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A coronavirus vaccine booster clinic in Jerusalem. Israel is pressing ahead with its aggressive campaign of offering boosters to almost anyone over 12. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo) A coronavirus vaccine booster clinic in Jerusalem. Israel is pressing ahead with its aggressive campaign of offering boosters to almost anyone over 12. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

A coronavirus vaccine booster clinic in Jerusalem. Israel is pressing ahead with its aggressive campaign of offering boosters to almost anyone over 12. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg October 5, 2021

Vaccines keep people out of the hospital. A viral image of Israeli COVID-19 cases ignores that.

If Your Time is short

  • A data table shared on social media seems to show vaccinated Israelis are much more likely to catch the virus than unvaccinated people.

  • The table ignores all case counts for people under 20, and fails to note that the rate of severe cases is 10 to 20 times higher among the unvaccinated.

On TikTok and Twitter, opponents of the COVID-19 vaccines have been sharing a table that they claim shows how ineffective vaccines are.

One TikTokker, writing in a style designed to thwart efforts to block misinformation, used the table in her video.

"86% of N0VID [email protected] in Israel were FULLY you-know-whatted in July!!!!," the post said.

TikTok identified this video as part of its efforts to counter inauthentic, misleading, or false content. (Read more about PolitiFact's partnership with TikTok.)

We found the table had been shared in several web posts, and in response to a tweet by Candace Owens, a conservative pundit and vaccine skeptic. Along with the table, the Twitter respondent wrote, "How about 15,634 cases among the fully vaccinated only in July?"

The table is misleading in several respects. It cherry-picks its age groups; it doesn’t understand what the unvaccinated category means; and, above all, it obscures that unvaccinated people account for two-thirds of the serious cases in Israel. Those are the cases that kill.

The misleading table

Let’s take a closer look at the table.  

The table relies on public data to show the number of cases of COVID-19 in Israel in the month of July 2021. For people 20 and older, cases among those who had been vaccinated far outnumber those who had not been vaccinated. According to these numbers, vaccinated people account for 86% of all cases in July.

Its first error is it ignores cases for people under 20. The original data from Israel’s Ministry of Health includes them. Add those in and the totals become 16,701 cases among the vaccinated, and 13,918 among the unvaccinated.

There are still more cases among the vaccinated than among the unvaccinated, but the fraction is about 55% of the total, not the more dramatic 86% as claimed.

The next issue is more significant — the unvaccinated cases represented in this table include people who had been infected earlier.

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"Given we have tons of papers showing how previous infection provides substantial protection against reinfection, failure to remove these from the unvaccinated skews the results in that table," said Jeffrey Morris, a University of Pennsylvania biostatistician.

In September, among the 20- to 59-year-olds, one-third of the unvaccinated were previously infected. What seems like a comparison between vaccine and no-vaccine cases is actually a comparison between vaccine and a blend of no-vaccine and previously-infected cases — not at all the same thing.

On top of that, the table ignores that with nearly 80% of the Israeli population vaccinated, the number of people vaccinated far outnumbers the unvaccinated. It’s basic math. If a small percentage of the larger group catch the virus, the raw number can be bigger than if a large percentage of the much smaller group of unvaccinated people catch it.

The most important flaw in the table is it counts all reported cases, when the real threat is serious cases. Many cases are asymptomatic. A fever, even a wracking cough, that keeps you home for a week is a very different health event than a severe case of COVID-19 that sends you to the hospital because you can’t breathe. 

Morris ran the numbers from Israel in August as the delta variant took hold. The data showed that for people under 50, unvaccinated Israelis were over 10 times more likely to end up in the hospital than who were fully vaccinated.

Among people over 50, the risk jumped to over 20 times more likely.

The delta effect

Research shows that the delta variant emerged as the vaccines began to wear off. Preliminary data from Israel showed that breakthrough infections became increasingly more common with each passing month. The delta variant is much more infectious, and more likely to overwhelm a person’s immune response.

But the numbers show that even with the impact of delta, the vaccines still kept many people out of the hospital.

Our ruling

A TikTok video used a table of Israel COVID-19 cases to say 86% cases in July were in fully vaccinated individuals.

The table cherry-picks age-group data to come up with an artificially high percentage of cases from vaccinated Israelis. It omits cases among teenagers and children, and ignores that about a third of the unvaccinated Israelis enjoy some immunity from a previous infection. Gaining immunity through infection is much riskier than being vaccinated. 

The greatest flaw is it focuses on cases, the least important measure of the threat posed by COVID-19. The real danger lies in serious cases, and by that measure, the unvaccinated are 10 to 20 times more at risk. The video diverts attention from the actual health threat. 

We rate this claim False.

 

Our Sources

TikTok video, Sept. 18, 2021

Israel Ministry of Health, COVID-19 data, accessed Oct. 4, 2021

Science, A grim warning from Israel: Vaccination blunts, but does not defeat Delta, Aug. 16, 2021

COVID-19 data science, Israeli data: How can efficacy vs. severe disease be strong when 60% of hospitalized are vaccinated?, Sept. 20, 2021

COVID-19 data science, Israeli MoH data show >1/3 of unvax 20-59yr previously infected, Sept. 14, 2021

Washington Post, Coronavirus vaccines work. But this statistical illusion makes people think they don’t., Aug. 31, 2021

Email exchange, Jeffrey Morris, professor of biostatistics, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Oct. 4, 2021

 

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Vaccines keep people out of the hospital. A viral image of Israeli COVID-19 cases ignores that.

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