Monthly Archives: January 2022

When can we get off the COVID-19 rollercoaster?

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, January 7, 2022)

The headline photo is not meant to imply the COVID-19 pandemic has been an amusement ride. Quite the opposite. But it has gotten to the point where some of my family, friends and colleagues, who were originally terrified of this virus, are ready to get off this ride and get back to some form of relative normal.

“At this point I’d rather just get it,” I overheard at the Stop and Shop grocery storein Pennington, New Jersey yesterday.

Personally, I expect to be wearing a mask at indoor locations for many months going forward, if not years. Even as I oppose mask mandates and other Karen-generating policies, I consider it no inconvenience to wear a mask or maintain a healthy distance from strangers. I’ve never liked being physically close to people in the first place. [I guess my sensory processing problems are finally paying off!]

A recent news story out of the U.K., which was given little attention here in the U.S., concerned comments from one of the scientists that helped create the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for COVID-19.

“We can’t vaccinate the planet every four to six months. It’s not sustainable or affordable,” Professor Andrew Pollard, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group and head of the U.K.’s Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, told The Daily Telegraph.

This man cannot be dismissed as a crank trying to spread misinformation.

Dr. Pollard noted the much slower vaccine rollouts in countries outside Europe and North America as problematic for humans trying to control the coronavirus. The vaccines are too cost prohibitive and too transitory in their effect, he says.

Instead, he believes, in the future countries “need to target the vulnerable” rather than trying to vaccinate everyone, including healthy children, who are not at great risk from this virus.

Pollard further argued that we do not have enough evidence to warrant offering a fourth (‘second booster”) COVID-19 vaccine shot.

I fully expect Dr. Pollard will be banned from Twitter and Facebook if he keeps talking like this.

Is Omicron scarier than other COVID-19 variants?

Sadly, the Omicron variant has given new life to the COVID-19 panic cult, though, admittedly, there appears to be something different (and potentially scary) in the latest epidemiological data.

Normally, I would go straight to national or worldwide data to support this point, but some more localized numbers just startled me. The first was a from New Jersey’s Department of Health: On January 5th, 106 new COVID-19 deaths were reported in New Jersey.

New Jersey hasn’t seen numbers like that since the peak of the Winter 2020–21 surge. And we are a state that has implemented some of the most draconian COVID-19 measures to go along with one of the country’s highest vaccination rates. [My teenage age son received his booster shot the day the CDC approved it for his age group — and he had to stand in line behind other teenagers to get it.]

Predictably, Democrats and news pundits have made sick sport of victim shaming and blaming the unvaccinated for our nation’s growing COVID-19 cases and deaths. Unfortunately for their narrative, it was a second number from the county government in Bucks County, Pennsylvania (which neighbors my county) that really caught my attention: 38 percent of the 199 people hospitalized with COVID-19 during the week ending January 4th were vaccinated.

Figure 1: COVID-19 Hospitalizations in Bucks County, PA (week ending January 4, 2022)

Source: Bucks County Government (PA)

Maybe more distressing is that 27 percent of ICU patients during that week were vaccinated, as were 31 percent of COVID-19 patients on ventilators.

This is not my way of saying, vaccinations don’t matter. They absolutely do (and in a big way). But, as I increasingly hear people say they are weary of worrying about COVID-19, the public policy analyst in me recognizes that this country may be near its peak level of vaccination. As the second dose and booster jabs slowly wear off (in roughly 5 to 6 months), it may be difficult to get Americans to go back online to make reservations for future booster shots at the pace they did the first time. The current 62 percent full vaccination rate may be as good as it gets.

It is fantasy to think a country of 330 million people will ever achieve even an 80 percent full vaccination rate. As we start to vaccinate small children, who are not generally at risk for serious symptoms from COVID-19, the U.S. vaccination level will rise faster, but current trends according to New York Times’ statisticians estimate the end-of-year full vaccination rate will be around 75 percent. Notably, these statisticians admit their earlier long-term projects for U.S. vaccinations levels were far too optimistic.

The U.S. is probably nearing its maximum vaccination level. And it is not just because of “misinformed,” plaid shirt Republicans. In reality, it is hard to get people to do anything, even when it is in their best interest. People are busy with their lives. But, more importantly, they have a genetic propensity for misestimating their own risk probabilities. Life is much happier with your head in the sand. I can vouge for that.

