COVID-19: A Tale Of Three Percent

(Short version: The CDC isn’t lying to you — at least, not about this. But the headline is not the whole truth.)

The age of the newspaper is, alas, over. Long gone are the days when, over our morning soft-boiled egg and toast, we could read the entire daily paper from front to back, taking a few moments to complete the crossword or perhaps pencil a short letter to the editor. Today, we simply don’t have the time.

And so it’s only natural for people to attempt to inform themselves by scanning the headlines.

Unfortunately, we sometimes forget something that should be obvious: Headlines don’t tell the whole story.

Found on Twitter: “It’s weird how Israel says 60% of COVID hospitalizations are vaccinated, UK says 40%, but our gov is telling us 3%.” The meme is accompanied by three pictures of headlines that say exactly that. The intimation is clear: Other countries know the vaccines don’t work, but ours is lying to us.

Here’s why that’s not true.

The first story referenced is from the Times Of Israel: “Report indicates more than 60% of those hospitalized with coronavirus are fully vaccinated…” — which is entirely true. What was cut from the headline was the information that only one person hospitalized with serious COVID in Israel right now is under 60. (He’s in his 50s.) The remaining percentages are represented by 37 vaccinated people and 24 unvaccinated, many of whom have COVID as a secondary condition. The analysis within the report suggests that the Pfizer vaccine (the main one used in Israel) might require booster shots for those with serious underlying conditions. For our purposes, it’s enough to know that the percentages quoted are cherry-picked, and pretty meaningless out of context.

The second story isn’t actually a story per se; it’s an official correction reported by Reuters. A senior UK health advisor was quoted earlier as having said that 60% of hospitalizations were of vaccinated people; it’s actually 40%. Since the overall population is nearly 70% vaccinated, and since it’s a statement about all hospitalizations rather than only those who happen to have COVID as their primary complaint, this is actually a fairly impressive indicator that the vaccines work. It’s also useful to note that overall COVID admissions are significantly down from four months ago.

The third story discusses a Johns Hopkins report on the effectiveness of the vaccines, and includes comments from the CDC and the office of the Surgeon General. Recent numbers indicate that the recent spike in new COVID cases is mostly restricted to regions of the country that are largely unvaccinated. Some 25,000 people are presently hospitalized with COVID infections in the United States, up 50% from two weeks ago. 97% of these are among the unvaccinated — and, tellingly, over 99% of severe new cases are with unvaccinated people.

So are the vaccinations 40% effective, 60% effective, or 97% effective?

Well… no. That’s not how vaccinations work, and it’s not how statistics work.

The number in the United States is far lower among the vaccinated for at least four reasons:

  1. The vaccine is effective at preventing severe cases.
  2. Recent spikes are geographically concentrated in less-vaccinated areas.
  3. Vaccinated people, by and large, are more likely to employ other, effective prophylactic measures against transmission.
  4. American hospitals, by and large, tend to not admit non-serious COVID cases, instead recommending patients isolate at home.

In other countries, other conditions exist. And yet, examined alone, London’s numbers are similar to those of New York, which has similar vaccination rates and distancing rules. The situation in Missouri is very different from that in Vermont, but quite similar to that in Mississippi. And so on.

The bottom line is, the government isn’t lying to you. They aren’t telling the whole truth; nobody with an agenda ever does — but in this case, the truth that concerns us most is that the vaccines are fairly effective at preventing the spread of COVID, but that by themselves they are not perfect. It’s as well to continue reasonable precautions even if you are vaccinated, including wearing a mask when practicable — not to protect yourself, you understand, but to protect those around you.

Eventually, we’re all probably going to catch this in one form or another. It will take generations for humanity to evolve natural defenses against this virus, and while vaccines are a useful tool, they alone won’t ever be enough to keep us perfectly safe from epidemics. Nevertheless, it remains the wise course to continue to behave with at least a modicum of responsibility until at least other treatment protocols are developed, and hospitals and their staffs are under less of a strain nationwide.

And above all: Don’t get your news from headlines alone. That’s just foolish.


Yes, I know I’m on vacation. This is important, dammit! PS: Vacations are actually more expensive than normal time, so feel free to make a PayPal donation, or click the button below to Buy Us A Coffee Mojito!

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