Misleading reports of COVID-19 vaccine “failures” from around the world.

On a day when the New York Times published an article on “vaccine breakthrough COVID-19 cases based on preliminary data,” several avid readers have sent me posts from other countries that inaccurately denigrate the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines. Maybe it should make us feel better that negative vaccine stories are not restricted to our country.

Israel

Dr. Haviv

Several people have forwarded the comments of a Dr. Kobi Haviv who was quoted on Israeli TV saying that the majority of COVID-19 patients in his hospital (Herzog Med Ctr) and the ones with the most severe illness are “fully vaccinated.” This suggested that vaccination (Pfizer vaccine in Israel) was not preventing serious illness or death.

Unfortunately, these comments concerned only a couple of individuals, without any context. Compared to a year ago, July 28, 2020, when Israel diagnosed 2,125 total new cases of the virus, 2,267 were diagnosed on Wednesday. However, on July 28 last year, there were 320 serious cases, whereas on Wednesday there were only 149. Total number of infections are down significantly with vaccination. Also, no deaths were reported in any vaccinated individuals.

His hospital is in an area where essentially everyone has been vaccinated, but also includes many immunocompromised individuals and those with other illnesses. Another doctor pointed out that one of his hospital’s serious patients is an 87-year-old who has been on a respirator for three months, meaning he is not even from the delta wave.

This physician then added, “The Delta variant is very infectious, but infection among those vaccinated is much less severe. When the numbers rise, we see an exception here or there, like the young pregnant woman who was vaccinated and ended up with severe disease and on a respirator. But I believe she will recover much easier than patients like her during the third wave.”

So, statements like Dr. Haviv’s need to be kept in context. Clearly there are reasons why some who have been vaccinated would get infected and potentially become ill, but the overall infection rate with vaccines is still eight-fold lower than in the unvaccinated. Sickness and death remain rare.

Gibraltar

I have also gotten requests to examine the Twitter comments of a @doctorTro. This U.S. based physician who’s a hunger and diet maven who reports losing 150 pounds himself, also likes to comment of COVID issues, this time in Gibraltar!

@doctorTro; before and after.

He points out that, “there is a recent outbreak in Gibraltar, where 99% are vaccinated.” He reports, “the virus spread was due to a surge of cases in vaccinated people.” 

Remarkably, @doctorTro fails to indicate that this “surge” did not involve severe infections. The single death reported in Gibraltar was in an older unvaccinated person w/multiple comorbidities as reported below.  

According to Gilbraltar government reports, “the deceased was a man aged 60-65 years old, who died this afternoon of COVID-19 pneumonitis with superimposed bacterial pneumonia. The deceased had underlying medical conditions and was unvaccinated against COVID-19.”

Gibralter’s Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo.

The Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, said: “It is deeply upsetting to announce a death from COVID-19 after so many months. My deepest condolences go to the family and friends of the deceased.” He also commented that the incidence of COVID-19 related deaths in those who are vaccinated is much lower than those who are not. “I strongly urge everyone who has not been vaccinated to contact the GHA to arrange a vaccination now”.

If every country had only 95 deaths they could attribute to COVID!

Iceland

Iceland reported 2,847 new infections over the past month, mostly from the highly infectious Delta variant and mostly in fully vaccinated people. This is the highest number of new infections in a month since the start of the pandemic. This has been trumpeted all over the Web as a “failure” of COVID-19 vaccination.

Despite this, almost all new infections in Iceland have been mild, and of the 1,239 Icelanders who had COVID-19 this week, only 3% were in the hospital. Remarkably, Iceland has not recorded a single COVID-19 death since May 25

Having no deaths and few severe cases of illness in the context of the Delta surge should absolutely be seen as a victory. Iceland ranks fourth in the world in vaccination rollout, having fully vaccinated 70.6% of its population.

For comparison, according to the CDC only 50.7% of Americans are fully vaccinated. As in Israel, most Icelanders have received Pfizer’s shot, which has been reported to be greater than 80% effective against symptomatic COVID-19 caused by the Delta variant after two doses.

If the U.S. were at a vaccination percentage equaling that in Iceland or Israel, there would be little surge in the U.S. and few people would be in the hospital. The third vaccine dose now being recommended is to reinforce immunity, not because there is any defect in the current vaccines since the third dose is the same as the current vaccine!