It also doesn’t help that most people in this country will NOT die from COVID-19, no matter how long it stays with us. The odds are in the favor of those with meh amounts of concern about COVID-19. 

I estimate from CDC’s reported numbers that there is about a 1-in-130 chance that an unvaccinated person will die from COVID-19 in the next 12 months. [I don’t like those odds, but many people do.]

You can’t build public policy around wishful thinking and an exaggerated sense of politicians’ power over nature. We need to develop a vaccine against such delusions and jab our political leaders and policy experts as soon as possible. Omicron, oddly enough, may be the vaccine to do just that.

Its hard to imagine that the American public can keep riding this rollercoaster as we are right now. Politicians from both sides of the aisle are already losing their appetite for strict COVID-19 related mandates

When asked last month about expanding mask mandates in California as Omicron began to rise in his state, Governor Gavin Newsom punted: “I think a lot of people will self-enforce and do the right thing.”

What Gov. Newsom is really saying is that we can look forward to more mask-less Karen videos on YouTube.

So, without minimizing the seriousness of Omicron — which, by early scientific accounts, appears to be much more contagious than prior COVID-19 variants but less virulent — perhaps a look at the numbers might be in order.

Three caveats must be made before showing the latest COVID-19 case, hospitalization and death numbers. First, I am using aggregated data instead of individual-level data. For example, to estimate the percentage of COVID-19 positive people that are hospitalized or put in ICUs, individual-level data is ideally needed. I can only approximate those estimates using nationally aggregated data. Second, it is too early to know precisely the virulent nature of Omicron. Granted, we are not yet seeing the daily rise in deaths that followed case increases during the previous surges; but it will take more time to see the full picture. Third, because I am using aggregate time-series data, I cannot make definitive conclusions, particularly with regard to Omicron’s virulence. It is true that we are seeing falling fatality rates, but that does not necessarily mean Omicron is less dangerous. Those falling rates are also a function of better COVID-19 treatments, the healthier status of those contracting the virus and rising vaccination levels, among other factors that can affect fatality rates.

Early signs are that Omicron, even if it is less virulent, is more contagiousness will lead to record or near-record hospitalization and ICU rates, though we may not see fatality levels like those during the Winter 2020–21 surge (i.e., Third Wave).

Is Omicron more contagious?

In the aggregate Omicron appears more contagious, despite some uncertainty over whether the current numbers are a reflection of the Delta variant or Omicron. They are circulating at the same time.

There is a also a question of whether the current fast rise in cases is due to an increased number of people getting tested. Figures 2, however, should put that last question to rest. The recent change in the daily number of news COVID-19 cases does not appear to be following a similar surge in COVID-19 tests.

Figure 2: New COVID-19 Tests per 1K and New Daily Cases in U.S. (14-day moving averages)

While the number of daily tests have increased in the last two weeks, it has not been on a scale similar to the daily rise in new cases. The U.S. is in unchartered territory right now in terms of case numbers.

So what happened?

By all appearances, Omicron is more contagious. We see that when we plot the number of daily tests (per 1,000 people) against the daily positivity rate of these tests (see Figure 3).

The daily positivity rate is at record levels right now.

Figure 3: New COVID-19 Tests per 1K and Positivity Rate (U.S.)

New COVID-19 test data points represent 14-day moving average

When we regress daily COVID-19 tests on the daily positivity rate, there are two extreme outlier periods: (1) the initial COVID-19 surge in Spring 2020, and (2) the most recent surge (presumably, Omicron).

The first outlier can be explained by the preponderance of early tests being dedicated to people showing strong symptoms. As testing became more prevalent and routine, that positivity rate moderated to some extent and rose more modestly during every new surge. That has changed in the latest surge.

Based on these aggregate numbers, I would conclude, even with the remaining presence of the Delta variant, Omicron is the cause of the recent positivity rate increases.

Is Omicron less lethal?

As noted earlier, it is difficult using aggregate time-series data to make definitive statements about Omicron’s lethality. Other confounding factors are in the mix (e.g., vaccination levels, treatment improvements, characteristics of the infected population, etc.).

