CoViD-19 Good News Trifecta
A good news story in 3 animated graph streams
CoViD-19 produced plenty of bad news during its first two-year run of the globe. It’s now well documented that CoViD-19 was a leading cause of death in much of 2020 and 2021, occasionally even displacing accidents, cancer, and heart disease as the #1 killer — for the first time any threat has done that in decades. But a veritable avalanche of (hard to find) studies offers remarkably good news for people who are open to the plain observations of science and math: Many many (many) studies now show that CoViD-19 vaccines reduce rates of ① SARS-CoV2 infection, ② hospitalization, and ③ death from CoViD-19. This is a good news trifecta that some people accept without looking, other people reject without looking, but just maybe, we could all have a more constructive conversation about this public health topic-of-the-century if we actually just, well, looked. The data are something to behold.
We have assembled a river of data from organizations across North America to illustrate the remarkable volume and consistency of those three specific strands of good news. And we animated the collection to make it accessible in a concentrated, interactive space. However, in order to give that good news the sort of punchline pop it deserves, it is important first to explain a tiny bit of bad news that seems to be widely misunderstood.
First the bad news…
The CoViD-19 Bump in “Deaths from All Causes.”
Many CoViD-19 conversations get derailed before they get started by distracting questions about whether the century’s biggest viral pandemic really even warrants concern — for individuals or communities. Unfortunately, some public-health details can be confusing but, at the end of the day CoViD-19 emerged suddenly, it rose rapidly to one of the leading causes of death, and distorted the overall balance of life and death on a massive scale. The graph at right/above, from the NY Times, simplifies an otherwise complicated story to reveal a massive CoViD-19 bump (or set of bumps) in U.S. “deaths from all causes.” Beyond all the quibbling about whether CoViD deaths are being counted precisely or accurately, this graph displays an unmistakable US tidal wave of excess deaths, which was triggered by CoViD-19 (yellow and blue regions of graph). The original graph from the NY Times was published in March, 2021, but after their publication we obtained enough data to confirm the findings and extend the line to September of that year (blue region of graph).
Whatever else one might say about CoViD-19, it clearly killed enough people to distort the nation’s entire public health landscape. While some Americans got busy denying the reality and/or magnitude of the CoViD-19 pandemic, a bunch of scientists thought it would be reasonable, maybe even helpful, to invent and produce vaccines that could slow the spread of the virus, protect fellow citizens from the frequently miserable CoViD-19 illness, and save some lives. Now that ~9.4 billion humans and 250 million Americans have received some vaccine (>204M Americans have received 2 doses and >68M have received 3 or more), and since those vaccinated people have been studied so intensely, we have a river of data documenting the safety and health benefits of those vaccines. If vaccine pioneers were guinea pigs, as some have opined, it may be time to acknowledge that the guinea pigs have fared pretty well, and certainly much better than the people who opted to go behind them in the vaccine line (where there is still room for the next wave of cautious independent thinkers).
Speaking of lines, the following graphs present a whole bunch of them. And the closer you look, the clearer it seems that every one of us is ultimately choosing one line or another for our respective paths through the pandemic of the century (e.g., the vax lines or the unvaccinated lines). As you look, it’s tough not to ask yourself — which line seems most sensible?
Now the good news…
Vaccine impact on three key areas of the CoViD-19 pandemic.
① CoViD Case Rates
CoViD Infection/Case Rates are several times lower for vaccinated people in study after study.
Some people believe that CoViD-19 vaccines don’t offer protection from getting infected. These graphs suggest otherwise. Vaccines don’t provide perfect protection from infection, but the protection is substantial and has prevented millions of cases. This piece of good news suggests that vaccinated people reduce their odds of suffering needlessly, missing work due to infection, or spreading the disease to others. These graphs summarize remarkably consistent findings in place after place. There is no substitute for simply looking at the data. You can drag the graph stream with your finger or mouse to control the speed, or click the center of any graph to stop and expand it.
② CoViD Hospitalizations
In study after study, vaccinated people are hospitalized for CoViD-19 at vastly lower rates than unvaccinated people. This part of the good news means that vaccines are protecting individuals, reducing costs for the U.S. healthcare system, and reducing burdens on the local heroes who keep our healthcare system working (thank you!). Check out the consistent patterns in these graphs, below, and click any one to expand for closer inspection.
The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that vaccine-preventable CoViD-19 hospitalizations cost the nation more than $2 billion per month, and the bulk of those costs are born by society — not just the sick. We all pay the price for vaccine avoidance.
③ CoViD Deaths
Unvaccinated Americans have been dying from CoViD-19 at several times the rate of their vaccinated neighbors. This pattern of deadly disparity is plain to see in one data set after another, and the aggregate result is reflected in the first graph at the top of the page.
After delivering about 500 million doses of CoViD-19 vaccine to Americans of every stripe, it is a testament to American scientific commitment that we learned so much in the first phases of the pandemic. No vaccine has ever prevented every adverse health event, but we are fortunate that CoViD vaccines so dramatically REDUCE RATES of ① SARS-CoV2 infection, ② hospitalization, and ③ death from CoViD-19. This good news trifecta could very well help to inform ongoing discussions about the best way for neighbors far and near to support each other in tamping down the duration, severity, and cost of the CoViD-19 pandemic.
Matt Rain is a molecular geneticist who works on novel data analysis technologies to unstick persistent bottlenecks in biomedical research. He recently did a short guest spot on the This Week in Virology podcast (on YouTube here), which offers a little more background.