Opinion | The mainstream media has been widely reporting that almost every person dying of COVID-19 in the United States these days is an unvaccinated person. There have been many articles published during the past three weeks alleging that 99.2 percent of those who died of COVID-19 in the U.S. in May 2021 had not been vaccinated. All of these articles cite an “analysis” done by the Associated Press (AP) and published on June 24, 2021.1 2 3 4 5 6
Reportedly, the AP analysis was based on data provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) .1 2 3 4 5 6 One article by WebMD made reference to a “new report The Associated Press released looking at COVID-19 deaths during May 2021.”7
The impression left by the article describing the analysis is that the AP published some sort of paper or study breaking down the number of COVID-19 deaths that occurred among fully vaccinated people versus unvaccinated people. But this doesn’t appear to be the case. All the reporting about an AP analysis has been about a relatively short news article written by AP reporters Carla K. Johnson and Mike Stobbe and titled “Nearly all COVID deaths in U.S. are now among unvaccinated.”3
In their article, Johnson and Stobbe said the Associated Press analysis looked at CDC data and found “more than 18,000 COVID-19 deaths in May.” They did not explain specifically how they come up with that figure. They simply said that the “AP analyzed figures provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”3
Where Did the COVID-19 Death Stats Come From?
If you go to the COVID Data Tracker section on the CDC’s website and look under the heading “Trends in Number of COVID-19 Cases and Deaths in the US Reported to CDC, by State/Territory” and sort by “Daily Deaths” under “View(left axis):” the bar chart will provide New Deaths per day and the 7-day Moving Avg Deaths. Under the chart, there is a subhead titled “Data Table for Daily Death Trends – United States.” If you click on it, a table will open up and display the New Deaths and the 7-Day Moving Avg, as well as Historic Deaths, in the U.S. all the way back to Jan. 22, 2020.8
If you add up the number of new deaths in May, the total comes out to 15,336, not the “more than 18,000” mentioned by Johnson and Stobbe. So where did that figure come from? If you go back to the “View(left axis):” box and sort by “Daily Cases” and then look at the 7-Day Moving Avg Cases for May 31, 2021, the figure provided is 18,137, but that is clearly not a total for the month and it has to do with coronavirus infections, not deaths.8
CDC Unsure What Percentage of Vaccinated People are Dying of COVID
Johnson and Stobbe said that “only about 150 of the more than 18,000 COVID-19 deaths in May were in fully vaccinated people.” Assuming that figure of 150 is accurate, the assumption—because there is no way to know for sure the vaccination status of everyone believed to have died of COVID—would be that the more than 17,850 remaining deaths must have involved unvaccinated people. As an article in Forbes in June noted, “In other words, 99.2% of the people who died from COVID-19 last month weren’t fully vaccinated against the virus.”5
But as Johnson and Stobbe noted:
The CDC itself has not estimated what percentage of hospitalizations and deaths are in fully vaccinated people, citing limitations in the data. Among them: Only about 45 states report breakthrough infections, and some are more aggressive than others in looking for such cases. So the data probably understates such infections, CDC officials said.3
If the CDC doesn’t know how many fully vaccinated people have died of COVID-19, then what methodology did the AP analysis use to conclude that only about 150 people in the U.S. died of COVID-19 in May? And, by extension then, how can it be concluded from the AP analysis that 99.2 percent COVID-19 deaths in May were among unvaccinated people? What are the other “limitations in the data” supposedly cited by the CDC?
Fauci Warns 99.2 Percent of COVID Deaths are Among Unvaccinated People
Judging by the media’s reporting of the findings of the AP analysis, the idea that people vaccinated for COVID-19 have little chance of dying of the disease while the unvaccinated have a high risk of death from it has been aggressively pushed—apparently in an effort to help increase vaccination rates, which have been slowing since April in the U.S.9 10
Now, even some high-profile U.S. health officials like Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which co-developed with Moderna an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine being distributed under emergency use authorization (EUA), have started referring to the findings of the AP analysis, without actually citing the AP as the source. This gives the impression that they are government findings, thereby giving them more weight.11 12 13 In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on July 4, Dr. Fauci said:
"Well, if you look at the number of deaths, about 99.2 percent of them are unvaccinated. About 0.8 percent are vaccinated. No vaccine is perfect, but when you talk about the avoidability of hospitalization and death, it’s really sad and tragic that most all of these are avoidable and preventable. I mean, obviously there are going to be some people, because of the variability among people and their response to vaccine that you’ll see some who are vaccinated and still get into trouble and get hospitalized and die. But the overwhelming proportion of people who get into trouble are the unvaccinated."13
Fact vs. Fiction?
As the 99.2 percent figure gets recycled in newspaper and magazine articles and on television, many Americans may come to accept it as a scientific fact. They will assume it is based on accurate data provided by the government or a peer-reviewed study published in a medical journal, rather than an article by a news agency that reads more like an opinion piece than anything else. Note the opening of the Johnson/Stobbe article:
Nearly all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. now are in people who weren’t vaccinated, a staggering demonstration of how effective the shots have been and an indication that deaths per day—now down to under 300—could be practically zero if everyone eligible got the vaccine.3
Boy, talk about a case of false advertising disguised as science-based journalism. It would be helpful if the CDC would publish the data to back up the AP analysis.
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Note: This commentary provides referenced information and perspective on a topic related to vaccine science, policy, law or ethics being discussed in public forums and by U.S. lawmakers. The websites of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) provide information and perspective of federal agencies responsible for vaccine research, development, regulation and policymaking.
1Al-Arshani S. Almost all of the current COVID-19 deaths are among those unvaccinated. Business Insider June 26, 2021.
2Aspegren E, Yancey-Bragg N, Vargas, S. Nearly all COVID deaths in US now among unvaccinated; Sydney tightens pandemic restrictions amid outbreak: Latest COVID-19 updates. USA Today June 24, 2021.
3Johnson CK, Stobbe M. Nearly all COVID deaths in US are now among unvaccinated. Associated Press June 29, 2021.
4Lonas L. AP analysis: Almost all US coronavirus deaths among unvaccinated. The Hill June 25, 2021.
5McEvoy J. 99% Of People Killed By Covid Last Month Were Unvaccinated, Analysis Finds. Forbes June 24, 2021.
6MedicineNet. 99% of New COVID Deaths Are Unvaccinated. June 28, 2021.
7McNamara D. Almost All U.S. COVID-19 Deaths Now in the Unvaccinated. WebMD June 28, 2021.
8U.S. Centers for Disease Control Prevention. COVID Data Tracker.
9Caldwell T. US Covid-19 vaccination pace is down by nearly half in the last month. These states slow to vaccinate may struggle this summer, expert warns. CNN May 22, 2021.
10Smith-Schoenwalder C. CDC Study Confirms Coronavirus Vaccination Rate Has Slowed, Lowest Coverage Among Young Adults. U.S. News & World Report June 21, 2021.
11Schnell M. Fauci: More than 99% of people who died from COVID-19 in June were not vaccinated. The Hill June 5, 2021.
12Williams C. Fauci: 99.2% of US COVID-19 deaths involved unvaccinated people. Fox 5 New York July 4, 2021.
13NBC News. Meet The Press Broadcast (Full) – July 4th, 2021. YouTube July 4, 2021.