Figure 4 plots two versions of the case fatality rate (CFR) for COVID-19. The black line represents the cumulative CFR, while the blue line represents the CFR calculated over a 30-day period. Also, shown are the daily vaccination numbers (as the orange dotted line). The recent drop in vaccinations should not be over-interpreted as the newest numbers tend to be revised upwards over time.

The CFR is calculated as the proportion of people diagnosed with a certain disease, who end up dying of it. It is inevitably an overestimate of the incidence fatality rate (IFR) which estimates this proportion of deaths among all infected individuals. Unlike the CFR, the IFR requires knowing the incidence of asymptomatic cases (which can be a large percentage for some illnesses).

The number we care about is the IFR. The number I have data for, however, is the CFR. Keep in mind, therefore, my estimates for the cumulative IFR of around 1.5 percent and 1.6 percent for the 30-day CFR are likely overestimates of the IFR. 

As a crude estimate for COVID-19’s IFR, I consider the fact that the seasonal flu (prior to the pandemic) typically has an IFR around 0.1 percent and kills, on average, 40 thousand Americans every year. COVID-19 will have killed around 900,000 Americans in two years, or about 11.5 times the number of the seasonal flu. Ergo, I estimate COVID-19’s IFR to be around 1.2 percent. [If I’m close to the right number, that is horrific!]

Figure 4: 30-Day and Cumulative COVID-19 Case Fatality Rate (CFR) in U.S.

Back to the issue at hand: Is Omicron more lethal? According to Figure 4, the U.S. is at an all-time low for its cumulative and 30-Day CFR estimates (1.5 and 1.6 percent, respectively). Therefore, I believe this is evidence of Omicron’s lower lethality, with one caveat — we simply haven’t seen the full impact of Omicron on death counts.

Also supporting the conclusion that Omicron is less lethal is the experience of other advanced economies where Omicron is rapidly growing in appearance.

As of January 1st, of the 31 advanced economics I analyzed in Europe and Asia, 74 percent were at or near all-time low in cumulative CFRs (Data available upon request to The average cumulative CFR for these countries is 1.0 percent — giving me another opportunity to point out how the U.S. health care system again grossly underperforms relative to our other economic partners.

Those countries seeing significant increases in CFR included Taiwan, Russia, Liechtenstein, Greece, India, Singapore, Austria, and South Korea.

Maybe Omicron isn’t more deadly, but is it causing higher hospitalization and ICU rates?

With the rise of Omicron, the news stories are multiplying about rising hospitalization levels across the U.S.

But an equally important question is the probability an infected person will go to the hospital or ICU. By early accounts, Omicron is filling hospitals because of its high contagion rate, not necessarily its virulence.

As seen in Figure 5, hospital (yellow line) and ICU (dark orange) admissions per 1 million people are surpassing last summer’s surge and could very well surpass all-time highs before this current surge is over.

Figure 5: Hospital and ICU Patients (per 1 million) in the U.S.

But as the hospitalization and ICU rates, the story is different.

Figure 6 attempts to show the relationship between changes in the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations with changes in the number of new cases. Are new COVID-19 cases more or less likely to get admitted into a hospital over time?

As noted, since I do not have access to individual-level patient data, I can only approximate that relationship.

The important line in Figure 6 is the dotted blue line, which represents the trend in the ratio of new COVID-19 hospitalizations to new cases.

There appears to be no trend in this ratio. A new COVID-19 case today is just as likely to be admitted into a hospital as it was in Summer 2020.

Figure 6: Ratio of Change in COVID-19 Hospitalizations (per 1M) to New Cases (per 1M) in the U.S.

But what about the probability of a new COVID-19 case ending up in an ICU?

With the same caveat as in Figure 6, the graph in Figure 7 shows the ratio of COVID-19 ICU patients (per 1 million people) to new cases (per 1 million people). Ideally, I would have calculated the ratio of ICU patients to current “active” cases. However, I consider the “active” case numbers for the U.S. as unreliable as not every state consistently tracks patients from start to finish of their illness.

