Fact Check: CDC Data DO Show Measurable Impact Of Mass Vaccinations On COVID-19 Mortality In US

Fact Check

  • by: Ed Payne
Fact Check: CDC Data DO Show Measurable Impact Of Mass Vaccinations On COVID-19 Mortality In US It Is Measured

Do data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show mass vaccinations have had no measurable impact on COVID-19 mortality in the United States? No, that's not true: There are multiple reports and peer-reviewed studies showing a dramatic and measurable reduction of disease and death rates among the vaccinated when compared to the unvaccinated and that did have an impact on the mortality.

The claim appeared in an Instagram post by Physicians for Informed Consent (PIC) on February 23, 2022. It opened:

? ASSUMPTION: The COVID-19 vaccines prevent death from COVID-19.

✓ FACT:

CDC data show mass vaccination with the COVID-19 vaccine has had no measurable impact on COVID-19 mortality in the U.S.

In the nine months before the introduction of mass vaccination (April 2020 through December 2020), there were about 356,000 COVID-19 deaths. In the nine months after the introduction of mass vaccination, there were 342,000 COVID-19 deaths (January 2021 through September 2021), and 182,000 additional COVID-19 deaths occurred in the four months that followed (October 2021 through January 2022).

This is what the Instagram post looked like on February 23, 2022:

PIC graphic Instagram.png

(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Wed Feb 23 19:36:04 2022 UTC)

The graphic in the Instagram post shows COVID deaths in the United States over the duration of the pandemic. As of February 24, 2022, the CDC's COVID Data Tracker put the death toll at more than 936,000 people. Because the graph charts cumulative deaths, the line will always go higher as long as people are dying. If the deaths stop, the line will go flat, but it will never drop.

The increasing COVID death toll is presented as evidence of vaccines having no measurable impact on the mortality caused by the pandemic. The case appears to hinge on an orange arrow signifying the start of mass vaccinations in the United States in early December 2020. The suggestion seems to be that because people continue to die from COVID-19, the vaccines aren't doing their job. The graphic notes how a similar number of people died the nine months before vaccinations as after they began:

PIC graphic Instagram.jpg

(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Wed Feb 23 19:36:04 2022 UTC)

The assumption that the more or less constant rise of the line means there was no measurable impact discounts the possibility that the line could also have been much steeper.

Stuart C. Ray, M.D., professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told Lead Stories in a February 23, 2022, phone interview that there's no doubt about the positive impact of the shots. He said COVID vaccines have decreased disease fivefold to tenfold and death tenfold to twentyfold:

There are multiple reports and peer-reviewed studies showing a dramatic reduction in disease and deaths. ... I guess they [PIC] think the pandemic should just end. ... We don't know what it would look like without the vaccinations.

Although mass COVID vaccinations in the United States began on December 14, 2020, it would be months before a significant number of Americans were vaccinated. As of February 24, 2022, nearly 65% of the total U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. Just 43% of the fully vaccinated have also had a booster shot.

Ray questioned the conclusion in the Instagram post:

The analysis doesn't make any sense. I guess then if firefighters fight a fire for a week but it still gets bigger, they're not doing their job?

And the graph using the CDC statistics actually does show progress. About four months after vaccinations started, the curve began to flatten. It stayed that way until the delta variant became widespread late in the summer of 2021, pushing the curve steeper again. It continued rising with the highly contagious omicron variant in December 2021.

This CDC graphic (below) for April 2021 - January 2022 starkly shows how much harder the pandemic is hitting the unvaccinated. The disparity became greater with both the delta and omicron surges. In December 2021, unvaccinated adults 18 and older had a 14 times greater risk of dying from COVID than the vaccinated:

COVID death rates v vaccination status.png

(Source: CDC screenshot taken on Thu Feb 24 15:51:31 2022 UTC)

Estimates vary widely on how many lives have been saved in the United States by COVID vaccines. In July 2021, a Yale School of Public Health study said the U.S. vaccination campaign prevented 279,000 COVID-19 deaths. An October 2021 Health Capsule by the National Institutes of Health put the number at 140,000. A more recent study published on December 14, 2021, by The Commonwealth Fund came up with these conclusions:

  • In the absence of a vaccination program, there would have been approximately 1.1 million additional COVID-19 deaths and more than 10.3 million additional COVID-19 hospitalizations in the U.S. by November 2021.
  • Without the U.S. vaccination program, COVID-19 deaths would have been approximately 3.2 times higher and COVID-19 hospitalizations approximately 4.9 times higher than the actual toll during 2021.
  • If no one had been vaccinated, daily deaths from COVID-19 could have jumped to as high as 21,000 per day -- nearly 5.2 times the level of the record peak of more than 4,000 deaths per day recorded in January 2021.

For Ray, these statistics and studies are clear measurable evidence of the COVID vaccine's impact on mortality in the United States:

It's a shame that people would assume vaccines have made no impact. ... We've developed the tools to fight this epidemic. Vaccines are one of the tools we can use to reduce deaths.

If anything, the numbers seem to show that the deaths among the unvaccinated are a big cause for the trajectory of the mortality graph.

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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.


  Ed Payne

Ed Payne is a staff writer at Lead Stories. He is an Emmy Award-winning journalist as part of CNN’s coverage of 9/11. Ed worked at CNN for nearly 24 years with the CNN Radio Network and CNN Digital. Most recently, he was a Digital Senior Producer for Gray Television’s Digital Content Center, the company’s digital news hub for 100+ TV stations. Ed also worked as a writer and editor for WebMD. In addition to his journalistic endeavors, Ed is the author of two children’s book series: “The Daily Rounds of a Hound” and “Vail’s Tales.” 

Read more about or contact Ed Payne

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