Fact Check: 'Real Math' Of COVID-19 Vaccine Efficacy Is NOT Accurate -- Vaccine Risk Reduction and Deaths Are Misinterpreted

Fact Check

  • by: Christiana Dillard
Fact Check: 'Real Math' Of COVID-19 Vaccine Efficacy Is NOT Accurate -- Vaccine Risk Reduction and Deaths Are Misinterpreted Out Of Context

Does the "real math" of COVID-19 vaccine efficacy suggest that vaccine risk reduction and death figures point to the inefficacy of the vaccines? No, that's not true: A video makes false claims about the findings of a short comment published in The Lancet medical journal and misuses rough reports about vaccine reactions in exactly the way the reporting database warns users those data cannot be used.

The claims appeared in a TikTok video (archived here) published in October 2021. The video was titled:

The Real Math Regarding The 💉

Users on social media saw this title, description and thumbnail:

deen.and.bantz on TikTok

The Real Math Regarding The ???? #covidvaccine #covid19 #math #fyp #foryou #fypシ #vir#MakeItCinematic

The video contains calculations using both misinterpreted and fabricated statistical figures. This fact check will clarify what these numbers actually mean and how they should be interpreted.

False Claim: A Lancet note about risk reduction statistics proves COVID-19 vaccines are not effective
Beginning at the 0:10-mark, the video attempts to explain relative risk reduction (RRR) versus absolute risk reduction (ARR) in COVID-19 vaccines. It cites what the narrator calls "a peer-reviewed study in The Lancet" for its information; however, the information is only a comment, not a peer-reviewed article, published in The Lancet titled "COVID-19 vaccine efficacy and effectiveness--the elephant (not) in the room." The author of the comment told Lead Stories his short article cannot be used to disprove the effectiveness of vaccines. Lead Stories investigated that Lancet commentary note in this fact check. The fact check discusses the difference between RRR and ARR and elucidates the number needed to vaccinate (NNV) figure that the video also misinterprets (beginning at the 1:09-mark). As the fact check explains, although the comment from The Lancet argues that relative risk reduction is not the best statistical figure to use when reporting vaccine efficacy, it never suggests that COVID-19 vaccines are not effective.

False Claim: COVID-19 vaccine deaths exceed 10,000
The video goes on to perform a calculation that supposedly reveals a much greater likelihood of COVID-19 vaccine deaths than of COVID-19 deaths. But one of the first figures used in the calculation is erroneous, thereby nullifying the conclusion. Beginning at the 1:37-mark, the video claims that there have officially been 10,355 deaths attributed to COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S.

There is no evidence to support this number. Many debunked claims about vaccine deaths misuse the list of reports in the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). VAERS is a database co-managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration to track adverse events following vaccinations, including COVID vaccinations. The database is open, meaning that although health professionals and vaccine manufacturers are required to report certain events in the database, to cast the widest possible net, the reporting site is open to anyone with an internet connection. The reports are not vetted or in any way confirmed, and multiple reports may be entered for the same case. As a result, VAERS data do not prove that any vaccine is the direct cause of an adverse event. As the "Guide to Interpreting VAERS Data" explains:

When evaluating data from VAERS, it is important to note that for any reported event, no cause-and-effect relationship has been established. Reports of all possible associations between vaccines and adverse events (possible side effects) are filed in VAERS. Therefore, VAERS collects data on any adverse event following vaccination, be it coincidental or truly caused by a vaccine. The report of an adverse event to VAERS is not documentation that a vaccine caused the event.

According to the most recent data released by the CDC:

Reports of death after COVID-19 vaccination are rare. More than 408 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered in the United States from December 14, 2020, through October 18, 2021. During this time, VAERS received 8,878 reports of death (0.0022%) among people who received a COVID-19 vaccine. FDA requires healthcare providers to report any death after COVID-19 vaccination to VAERS, even if it's unclear whether the vaccine was the cause. Reports of adverse events to VAERS following vaccination, including deaths, do not necessarily mean that a vaccine caused a health problem. A review of available clinical information, including death certificates, autopsy, and medical records, has not established a causal link to COVID-19 vaccines. However, recent reports indicate a plausible causal relationship between the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine and TTS, a rare and serious adverse event--blood clots with low platelets--which has caused deaths

Other claims used to suggest that COVID-19 vaccines are not effective overall are debunked in this Lead Stories fact check.

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.


  Christiana Dillard

Christiana Dillard is a former news writer for Temple University’s Lew Klein College of Media and Communication. She received her undergraduate degree in English Writing from the University of Pittsburgh. She has been a freelance writer for several organizations including the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation, Pitt Magazine, and The Heinz Endowments. When she’s not producing or studying media she’s binging it, watching YouTube videos or any interesting series she can find on streaming services.

Read more about or contact Christiana Dillard

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