States, however, have been doing a fair job of registering new COVID-19 cases and Figure 7 indicates that the probability of a new COVID-19 patient ending up in an ICU has been going down since Summer 2020 (see dotted blue trend line). This, of course, may be due to many factors such as vaccinations levels, characteristics of patients, and improved treatments. But do notice the steep drop in this ratio in recent weeks. This could be a further indication of Omicron’s lower virulence.

Figure 7: Ratio of COVID-19 ICU patients (per 1M) to New Cases (per 1M) in the U.S.

And, finally, in Figure 8 we have the ratio of COVID-19 deaths (per 1 million people) to hospitalizations (per 1 million people). Again, the trend line (dotted blue) has been going down since Summer 2020. The probability of a hospitalized COVID-19 patient dying from COVID-19 appears to be going down over time.

Figure 8: Ratio of COVID-19 Deaths (per 1M) to Hospitalizations (per 1M) in the U.S.

Final Thoughts

The findings in this essay are consistent with the most reported research on COVID-19. My intention here is more to demonstrate that publicly-available COVID-19 data in the aggregate is potentially useful in capturing the 30,000-foot view of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In clinical and epidemiological research, there is no substitute for individual-level patient data. However, much can still be learned with sub-optimal data if accompanied by sufficient care and caution.

Stay safe. Wear a mask. Keep your distance. And get vaccinated.

  • K.R.K.

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The politicians aren’t fooling anybody about COVID-19…or are they?

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, January 6, 2022)

[Author’s Note: The opinions and errors found in this essay are mine alone. And do not make personal health or financial decisions based on this essay.]

From the start, this blog has been about the democratization of policy data and public policy analysis. Today, every internet-connected human has access to more quality scientific and social data than the most sophisticated policy experts did thirty years ago.

With only a modest background in data management and statistics, an average citizen today can independently assess the performance of their political leaders on a level that would have been impossible a generation ago.

It is no longer necessary to depend on the national news media to learn how things are going in this country, you merely need a high-speed internet connection, free statistical and database software, some basic math knowledge and an ounce of gumption. Or, know somebody with those resources.

Is it a coincidence that the public’s respect for politicians and policy experts has been in a near lockstep decline with the rise in publicly accessible raw data on their performance? No longer does information about our leaders and policy experts need to be filtered and interpreted by the elite-centric national news media. And, increasingly, it isn’t.

In 1997, the Gallup Poll reported that 68 percent of the U.S. public had a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in the federal government’s ability to handle international problems and 51 percent had that level of trust in the government for domestic problems. In 2021, those trust numbers stood at 39 percent.

Nowhere have the policy results generated by our political and expert class been more observable than the COVID-19 pandemic.

In what Arizona Democratic Party leaders call a Faustian pact, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has kept his state’s economy open during the pandemic, arguably leading to 5,600 more COVID-19 deaths than his state should have had given the national COVID-19 death rate (3,376 deaths per 1 million people in Arizona versus 2,609 per 1 million people nationally). 

Has it been worth it? According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Arizona had the 5th fastest growing state economy between Q1 2020 and Q1 2021.

If COVID-19 deaths are your preferred metric, one can understandably claim Ducey’s COVID-19 policies failed on an epic level, just as easy as it is for Governor Ducey (who is not running for re-election in 2022) to claim glorious success.

Arizona’s strong economy cannot be dismissed, but neither can 5,600 excess deaths. In the end, the voters will judge.

But will this information really matter? Are we so distracted by the partisan theater featured daily on the news that we don’t need to think anymore about such things before filling in the ovals on the ballot?

In 2014, Ducey won the Arizona gubernatorial race by almost 12 points. Current projections say the Republican nominee in the 2022 race will win by 0.3% of the two-party vote. Not all of the decline can be attributed to COVID-19, but it is more than plausible that the failure of Ducey’s COVID-19 policies account for a big share of it.

Georgia shares a similar story to Arizona’s, with a Republican governor championing his pro-growth COVID-19 policies (9th fastest growing state economy between Q1 2020 and Q1 2020) while his state experienced an above average COVID-19 death rate.

Georgia’s 2022 governor’s race is called a toss-up by The University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato.

