Do the Vaccinated Now Make Up the Majority of COVID Deaths?

(Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/Boston Globe/ Getty Images.)

On November 23, the Washington Post published an analysis of the COVID-19 fatality numbers from August of this year, the month for which the most recent data is available. The study on which the article draws was conducted by Cynthia Cox, vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, and concludes that “fifty-eight percent of coronavirus deaths in August were people who were vaccinated or boosted.” This means that “for the first time, a majority of Americans dying from the coronavirus received at least the primary series of the vaccine.”  

The fact that the vaccinated now make up a majority of COVID-19 fatalities in the U.S. has been taken or used by some to suggest that the vaccines are either impotent against the virus or actively dangerous in themselves. These claims are false

Commenting on the Post article, one blogger writing under the pseudonym “Techno Fog” concludes that “this is what happens when you rush ineffective and dangerous vaccines.” However, the data in question do not in any way lend credence to the notion that the four vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. are either impotent or dangerous. On November 30 the same Cynthia Cox who conducted the study presented in the Washington Post co-authored a piece with three of her colleagues from the Kaiser Family Foundation addressing the rise in deaths among the vaccinated. The authors explain that:

During the early rollout of vaccines, vaccinated people represented a small share of total deaths, but experts warned that the share would likely rise simply because vaccinated people were representing a growing share of the population. In other words, if 100% of people in the U.S. were vaccinated, vaccinated people would represent 100% of COVID-19 deaths. Similarly, as the share of the population with a booster rose somewhat during 2022, the share of deaths among boosted people also rose. COVID-19 vaccines are very effective at preventing severe illness and death, but they are not perfect, so deaths among vaccinated people will still occur.

In a nutshell, the increased number of vaccinated dead is a straightforward consequence of the increased number of vaccinated Americans in toto. The authors go on to note that 79 percent of American adults have at least the primary series of COVID-19 vaccine and that “vaccinated and boosted people are, on average, older and more likely to have underlying health conditions that put them at risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes.” Cox also pointed out that “when CDC adjusts for some of these factors (age and population size), we still see that unvaccinated people are at much greater risk of death and other severe outcomes than people the same age who have stayed up-to-date on boosters.”

This is not the whole picture, however. The authors note that during the past year “vaccination rates have grown only slightly” while “the share of people dying who were vaccinated has risen more steeply.” The reigning theory as to why this might be the case points to the waning efficacy of the vaccine over time and the need for booster doses to sustain a robust immunity.  

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