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SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project

Video Questioning Vaccine Efficacy Pushes Falsehood About Israel Data

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SciCheck Digest

The COVID-19 death rate for unvaccinated people has been significantly higher than for vaccinated people in both Israel and the U.S. Despite that, conservative commentator Ben Swann makes the false claim in a video that Israeli data prove vaccines aren’t effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths. But the charts he uses don’t distinguish between vaccinated and unvaccinated patients.

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As COVID-19 vaccines became more widely available in the U.S. after they were introduced in December 2020, daily deaths from the disease fell from a high of 4,094 on Jan. 13 to a low of 120 on July 11, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The number of daily deaths then started rising again as the delta variant became dominant in July, reaching a high of 2,398 on Sept. 24.

Unvaccinated individuals died at a much higher rate; they had an 11 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19 in August than fully vaccinated people, according to data compiled by the CDC.

This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in July.

But Ben Swann — who has peddled dubious claims and conspiracy theories, including the falsehood that COVID-19 vaccines may include a tracking device in a microchip — recently posted a video claiming that the vaccines have been ineffective.

“The reality is, is that the numbers for COVID deaths, the numbers for COVID hospitalizations, the number of sick people, the transmission rate — none of it has changed as a result of these vaccines,” he said. “The only thing that’s changed is the bottom line for big pharma.”

To support his claim, Swann cited data from Israel — which had a successful vaccination program early on, vaccinating more than half its population by April. Almost 62% of the country’s total population is currently fully vaccinated. In the U.S., about 58% of the total population is fully vaccinated.

“So if you take a look at what’s been happening there,” Swann said in the video, referring to Israel, “you can get kind of a stronger idea of what is working and not working with the COVID-19 vaccines. And one of the things that we’re now finding is that the lie that’s been told for some time, that COVID-19 vaccines will prevent you from getting a serious case or even hospitalizations or deaths – actually, it’s not true. Statistically, the numbers are pretty much the same as they were before the vaccine was even introduced.”

He then shows a series of charts purporting to show “Deaths Per Hospitalisation,” “COVID Test Positivity Rate,” and “Hospitalisations/Positive Test Rate.” The charts all show an uptick at the end. But there are a few problems with how he presents the data.

  • First, Swann’s charts are from a Sept. 22 blog post when the delta surge was peaking. But when Swann’s video went up more than a month later on Oct. 27, COVID-19 daily rates of deaths, hospitalizations and cases in the U.S. and Israel had fallen significantly.
  • Second, neither the original post nor Swann’s video mentions the delta variant, which is more contagious than earlier versions of the virus that causes COVID-19 and led to the spike in cases that began over the summer, when attitudes toward mitigation measures like social distancing and mask wearing had relaxed.
  • And third — and most important — the charts don’t distinguish between deaths among vaccinated versus unvaccinated patients. In Israel, as in the U.S., the rates of those who have died or been severely ill from COVID-19 since the delta surge began have been higher among the unvaccinated compared with the vaccinated, according to data from the Israel Ministry of Health.

So Swann’s support for his claim doesn’t hold up.

As we said, the delta surge peaked in September. For example, the number of COVID-19 deaths during the delta surge peaked at 37 on Sept. 6, but had dropped to six on the day Swann released his video, according to data from the Israel Ministry of Health. As of Nov. 8, the number of daily deaths in Israel had fallen to three.

A chart from Our World in Data, a project run by the British nonprofit Global Change Data Lab and the ​Oxford Martin Programme on Global Development​ at the University of Oxford, shows that death rates per 1 million population from COVID-19 decreased as vaccination rates increased, until the delta variant became prevalent in July.

But again, as we said, it’s important to note that the death rate for those who were unvaccinated or partially vaccinated was higher than it was for those who were fully vaccinated in both the U.S. and Israel during the delta surge. For example, on Sept. 6, the day Israel’s delta surge peaked, Ministry of Health data show that patients over the age of 60 died at a rate of 13.6 per 100,000 people if they were unvaccinated, 10.8 if they were partially vaccinated, and 0.1 if they were fully vaccinated. For those under 60, the rates were 0.1 for unvaccinated patients and zero for partially and fully vaccinated patients.

In the U.S., the CDC’s data on vaccination status and death aren’t available for the full month of September, but they show that through August, unvaccinated people had a risk of dying that was 11.3 times greater than fully vaccinated people. (See the CDC chart at right).

As we’ve explained before, the raw numbers of hospitalizations and deaths aren’t good indicators of whether vaccines are effective.

“Epidemiologists never look at raw number of cases if we want to think about anything causal, because they don’t tell us what we want to know. We need to know the denominator too,” Matthew Fox, professor in the Departments of Epidemiology and Global Health at Boston University, told us for a story we published last week on social media posts misinterpreting data from the U.K. Fox said the death rates for vaccinated and unvaccinated people are the better measure, though there are other factors in those populations that can affect the statistics.

It’s also worth repeating what we’ve explained before — all of the COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S. are highly effective at preventing symptomatic disease. Clinical trials for all three vaccines showed that they were effective, and studies since then have demonstrated that they are effective in real-world conditions. They’ve also been shown to be effective against the delta variant, although they are less effective in preventing infection and mild disease compared with earlier versions of the virus.

Most studies show the vaccines remain highly effective in preventing serious disease, hospitalization and death from delta, and ongoing monitoring by the CDC shows that the vaccines are more than 80% effective in preventing hospitalization.

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


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