Arizona and Georgia, once solid red states, were slowly turning blue (or at least a deep purple) before the pandemic began. The electoral story is startingly different in some key red states led by Republican governors, however. In Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas — which are all experiencing higher COVID-19 death rates than the national average — Republicans are poised for easy gubernatorial victories in 2022, according to Sabato. Not coincidently, perhaps, these same states experienced average or above average economic growth during the first year of the pandemic. (Figure 1 shows Sabato’s current predictions for all of the 2022 gubernatorial races.)

Figure 1: Predictions for 2022 gubernatorial races (Univ. of Virginia Center for Politics, Prof. Larry Sabato)

Graph courtesy of Prof. Larry Sabato (University of Virginia Center for Politics)

A better test case of the influence of state-level COVID-19 policies and economic growth on electoral outcomes may be the 2022 Wisconsin gubernatorial race, where Democrat incumbent Tony Evers is seeking re-election. In 2018, he won the race by one percent of the vote. Current predictions consider Wisconsin a similar toss-up.

It is unfair, in my opinion, to suggest voting for a pro-growth, anti-lockdown Republican is tantamount to turning a blind eye to the suffering caused by COVID-19. As one of my workmates put it recently, “This is a virus that kills unhealthy people. Who do I blame for that?”

[Our overpriced, inadequate health care system, perhaps?]

Does it make a difference that the average age of the person who died during the 1918 Spanish Flu was 28 years, where most U.S. deaths from COVID-19 have been people aged 65 years and older. It may sound macabre to ask the question, but it must be considered as we head into the midterm elections.

Are undecided and disaffected American voters going to allow their mourning for the COVID-19 dead (and fear of future deaths) heavily influence their final vote decisions? Or are a decisive number of these voters going to weigh economic growth under the banner of personal freedom above the death of thousands of their own state’s residents?

(And, of course, it is possible none of these factors play an important role in many of the midterm elections.}

We will likely find out the answer in about 10 months.

  • K.R.K.

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The news media deserves some of the blame for vaccine hesitancy

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, January 3, 2022)

[Author’s Note: The opinions and errors found in this essay are mine alone. And do not make personal health or financial decisions based on this essay.]

“If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uniformed. If you do, you’re misinformed.”

— Mark Twain

Back in September, wearied by five plus years of analyzing the destructive synergisms that define American politics and the national news media, I decided to take a few months off from following our nation’s dysfunction.

I needed a break. (We all do.)

So, I stopped watching cable TV news, avoided social media, limited my news consumption to the online versions of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and, for entertainment purposes, occasionally indulged in my favorite political podcasters like Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti (Breaking Points), Kyle Kulinski, Ben Shapiro and Jimmy Dore.

Though unverified through medical professionals, I believe my systolic blood pressure has gone down ten points over this period. And this is despite the real pressures of inflation, raising a teenage son, keeping a marriage intact, and limiting job stress, all while navigating the pandemic.

As to why one might benefit from avoiding the mainstream news media, my hunch is that its daily offering of divisive, anxiety-inducing content is a public health hazard. That is how they attract audiences and make money: Keep everyone uncertain and agitated. And this is the goal whether the media outlet leans left, right or towards the middle on the political spectrum.

In the end, this business model is destructive to the physical and mental health of our nation, and there is evidence to support such a contention.

Vaccine hesitancy among Republicans and conservatives

Nowhere is the deadliness of misinformation more apparent than the stubbornly large percentage of American adults who continue to resist getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

According to the New York Times COVID-19 vaccination tracker, 27 percent are not fully vaccinated, and 14 percent of American adults have not received even one jab. While it is true that relatively low vaccinations rates exist among Black (67%), less-educated (68%) and younger adults (67%), the lowest vaccination rate is among Republicans (59%), according to the Kaiser Foundation.

But the popular myth about vaccine hesitancy is that it is mainly the product of misinformation about the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines being propagated by conservative media outlets such as the Fox News Channel. To be fair, the Fox News has provided a large, influential platform for vaccine skeptics to plant seeds doubt about vaccine safety and effectiveness. But even The Washington Post acknowledged last summer that Facebook is a more powerful source for vaccine misinformation than Fox News.

However, I offer a more essential cause of the disproportionate level of vaccine hesitancy among Republican and conservative Americans: a deep and understandable distrust of the mainstream media that has repeatedly omitted, exaggerated, and misrepresented key facts to the detriment of conservatives and their values.

