2019, Number of Truckers at All-Time High
  • Joyce Bowen, Oct. 21, Gab exchange with USA TODAY
  • USA TODAY, July 30, 2020, US economy contracted record 32.9% in Q2 amid state shutdowns, COVID-19 contagion fears
  • USA TODAY, April 29, The economy grew 6.4% in Q1 as stimulus checks, COVID-19 shots, looser business constraints spurred more spending
  • Associated Press, Oct. 16, Retail sales are climbing despite sticker shock in grocery stores, car lots and restaurants

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Federal advisory committee, CDC director to decide on vaccines for kids ages 5-11: Live COVID-19 updates

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Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Supply chain delays not related to COVID-19 vaccine mandates

Off to fast start, COVID-19 vaccinations for kids 5-11 will ramp up in coming days .
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