I’ve been having a friendly discussion with my sister, Val, for awhile on whether or not to take a Covid-19 vaccine. I won’t get into that discussion much other than I like to focus on the math of the situation and my sister focusses on… other things. The question of the vaccine safety came up and she pointed me at some Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) data maintained at the CDC that seems alarming so I promised that I would dig into it a little bit. Here is my analysis. All sources are at the bottom of this post.
First, when you get into VAERS, you have to acknowledge that you understand that you can’t use this data to come to any conclusions because the nature of the system is set to encourage reporting of any kind of event. Without further investigation into each event, you can easily make incorrect inferences based on uncorroborated assumptions. I understand that so please, understand that this data is freely provided, even if it’s unrelated to the vaccine in question, to allow for further investigation. It is the beginning of the data journey, not the end.
Second, I’m not an epidemiologist or a physician. I’m not trying to diagnose anything. I’m a computer geek who’s reasonably good at math. This is largely why I focus on the math but also because I think it brings insight when properly interpreted. The converse is true, it can be used to misinform when computed or interpreted incorrectly. Get the math right and a lot of other conclusions fall into place. I also feel that we should at least be able to agree on math since there is a right and a wrong answer.
Here we go.
I did a VAERS Data Search in the CDC Wonder tool at the CDC VAERS site . I selected Serious events, grouped by Age and included Death, Permanent Disability and Congenital Anomaly / Birth Defect. The data was current as of Friday, April 9, 2021. I got a total of 3,208 events. 54.7% of the events were Death in the 65+ years demographic.
I then checked the Vaccination status of the USA at the CDC Covid Data Tracker and found that 117,142,879 people in the USA had at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine which is 35.3% of the population.
Then I looked up the number of deaths in the USA from Covid-19:
So now we have a decent amount of data to play with. We have the total number of vaccines administered, total number of permanent adverse events reported and the total number of deaths from Covid-19 infection. What do we hope to learn?
There are only two ways known to us to develop immunity from a disease. Get vaccinated or get infected and recover. With any virulent disease, if you go out into public very often, you will get likely get exposed to the disease and your body will have to fight it off or you will die. There will be a lucky few who don’t get vaccinated and don’t get exposed before herd immunity kicks in but I wouldn’t count on that kind of luck. You choose vaccine or infection. It is a choice that you are making. If you do not choose vaccination, you are choosing infection.
So, which is the safer choice?
If we make the HUGE assumption (that I promised not to do when I entered the VAERS site) that every adverse event was caused by the vaccine we can come to a worst case scenario for vaccination: 3,208 / 117,142,879 = 0.0027385%. If we only count deaths which is more apples to apples: 2,210 / 117,142,879 = 0.00188866% risk of death from vaccine. That means the vaccine is 654 times or 950 times safer than infection.
But wait, there’s more. This is my amateur analysis with only high-level data. If we look at how the pros do it we get an even more astounding result. The FDA requires every death to be reported after vaccination regardless of cause of death and here’s the CDC’s analysis.
Over 167 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered in the United States from December 14, 2020, through April 5, 2021. During this time, VAERS received 2,794 reports of death (0.00167%) among people who received a COVID-19 vaccine. CDC and FDA physicians review each case report of death as soon as notified and CDC requests medical records to further assess reports. A review of available clinical information including death certificates, autopsy, and medical records revealed no evidence that vaccination contributed to patient deaths. CDC and FDA will continue to investigate reports of adverse events, including deaths, reported to VAERS.https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/adverse-events.html
I’ve given a worst case scenario of the vaccine being about one thousand times safer than infection. The CDC’s professional investigation and analysis shows that it is infinitely safer than infection.
You choose your risk. Vaccination or Infection.
It’s a safe assumption that not every infection in the USA has been reported or recorded. The total infection rate is likely much higher than 30M. I would accept a doubling of the potential infection count to 60M as being reasonable. This would lower the death rate to a bit under 1%.
There were uncounted covid deaths in the early days of the pandemic while testing was unavailable. This would not make much of a difference in the total death count.
There are a myriad of conspiracy theories that would yield wild swings in data based on what conclusion is desired. I respect the professionalism and dedication of our medical community and the US federal government employees enough to not entertain these attempts to besmirch their honor.
CDC Covid Weekly Death Data: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid_weekly/index.htm#SexAndAge
CDC Covid Data Tracker – Vaccinations: https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#vaccinations
|United States Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Public Health Service (PHS), Centers for Disease Control (CDC) / Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) 1990 – 4/2/2021, CDC WONDER On-line Database. Accessed at http://wonder.cdc.gov/vaers.html on Apr 11, 2021 12:40:14 PM|
|Event Category:||Death; Permanent Disability; Congenital Anomaly / Birth Defect *|
|State / Territory:||The United States/Territories/Unknown|
|Vaccine Products:||COVID19 VACCINE (COVID19)|
|Group By:||Serious; Age; Event Category|
|Show Zero Values:||False|
Covid Case Rates Calcuation Google Sheet – Showing my work (view only): https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1RmAo11MWxIGPpOuT2HyQ33TxlPNh1C3rztPUw4PqN2s/edit?usp=sharing
CDC Vaccine Death Analysis: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/adverse-events.html