While all this is circulating around the world, there are signs that some news organizations are finally reinforcing the benefits of vaccination. A lead article in the WSJ yesterday pointed out that Delta variant breakthrough infections in the U.S. remain uncommon. Something to remember if you are trying to decide whether to get vaccinated.

Published by jbakerjrblog

Immunologist, former Army MD, former head of allergy and clinical immunology at University of Michigan, vaccine developer and opinionated guy.

12 thoughts on “Misleading reports of COVID-19 vaccine “failures” from around the world.

  1. I live in Massachusetts where 65% of all residents are fully vaccinated. In July as our Delta % became high, the state started monitoring fully vaccinated Covid cases as a percent of total vaccinated population. This week it was 0.29%. It seems to increase about 0.05 percentage points per week so if this continues for another year at this rate (which I am guessing it won’t) it would still be less than 3% of all vaccinated people get the infection. This is based on positive PCR, not hospitalization/death so would include some but not all asymptotic. Hospitalizations are 0.01% and deaths 0.003% for vaccinated cases. I think those are pretty good odds all things considered?

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  2. Jim,

    I keep reading about the “animal studies” where most of the animals that were vaxed did die when reinfected?

    Why do you call for speeding up FDA approval protocols when the time tables for approval have been set for a reason…supposedly to protect us?

    Why are highly effective “treatments” like Ivermectin being overlooked and not promoted? (off patent and very cheap)

    Would love to know your views on “antibody dependent enhancement” as it relates to covid?

    These are a few of the many reasons why people do not accept the narrative put out by the gov…

    As always, very grateful for your insights,

    Julie Beer

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    1. What about all the deaths and injuries being caused in people post vaccination.. The VAERS reports are all wrong then??????

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      1. If you get hit by a car after getting the vaccine it is reported to VAERS. These are statistics and do not imply causation. The important thing is that the deaths and injuries after the vaccine occur at the same frequency as what is observed in individuals who do not get the vaccine, except of course for deaths from COVID!

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  3. Thank you Dr. Baker for your continued work with this blog. I am wondering if you have any insights or theories as to the motivation for the misinformation that you highlight in this post. I have also noticed statistical tricks, semantics, and exaggerations coming from some authorities and media reports. I understand why media have a motivation to grab the attention of readers, but I can’t understand why medical authorities would mislead.

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  4. These sentences confuse me. “Compared to a year ago, July 28, 2020, when Israel diagnosed 2,125 total new cases of the virus, 2,267 were diagnosed on Wednesday. However, on July 28 last year, there were 320 serious cases, whereas on Wednesday there were only 149. Total number of infections are down significantly with vaccination.” If there were 2125 new cases a year ago and there were 2267 new cases yesterday (Wednesday), how can it follow that the ” . . . Total number of infections are down significantly with vaccination?” Is there a typo here, or do I just need another cup of coffee?

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  5. Hi Dr. Baker, good points raised about articles and media narratives that are creating confusion. At times like these, I sometimes search for underlying data to analyze myself, because the press reporting seems incomplete. Israel is doing a great job of being transparent and disclosing tons of statistics one can parse through.

    Here is a useful table:
    https://datadashboard.health.gov.il/COVID-19/general?tileName=SeriousVaccinationStatusDaily

    This data (Google offers the option to translate from Hebrew to English) shows that of current “severely ill” patients, as of August 18th, 2021, 333 are fully vaccinated, 252 are unvaccinated and 13 are partially vaccinated. So, approximately 55% of the severely ill patients are vaccinated – and Israel’s overall population vaccination percentage is ~65%.

    It seems from this data that vaccines are helping reduce severe illness to a degree, but not nearly by the significant margin as they’re being claimed to do in the current US media/public health dialogue. The faster that US public health authorities acknowledge that vaccines are not the holy grail they’re claiming to be, and that non-pharmaceutical interventions (masks/distancing) need to be implemented quickly, the sooner we can get this pandemic under control!

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    1. I wish there was larger data on this including baseline info. The population is so vaccinated in Israel that one needs to know the denominator, especially since all of their immunosuppressive individuals are vaccinated. So equal numbers may hide the actual degree of protection, especially in immunosuppressive individuals.

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