Vaccine Risks: A Letter to my Father

My Dad won’t get a vaccine because, he says, the vaccine has killed over 3,000 people. He says he knows this because of information on Fox News, the CDC web site and “interviews with doctors”. I asked which show interviewed these doctors; he didn’t answer. I asked him why, if this were the case, the news is only reporting 6 blood clots and not 3,000 deaths. He mumbled something about George Soros owning all media except right-wing media.

So I drafted the following message, on behalf of his two sons to his father.

Fresh Covid-19 graves in Manaus, Brazil, April 2020

Dad, here’s something Brian and I would like to you see:

Trump Tells Fox News He ‘Would Recommend’ Getting COVID Jab: ‘It’s a Safe Vaccine’

We would also like to quote the CDC, which says “FDA requires healthcare providers to report any death after COVID-19 vaccination to VAERS. Reports to VAERS of death following vaccination do not necessarily mean the vaccine caused the death.” [VAERS is where the thousands of deaths have been reported.]

Please get out your calculator and follow along with me.

The average annual death rate in the United States in 2018 and 2019 was 719 per 100,000 or 0.719%. Since the population is about 328 million, the expected number of deaths in a normal year is about 2,358,000, and the expected number of deaths in a typical month is about 197,000.

35.03% of Americans had received a vaccine as of one month ago, April 10 (the source of vaccination statistics can be obtained by following the link to sources on OurWorldInData). Therefore, among people who have received the vaccine, we would naively expect to see about 69,000 deaths (35.03% of 197,000) that are not caused by the Covid vaccine, and not caused by Covid itself, within one month of receiving the vaccine.

In fact, however, elderly people such as yourself are more likely to receive the vaccine than everyone else, because vaccination drives often focus on the elderly first due to their higher risk of death by Covid. But elderly people are also much more likely to die of natural causes. Therefore, the number of people who should have died of natural causes within one month of receiving the vaccine is more than 69,000. In fact, we can predict that more than 2260 people should have died of natural causes within 24 hours of receiving the vaccine. That’s just math. Anyone can do the arithmetic for themselves, and I am asking you to participate.

But “FDA requires healthcare providers to report any death after COVID-19 vaccination to VAERS”. Therefore we should expect to see more than 2260 deaths in the VAERS system due to natural deaths within 24 hours of receiving a vaccine. And indeed, this is what we see.

As Tucker Carlson said, “a total of 3,362 people apparently died after getting the covid vaccine”, but 3300 deaths in the VAERS system is probably, approximately, the number we would expect to see if the vaccine is perfectly safe and all deaths within 24 hours of a vaccine shot are reported to VAERS. Just because Tucker Carlson said “what is happening now…is not even close to normal” and “It is not even close to what we see in previous years with previous vaccines” doesn’t mean my analysis is wrong.

So, if you disagree, tell me, where exactly is the error?

[Edit: I’m thinking now that doctors usually wouldn’t bother giving a vaccine to people who are likely to die immediately. But I would ask, what is the reporting threshold? If someone dies 5 days after taking the vaccine, does that go into VAERS? How about 20 days? Part of my point here is that my father isn’t Encyclopedia Brown. He reached an extreme conclusion without any facts to support the idea that these deaths aren’t ordinary natural ones.]

My brother, for his part, argued that even if all of these deaths were caused by the vaccine, these “deadly” vaccines would still be much safer than Covid, particularly for elderly people.

Which reminds me, if the vaccines are deadly, how likely is it that the different types of vaccine are equally deadly? It’s not like the VAERS data shows disproportionately more or fewer deaths for particular vaccines. [edit: I have seen an allegation that this isn’t necessarily true because VAERS isn’t transparent like I expected.] If vaccines are unsafe, why would different vaccine technologies made by different teams and different companies be equally unsafe? Conversely, if one vaccine is less likely to kill people than another, why doesn’t Fox News tell its viewers which one is the safer and which the more deadly?

Anyway, let’s do some more calculations, pretending that the VAERS data is not filled with naturally-occurring deaths. Well, in the United States alone, 582,000 people have died so far of Covid. Remember back in September when it was only 200,000? Those were the days.

While the Case Fatality Rate (CFR) of 1.8% is widely known and easy to calculate…

…the more important (and difficult-to-estimate) number is the Infection Fatality Rate, or IFR. IFR is the ratio of COVID-19-associated deaths to the total number of SARS-CoV-2 infections (including undiagnosed and asymptomatic cases). Neither the number of deaths nor the number of infections is known with certainty, but people across the political spectrum — left or right, top or bottom — are in agreement that infections are substantially undercounted (although those on the right are more likely to think the undercount is more vast and that deaths are overcounted). Therefore, the IFR is lower (and perhaps much lower) than the CFR.