Do you need examples? Here is just a small sampling from over the past six years (in no particular order):

  1. The January 6th Capitol protests and misrepresentation of Capitol Officer Brian Sicknick’s death (which would lead the New York Times to walk back their original narrative about his death being the direct result of a physical assault by pro-Trump protestors),
  2. Cable TV news networks declared the May 2020 George Floyd protests as ‘mostly peaceful’ as businesses and cars burned in the background,
  3. Misreporting key facts on the Trump January 2021 phone call to Georgia Vote Fraud Investigator prior to the state’s special Senate election,
  4. Failure to acknowledge the active debate in the scientific community over the SARS-CoV-2 lab leak versus natural origin hypotheses,
  5. Russiagate (the specific media inaccuracies over which are too many to list here, but journalist Glenn Greenwald made an early attempt),
  6. Douma chemical attack in Syria, where reporting by award-winning journalist Aaron Mate (The Grayzone) significantly called into question mainstream reporting on the attack,
  7. Failure to report the policy origins and undercount of the disproportionately larger number of nursing home deaths in New York during the early months of the COVID-19,
  8. Failure to cover the Hunter Biden laptop story during the 2020 election campaign, which would lead some news outlets (notably NPR) in late September 2021 (!) to correct their original assertion that the story had no merit,
  9. Media reports of Trump ordering tear gas to clear a protest crowd that were subsequentlycontradicted by an Inspector General report on the event,
  10. Months before the 2020 election, news outlets claimed Russians were paying a bounty to the Taliban to kill US soldiers (and Trump did nothing about it, they also reported); in truth, the bounty story came from a highly unreliable intelligence source that even U.S. intelligence has since disavowed; media retractions of this story would only come after the 2020 election.
  11. Rolling Stone’s story on Ivermectin overdoses overwhelming the emergency rooms of an Oklahoma hospital at the expense of gunshot victims was utterly false and would need to be retracted days after its initial publication,
  12. New York Times grossly overstated the number of child fatalities for COVID-19,
  13. CNN and other news/entertainment outlets reported that podcaster Joe Rogan took horse de-wormer for COVID-19;when, in fact, he took a doctor-prescribed, human-safe amount of the drug Ivermectin,
  14. The Washington Post revised an article and deleted the Twitter post promoting it after saying the November 2021 Christmas parade massacre in Waukesha, Wisconsin was “caused by an SUV.”
  15. Coverage of the Kyle Rittenhouse trial included numerous mistakes, critical omissions (e.g., rarely mentioning that all parties involved were white) and smears (e.g., Rittenhouse referred to as a ‘white supremacist’ without supporting evidence).

Occasionally inaccurate reporting is an unavoidable part of aggressive journalism. It happens. And, God knows, Fox News and other conservative news outlets have misrepresented facts due to their own partisan biases and sometimes careless inattention to detail and complexity.

However, there is something telling and deeply ominous when “trusted” news outlets like the New York Times and The Washington Post so consistently err in one ideological direction when they do make errors. I don’t believe this is random chance. It is the result of a long-developing, pervasive news media bias in favor of establishment-friendly opinions and narratives at the expense of critics to that establishment. (If you want evidence of this growing media bias, here are some good places to start: Herehere and here.)

Distrust of elites drives vaccine hesitancy

Over the past months I talked directly to unvaccinated people I met at my favorite local watering hole (and whose customers are largely working class people from western New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania). It was not a scientific probability sample, but it served the purpose of collecting examples of how people articulate their hesitancy to get one of the COVID-19 vaccines.

My first observation was that most people at this small pub were vaccinated. Still, over the course of a few weeks, I talked to no less than a dozen unvaccinated people and queried them on their reasons for staying unvaccinated. Their responses almost universally included these two themes:

(1) Lack of trust in what they hear in the news media from media, political and science elites,

(2) A belief that they are healthy and would prefer the risks of COVID-19 than the unknown risks of the vaccines.

Young males, who were roughly half of my convenience sample, were particularly likely to cite their good health as a reason not to be vaccinated, and also would frequently express concern that the vaccines could harm their fertility. In fact, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers recently offered this fertility argument as one of the reasons he didn’t get vaccinated.

