COVID-19 vaccines have prevented deaths as opposed to misleading graphics on social media
COVID-19 vaccines have prevented deaths as opposed to misleading graphics on social media

COVID-19 vaccines have prevented deaths as opposed to misleading graphics on social media

SciCheck Digest

Studies have shown that COVID-19 vaccines have prevented serious illness and death. But false claims that they do not work continue to circulate online. One claim is based on a misleading graph showing cumulative deaths in the United States, but omits information on the number of deaths among the vaccinated versus unvaccinated since the shots became available.

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Vaccines have prevented deaths and serious illness from COVID-19, surveys have shown.

An early examination funded by the National Institutes of Health estimated that vaccines had prevented nearly 140,000 deaths in the United States by May 2021.

A newer one analysis who looked at the first year the vaccines were available found that wwithout the vaccines, there would have been an additional 1.1 million deaths and 10.3 million hospitalizations in the United States

But untruths claiming the vaccines do not work continue to spread on social media.

Physicians for informed consent, a California-based nonprofit it was organized with the aim of educating “the public about natural immunity, vaccine risks and informed consent,” has shared a post designed to look like a fact check. But instead of being factual, it spreads this claim (initial emphasis): “CDC data show mass vaccination with the COVID-19 vaccine has had no measurable effect on COVID-19 Mortality in the United States “

That post has been shared on both Facebook and Instagram.

Although the post looks credible – with a graph and information attributed to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – it is actually misleading.

We start with the graph that comes with the post.

To support its claim that the vaccines have had “no measurable effect” on COVID-19 deaths, the post contains a graph showing steadily increasing deaths from March 2020 to January 2022 in the United States, with a marker noting when the vaccines were introduced in December 2020.

But the graph shows the cumulative Total of deaths during the pandemic. So the line will continue to rise as more deaths are added each day to the total number. The graph does not tell us anything about the effect of vaccines on COVID-19.

A more useful graphic would show the number of cases and deaths each day. Below, we see that the death rate was much higher relative to the number of cases before the vaccines became widely available through the spring of 2021.

We also asked Dr. William SchaffnerProfessor of Preventive Medicine in the Department of Health Policy and Professor of Medicine in the Department of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, about the graph used in the post, and he said: “The second thing we need to remember – it has not been one pandemic, in a sense, it has been three. ”

First there was the original strain of the virus causing COVID-19, then in the summer of 2021 delta variant caused a new wave of infection, and so in December omicron variant became dominant and caused an increase in cases.

These two variants, which appeared in the United States after the vaccines were introduced, were much more transferable. So, Schaffner noted, part of the reason for the increase in infections related to each of these variants is “just a matter of numbers.”

But proportionately, far fewer people ended up dying, as can be seen in the graphs above. Although vaccines are not the only reason for this, they are a major cause.

As for the second alleged support for the claim, the post states: “In the nine months before the introduction of mass vaccination (April 2020 to December 2020), there were around 356,000 COVID-19 deaths. In the nine months after the introduction of mass vaccination, there were 342,000 COVID-19 deaths (January 2021 to September 2021) and 182,000 additional COVID-19 deaths in the four months that followed (October 2021 to January 2022).

These numbers are fundamentally correct, but what the post fails to mention is that the two nine-month periods were very different. For much of the first period, some parts of the country was under residence order as well masking and social distance mandates. In the other, many more people were out traveling. Simply comparing deaths from these two time periods provides no insight into whether the vaccines saved lives.

“There were so many variables at play in this time,” Schaffner said.

“Before and after the analysis, assume the circumstances were the same, but they were not,” he said.

Even more critical were most of the deaths that occurred after the vaccines became available among unvaccinated people.

ONE examination to look at the efficacy of the vaccines against both the delta and omicron variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 was published in the January 28 issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Report. The study showed that those who had been fully vaccinated and boosted performed best against each variant, while those who had not been vaccinated performed worst.

“During October-November, unvaccinated individuals had a 13.9 and 53.2-fold increased risk of infection and COVID-19-associated death, respectively, compared with fully vaccinated individuals receiving booster doses, and 4.0 and 12.7-fold, respectively. such a high risk compared to fully vaccinated individuals without booster doses, ”according to examination.

That curve above describes the COVID-19 death rate by vaccination status, showing that the unvaccinated have accounted for the majority of deaths since vaccines became widely available in the spring of 2021.

Informed consent physicians did not mention the difference in death rates for the vaccinated versus the unvaccinated because “it is an unproven hypothesis that appears to be based on data sets depending on test practice for the observed subjects,” Greg Glaser, general. adviser and National Coalition Director of Physicians for Informed Consent, told us in an email.

He cited the second of five restrictions explained in the recent CDC study, which said, “this ecological study lacked multivariate adjustments and causality could not be determined. Possible differences in testing, infection-derived immunity, declining vaccine- derived immunity or preventive behavior according to age and vaccination status may in part explain differences in rates between groups; trends are likely to be affected by temporal changes in testing or reporting. “

But Schaffner explained that what Glaser had pointed out was merely a usual recognition of limitations included in scientific studies.

“Here you have people who over-interpret a fairly standard language,” he said, explaining that it is called a restriction clause. It is an acknowledgment that you can not make a perfect study out in the world that you might in a laboratory.

“You have to recognize that there are things out there in the busy world,” he said, and including a section on limitations is one way of saying, “no study is perfect, and our study is not either.”

Schaffner noted that Physicians for Informed Consent did not include a section on restrictions in his post.

“They do not take into account the difference between delta and omicron, they do not take into account the differences in test practices,” he said.

In addition, other studies that have tried to check for a number of differences in populations have repeatedly found that the vaccines are extremely effective. A UK examinationfor example, who evaluated the efficacy of the vaccine by comparing the vaccination status of individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 with those who had symptoms but tested negative, found that the two-dose Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine was up to 88% effective for to prevent symptomatic disease against the delta variant.

The bottom line, Schaffner said, is that “public health authorities, infectious disease specialists around the world in countries with different cultures and languages ​​have all looked at the data … and there is, in the professional community around the world, an enthusiastic recognition that these vaccines are very effective in preventing serious illness. “

Editor’s note: SciChecks COVID-19 / vaccination project is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The fund has no control over’s editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation. The aim of the project is to increase the exposure to accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines, while reducing the impact of misinformation.


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Gupta, Sumedha, et al. “Vaccinations against COVID-19 may have averted up to 140,000 deaths in the United States. “Health Affairs. August 18, 2021.

Schneider, Eric, et al. “The US COVID-19 vaccination program after one year: How many deaths and hospitalizations were averted?“Commonwealth Fund. December 14, 2021.

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Schaffner, William. Professor, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Telephone interview with March 2, 2022

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Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths by vaccination status. “Opened 28 February 2022.

Lopez Bernal, Jamie, et al. “The efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines against the B.1.617.2 (Delta) variant. “New England Journal of Medicine. August 12, 2021.

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