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Jason Asenso
By Jason Asenso August 6, 2021

Why the COVID-19 survival rate is not over 99%

If Your Time is short

  • Most people who contract COVID-19 will not die, though an individual should not weigh their own chances of death by looking at national statistics.

  • The delta variant has lowered the effectiveness of the vaccines, although researchers aren't exactly sure to what extent.

With COVID-19 infections surging in the United States because of the more contagious delta variant, some have downplayed the number of deaths from the virus and the effectiveness of vaccines.

To minimize the importance of vaccination, an Instagram post claimed that the COVID-19 survival rate is over 99% for most age groups, while the COVID-19 vaccine’s effectiveness was 94%.

The post’s alleged survival rate for COVID-19:

  • 0 - 19 years, 99.997%

  • 20 - 49 years, 99.98%

  • 50 - 69 years, 99.5%

  • 70+ years, 94.6%

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

A problem with the post is that it improperly used the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s statistics for modeling pandemic scenarios, not for calculating COVID-19’s survival rate.

The CDC recommends the COVID-19 vaccines because they are safe and effective, even against the delta variant. Although the delta variant has slightly decreased the effectiveness of vaccines, experts still encourage vaccination as it provides a high level of protection against hospitalization and death.

An incorrect use of data

The Instagram post misrepresents data from the CDC’s COVID-19 Pandemic Planning Scenarios document published in September 2020. It was created so public health officials who use mathematical models could help hospitals and policymakers react to different levels of severity of the pandemic. The data does not show the likelihood of surviving COVID-19.

Featured Fact-check

These numbers are meant to be used for estimates of death over time, said Dr. Ruth Etzioni, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Washington School of Public Health.

PolitiFact in December fact-checked another claim that also misused the CDC data. We found that survival rates are usually calculated over a longer period of time, because death data can sometimes lag for months behind new cases.

How many people are surviving COVID-19?

Most people who get COVID-19 will survive. Of roughly 35.2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States, around 614,300 people, or 1.7%, have died, according to Johns Hopkins University’s mortality data as of Aug 6.

The CDC issues provisional death counts for COVID-19, but that data should not be used to infer a survival rate. Experts say that during a pandemic, it’s difficult to determine survival rates — such rates are usually calculated for a longer period of time, rather than as a snapshot.

The CDC data shows that most people who have died from COVID-19, about 79%, have been people ages 65 and older. People between 45 and 64 years old account for about 18% of COVID-19 deaths, and people under 45 years account for 2.8% of such deaths, according to the CDC’s data as of Aug. 6. (The CDC data isn’t broken down in the same age groups offered in the Instagram post.)

Experts believe there’s likely an undercount of COVID-19 deaths.

Etzioni said that it’s not useful to just look at the rate that people die, even if it's low, because it doesn’t tell the whole story. "If more and more younger people are getting COVID, then the total number of young people who die is going to skyrocket," Etzioni said.

Also, people should not use data on how many people have survived COVID-19 to predict their own chances of surviving infection, experts say. Someone's chances of surviving COVID-19 can vary depending on their age, health, and vaccination status — national statistics don’t account for these factors.

At an Aug. 2 press briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, discussed three different studies on the Pfizer vaccine's effectiveness against the delta variant. Fauci said the studies showed the vaccine was highly effective in protecting people against symptomatic infection and hospitalization, although the vaccine’s overall effectiveness had decreased since the delta variant emerged.

"The vaccines are doing exactly what we’re asking them to do when it comes to keeping you out of the hospital, out of serious disease, and certainly preventing your death," Fauci said.

Our ruling

An Instagram post claimed that the COVID-19 survival rate is over 99% for most age groups.

The data it cited does not show the likelihood of surviving COVID-19. The post’s claim is based on data used to model pandemic scenarios. Experts say a person cannot determine their own chances at surviving COVID-19 by looking at national statistics, because the data doesn’t take into account the person’s own risks and COVID-19 deaths are believed to be undercounted.  Survival rate data is not yet available from the CDC.

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

The Conversation, What is a breakthrough infection? 6 questions answered about catching COVID-19 after vaccination, July 28, 2021

YouTube,08/02/21: Press Briefing by White House COVID 19 Response Team and Public Health Officials, Aug. 8, 2021

Associated Press, Survival rates for COVID-19 misrepresented in posts, July 23, 2021

Public Health England, Effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against hospital admission with the Delta (B.1.617.2) variant, June 14, 2021

New England Journal of Medicine, Effectiveness of Covid-19 Vaccines against the B.1.617.2 (Delta) Variant, July 21, 2021

The Lancet, SARS-CoV-2 Delta VOC in Scotland: demographics, risk of hospital admission, and vaccine effectiveness, June 14, 2021

The White House, Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials, Aug. 2, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Safety of COVID-19 Vaccines, accessed Aug. 5, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NVSS - Provisional Death Counts for COVID-19 - Executive Summary, accessed Aug. 5, 2021

PolitiFact, How COVID-19 death counts become the stuff of conspiracy theories, Nov. 2, 2020

Johns Hopkins University & Medicine, Mortality Analyses - Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, accessed Aug. 4, 2021

PolitiFact, Viral tweet cites made-up CDC 'COVID-19 survival rates' to downplay vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Proposed COVID-19 Outbreak Scenario Parameters, Sept. 10, 2020

PolitiFact, Fact-checking Tomi Lahren on vaccines and COVID-19 survival chances, July 21, 2021

Lead Stories, Fact Check: The CDC Did NOT Declare COVID Less Fatal Than Flu When Revising Public Health Disaster Plans, Sept. 29, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19: When You've Been Fully Vaccinated, accessed Aug. 5, 2021

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Why the COVID-19 survival rate is not over 99%

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