[The peer-reviewed research I have found on the subject of COVID-19 vaccines and male fertility has found no evidence of increases in male infertility as the result of getting a COVID-19 vaccine.]

But it is the first reason (‘lack of trust’) that I suspect drives most vaccine hesitancy in the U.S., particularly the interrelationship between someone’s trust in the news media, politicians, and science.

The 2019 American National Elections Pilot Study, administered by researchers from the University of Michigan and Stanford University, offers evidence that people’s level of trust in science is primarily founded on their level of trust in journalists and the news media.

When someone’s trust in the news media is undermined — such as, when they believe the news media is continually deceiving them for partisan and social class reasons — trust in science suffers.

In Figure 1 (below), the standardized regression coefficients from a linear regression model using the 2019 ANES data are reported. The dependent variable is a 12-point scale indicating a person’s level of trust in science. Among the significant independent variables in the model, the most significant factor associated with a person’s trust in science is a person’s favorability towards journalists. Also interesting is that being Black or Hispanic— independent of political ideology or attitudes towards the news media or — is significantly associated with distrust in science.

Figure 1: What factors are associated with a person’s trust in science?

Similarly, before the lack of trust in science among some Americans is blamed on Fox News and Republicans, it must be explained why favorability towards journalists is highly related to trust in science, regardless of someone’s political ideology, support for Donald Trump, level of education, sex, or race/ethnicity.

My hypothesis is that, given the mainstream news media (including Fox News) serves such a narrow spectrum of Americans, drops in trust in journalists and, by extension, science were inevitable.

Our national news outlets represent the priorities, opinions and biases of rich, white liberals. These news sources are not objective. Worse yet, they systematically misinform anyone who digests their daily product.

And this central bias in the mainstream news media has not gone unnoticed by conservatives, particularly among the working-class who are so often a punching bag for news media elites.

One of the ugliest (and most socially destructive) arguments finding popularity in the national news media’s coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic is the suggestion that people who aren’t vaccinated should not be given the same priority for medical care as those who have vaccinated.

The once-funny, now drearily partisan Jimmy Kimmel (host of ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live!) exemplified this toxic kind of thinking in a recent monologue:

Kimmel opined on his show:

“The number of new cases is up more than 300 percent from a year ago. Doctor Fauci said that if hospitals get any more overcrowded they’re going to have to make some very tough choices about who gets an ICU bed. That choice doesn’t seem so tough to me — vaccinated person having a heart attack, yes, come right on in. We’ll take care of you. Unvaccinated guy who gobbled horse goo, rest in peace wheezy.”

Stories of families unable to get their sick parent or child admitted to a hospital ICU ward because those beds are filled with unvaccinated COVID-19 patients permeated the news media last fall.

Those stories are real and tragic…and, yes, I believe the unvaccinated need to understand how their health care decisions are, writ large, impacting their communities.

Yet, there is something seriously wrong if a consensus of Americans think the vaccine hesitant deserve the death penalty for their personal decision regarding vaccines. People accepting the COVID-19 deaths of thousands of Americans in “Trump” country as their ‘just desserts’ need to rethink their values.

More compassionate Americans understand that health care should never be rationed based on background or past behavior. President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) is predicated on that premise.

John Barro, senior editor and columnist at Business Insider, spelled out this ACA feature on the Rising podcast last year:

“One of the key ideas behind the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — and by certain laws that led up to the Affordable Care Act, like the HIPA law — was about making sure that people with pre-existing conditions could get health insurance at the same price as people who don’t have those conditions. And the reason that we focus on having on having those rules is otherwise it can become very unaffordable for people to get health insurance if they have previously had cancer or if they have diabetes or they have other pre-existing conditions.

Our view is that health insurance is not like other insurance products. It is not like auto insurance or homeowners insurance, where, if you live on the ocean you’re going to pay more for hurricane coverage. If you have a swimming pool you’re going to pay more for liability. If you’ve got speeding tickets you pay more for auto insurance.

Health insurance laws are structured to ensure availability to as many people as possible. We have fought to de-link pricing from health risk.”