IFR estimates vary. I don’t have a list of all scientific estimates (and if you know of a list, I’d like to see it). One scientific estimate from Imperial College London last October said it’s 1.15%, though some estimates are much lower. Perhaps the most notable estimate is published by the CDC, which has estimates broken down by age group based on a “systematic review and meta-analysis”. Based on a “best estimate” of “disease severity, viral transmissibility, and presymptomatic and asymptomatic disease transmission”, the CDC estimates the following IFRs:

  • 0–17 years old: 20 deaths per million (0.002% chance of death)
  • 18–49 years old: 500 deaths per million (0.05% chance of death)
  • 50–64 years old: 6,000 deaths per million (0.6% chance of death)
  • 65+ years old: 90,000 deaths per million (9% chance of death)

My father is in that last group, so the chance he will die if he gets Covid is about 9% (90,000 of 1,000,000). Not far from a round of Russian Roulette! Of course, the IFR also varies by age subgroup and by comorbidities, but I’m not sure how to get a more detailed estimate for my dad. Of course, the final age group is also more likely to love Fox News and to say George Soros owns most of the world’s media.

The CDC reports that 30.4% of the 152.8 million people who have received a vaccine (as of May 10) are over 65. Therefore, around 46 million people aged 65+ have had at least one vaccine shot already. Also, about 16.8% of the U.S. population is over 65 according to the CDC (9.8% aged 65–74 and 7% 75+). Since the population is about 328 million, we can calculate that around 55 million U.S. people are 65+, so most elderly people have already taken the vaccine even though elderly people are more likely to be Republican. (“328 million” is from the 2019 census, though, so the actual number of elderly will have increased slightly since then). Anybody with a calculator can figure this stuff out.

Now obviously, not all the 3,362 deaths in VAERS mentioned by Tucker Carlson were people over 65 and we can expect most of those deaths not to be related to the vaccine. But even if we pretend that all those deaths were people aged 65+ and all were killed by the vaccine, the chance of death would only be roughly 3362 in 7,633,000 which is 0.044%.

This 0.044% chance is over 200 times less risky than the 9% chance of dying from Covid-19 itself in this age group. And remember, this number 0.044% comes from badly misinterpreting the VAERS data.

Yes, dad, it’s possible you won’t get Covid if you don’t get the vaccine. But if your chance of getting Covid were only 1%, it would still be much safer to get the vaccine than to not get it. Even if the vaccine were only 50% effective (it’s probably above 90%) it would still be safer to get the vaccine than to not get it. But I would wager that the chance of unvaccinated people getting Covid at this point is closer to 50%, especially given the high rates of vaccine hesitancy in the U.S.

So, if you disagree, tell me, where exactly is the error?

And what if you’re wrong? Is it really worth a game of Russian Roulette?

Even among registered Republicans the numbers are improving, with a solid majority (56%) now saying they’re willing to get vaccinated or have already obtained a coronavirus vaccine. — Forbes

Edit: Just One More Thing

My mother is too ill for my father to take care of her anymore. Instead, he spends a lot of time visiting her in a long-term care facility, where she lives with several other elderly people.

After publishing this, my brother informed me that Covid-19 cases are relatively uncommon in my dad’s state. But if he does get infected, he could pass along the illness to my mother. She’s only 64 years old, so she hasn’t quite reached that age bracket with the 9% risk of death. On the other hand, she is too ill for my father to take care of her anymore, and those health conditions that keep her in bed all day long make her far more likely to die of Covid-19 than a normal 64-year-old.

It’s one thing for him to play Russian Roulette on himself. But if he gets infected, he may pass on the virus to his wife, especially since Covid is contagious before any symptoms appear. Not only has his wife not been vaccinated (at his encouragement), he has chosen to put his wife at a potentially greater risk than himself, and that’s not okay. And he’s chosen to put all the other people in the same care facility at risk, too, which in my opinion is even worse. You don’t get to decide that their lives are worth less because they are strangers to you. Brian and I won’t give you a pass for that. You will be responsible not only for everyone you infect in that facility, and anyone you infect in the supermarket, but everyone who infects others because you infected them. You will be responsible for the entire chain of transmission from person to person, however far it goes. And maybe you’re fine with that. But what about your wife, hmm? Would you be okay with causing her death?

Think about it.

Fighting for a better world and against dark epistemology.