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Andy Nguyen
By Andy Nguyen January 3, 2022

No, declining the COVID-19 vaccine won’t make you ‘99.8%’ safe from the virus

If Your Time is short

  • The overall survival and fatality rate of COVID-19 in a given population should not be confused with an individual's chance of survival from the virus. 
  • The unvaccinated account for a majority of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the United States. 
  • The COVID-19 vaccines have proven safe and effective in reducing the risk of infection and hospitalization.

An image shared on Instagram claims that people are largely safe from catching COVID-19 even if they don't take the vaccine.

"By declining the vax, I am 100% safe from adverse reactions and 99.8% safe from COVID," the image's text reads. "I'd say those are pretty safe [odds.]"

The image appears to be a screenshot of an Instagram post. Although the account featured in the post does have several anti-vaccination posts, we could not find that specific image on its timeline.

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

While the post doesn’t give a source for the figures it cites, we’ve fact-checked similar claims before about unvaccinated people and their chances of survival against COVID-19.

As with the previous claims, this post appears to conflate the global survival rate for the virus with an individual’s chance of survival.

Of the 290 million people in the world who have tested positive for the virus as of Jan. 3, around 5.4 million people, or fewer than 2%, have died, according to The New York Times. That means at least 98% of people in the world who had COVID-19 survived.

However, the global survival rate for the virus should not be considered the same thing as an individual’s chance of survival.

A person's age, gender, health history and where they live all factor into how likely they are to survive an infection, according to Our World in Data.

No vaccine is ever 100% effective, but early studies showed the protection provided by the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines can reduce a person's risk of infection from the virus by as much as 91%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine can reduce that risk by 66%.

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The vaccines' effectiveness has waned over time and with the prevalence of more infectious coronavirus variants like delta and omicron, prompting health officials to approve booster shots. Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson have said booster doses of their vaccines are able to protect against severe symptoms and hospitalization related to the omicron variant. 

Health officials have also stressed the vaccines are safe to use and that serious adverse reactions are rare.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said during a November White House briefing, before this post was made, that unvaccinated people in the U.S. are six times more likely to test positive for the virus and have at least a 14 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19 compared with vaccinated people. In a December briefing following a surge in cases caused by the omicron variant, Walensky said those figures only went up: Unvaccinated people in the U.S. were 10 times more likely to test positive for the virus and were at 20 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19 compared with vaccinated people who received a booster dose. The hospitalization rate for unvaccinated adults in the country was also 17 times higher.

"Our vaccines are working really well to prevent severe disease and hospitalization and death," Walensky said. "They’re actually also working quite well to prevent cases, although we do know more breakthrough cases are happening in the context of omicron."

The latest data from the CDC also show the case and death rates of COVID-19 remain high among unvaccinated individuals compared with those who are vaccinated.

Similarly, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a July interview with NBC that unvaccinated people accounted for 99% of deaths in the U.S. related to the virus. And, accounting for omicron, he said in the December White House briefing that while omicron may result in less severe symptoms compared with the other variants, its increased transmissibility is still a danger, especially among unvaccinated populations. 

"The risk of severe disease from any circulating variant, including omicron, is much, much higher for the unvaccinated," he said. 

Our ruling

An image shared on Instagram claimed that not getting vaccinated against the coronavirus makes a person "100% safe from adverse reactions and 99.8% safe from COVID."

The claim appears to conflate the total survival rate of the virus in the world with an individual’s chance of survival.

The COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be safe and effective in reducing a person’s risk of infection and hospitalization from the virus. Positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been fueled by the unvaccinated. This trend has continued even as omicron has spread.

The claim does contain an element of truth. By not getting vaccinated against COVID-19, a person does have a 100% chance of being safe from adverse reactions associated with those vaccines. However, developing a serious adverse reaction is rare. And serious health effects related to COVID-19 infection are more common.

We rate this claim Mostly False.

Our Sources

Instagram post, Dec. 4, 2021

Archive of Dec. 4, 2021 Instagram post

Instagram, account of Devin Vrana, accessed Dec. 23, 2021

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

PolitiFact, "Why the COVID-19 survival rate is not over 99%," Aug. 6, 2021

The New York Times, "Coronavirus World Map: Tracking the Global Outbreak," accessed Dec. 23, 2021

CDC, Estimated COVID-19 Burden, Nov. 16, 2021

Our World in Data, Mortality Risk of COVID-19, accessed Jan. 3, 2022

CDC, "CDC COVID-19 Study Shows mRNA Vaccines Reduce Risk of Infection by 91 Percent for Fully Vaccinated People," June 7, 2021

CDC, "Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine Overview and Safety," Dec. 28, 2021

PolitiFact, "What do we really know about COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness," Oct. 29, 2021

Moderna, "Moderna announces preliminary booster data and updates strategy to address omicron variant," Dec. 20, 2021

Pfizer, "Pfizer and BioNTech Provide Update on Omicron Variant," Dec. 8, 2021

Johnson and Johnson, "Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine Demonstrates 85 Percent Effectiveness against Hospitalization in South Africa when Omicron was Dominant," Dec. 30, 2021

PolitiFact, "Vaccine boosters mean vaccines failed? Wrong," Oct. 29, 2021

CDC, Selected Adverse Events Reported after COVID-19 Vaccination, Dec. 28, 2021

White House, Press Briefing by White House COVID-⁠19 Response Team and Public Health Officials, Nov. 22, 2021

White House, Press Briefing by White House COVID-⁠19 Response Team and Public Health Officials, Dec. 29, 2021

CDC, Rates of COVID-19 Cases and Deaths by Vaccination Status, accessed Jan. 2, 2022

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No, declining the COVID-19 vaccine won’t make you ‘99.8%’ safe from the virus

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