It’s misleading to compare the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines and the death rate

20 November 2020
What was claimed

The survival rate of Covid-19 without the vaccine is greater than the effectiveness of the vaccine itself.

Our verdict

The comparison with the reported effectiveness of the Moderna vaccine is misleading, as that’s looking at how many people get infected, not how many die.

A Facebook post has claimed that as the Moderna vaccine for Covid-19 is reporting 94.5% effectiveness, then it is less effective than the survival rate from the disease without a vaccine.

The comparison with the reported effectiveness of the Moderna vaccine is misleading, as that’s looking at how many people get infected, not how many die. 

What do we know about Covid’s effect?

As we’ve written about before, if you take all deaths in England and Wales that listed Covid-19 as an underlying cause up to 6 November, and compared this to the population of both regions, you could say 0.09% of the total population has already died of Covid-19. 

However, we know that not everyone in England and Wales has caught the virus and so the true death rate among those infected is significantly higher than this. Scientists estimated that, until the end of June, the actual infection fatality rate (IFR) in England was about 0.9%.

The IFR can also vary from country to country and is likely to change when things like better treatments and vaccines become available. Studies have generally estimated a global IFR of between 0.5% and 1%.

The chances of you dying from Covid-19 also greatly varies depending on your age, and overall health, which is why the Department of Health is proposing offering the elderly and those with underlying health issues any vaccine first. 

However, as we’ve also said before, not dying of Covid-19 doesn’t necessarily mean that you have fully recovered. 

The introduction of a vaccine would not just have an impact on the number of Covid deaths, but also those with long term symptoms from Covid infections known as “long Covid”. One NHS report suggested that up to 45% of those admitted to hospital with Covid up until 5 June 2020 would need “ongoing support”. The length of this ongoing support varies—1 in 20 people who get Covid are reported to have symptoms for more than eight weeks. However, longer term effects are currently still relatively unknown.

How effective is the vaccine?

On 16 November, Moderna announced that interim analysis from the phase three trial of their Covid-19 vaccine showed 94.5% efficacy; out of the 95 cases of Covid observed so far in the 30,000 participants, 90 were reported to be in the placebo group, and five in the group that received a vaccine. All of the severe cases were seen only in placebo group volunteers. 

Again, these figures are looking at infections, not deaths, so can’t be meaningfully compared to the fatality rate from Covid. 

However, this phase of the trial is still ongoing, so more cases could be reported, and the vaccine’s reported effectiveness could change.

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as partly false because the comparison with the reported effectiveness of the Moderna vaccine is misleading, as that’s looking at how many people get infected, not how many die.

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