Today, too many Democrats and liberals are happy to discard the ACA’s central pricing rationale so that they can punish people they consider ‘ignorant’ and ‘deplorable.’ “Rest in peace wheezy,” sneers Kimmel.

Ironically, working-class conservatives aren’t the only ones burying themselves in ignorance regarding COVID-19. Democrats and liberals have their own intellectual blind spots on the subject matter.

The poor understanding of COVID-19’s hospitalization risk among liberals and Democrats

Coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic by the left- and center-leaning news and entertainment outlets has led to large reservoirs of misinformation residing among liberals and Democrats.

A few months ago on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Bill Maher, host of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, made a surprisingly sharp observation about the national media’s unmistakable penchant for fostering undue fear about the COVID-19 pandemic:

“I have to cite a survey that was in the New York Times, which is a liberal paper, so they weren’t looking for this answer. The question was: “What do you think the chances are that you would have to go to the hospital if you got COVID?

The Democrats thought that (probability) was way higher than did Republicans. The answer is between one and five percent. Yet, 41 percent of Democrats thought it was over a 50 percent chance and another 28 percent thought it was between 20 and 49 percent — so 70 percent of Democrats thought it was way higher than it really was.

Liberal media has to take a little responsibility for scaring the (bleep) out of people.”

This overestimate of COVID-19’s hospitalization risk most likely keeps a large percentage of Americans submissive to a variety of ineffective policy measures meant to contain SARS-CoV-2, but which have little scientific evidence to support their implementation (e.g., broad outdoor mask mandatesclosing public parkstesting vaccinated people who lack symptomsprohibiting out-of-home-county travel by university students, and contradictory business closure measures).

Back-of-the-Envelope Estimates on “Breakthrough” Risks Associated with COVID-19

We probably know at least one family member or friend who is fully vaccinated and boosted, but who remains deeply concerned that they will still get COVID-19 from an unvaccinated person (i.e., a “breakthrough” case) and end up hospitalized or dead.

I certainly know someone who fits that profile. But is that an rational fear?

To allay this person’s anxiety, I sought out the best available U.S. data on the subject from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While their aggregated “breakthrough” data only goes through November 2021 (therefore missing the impact of the Omicron variant), it is a good start for a rough estimate of the various COVID-19 risk probabilities for fully vaccinated people.

[The data I am using for this analysis is available here and here.]

Let us first estimate the chance of a fully vaccinated person getting COVID-19 over an entire year. According to the CDC, the week of August 28, 2021 saw a “breakthrough” rate of 117.74 cases per 100,000 vaccinated people in the 26 U.S. states that collect such information (the list of states can be found here). That is the highest weekly rate between April and November 2021 (the lowest being 4.96 per 100,000 during the week of June 5, 2021). To be conservative, I multiplied 117.74 by 52 weeks and divided 100,000 by that product, giving us an estimate of 1 in 16 that a fully vaccinated person will get COVID-19 over the next 12-month period.

That sounds about right. Vaccines aren’t perfect, but definitely effective. According to the CDC, an unvaccinated period has a five times greater chance on contracting COVID-19 than an vaccinated person.

What about hospitalizations? Using the same methodology, I took the CDC’s weekly hospitalization rate for fully vaccinated people (5.4 per 100,000 during the week of November 13, 2021), multiplied by 52 and divided 100,000 by that product to get this estimate: There is a 1 in 356 chance that a fully vaccinated person will be hospitalized for COVID-19 over the next 12-month period.

As a fully vaccinated person myself, I like those chances. The CDC estimates unvaccinated people have an eight times greater chance of being hospitalized for COVID-19.

Finally, the granddaddy of estimates: What are the chances a fully vaccinated person will die from COVID-19 over the next year? The CDC says, at its weekly peak between April and November last year, COVID-19 killed 1.03 vaccinated people per 100,000 vaccinated people. Multiplying that number by 52 and dividing 100,000 by that product, we get this estimate: There is a 1 in 1,867 chance that a fully vaccinated person will die from COVID-19 over the next 12-month period.

In my experience, I consider such chances basically the same as zero.

Some people, like Lloyd in Dumb and Dumber, may view probabilities differently…

But if we take that probability (1 in 1,867 each year) and extend over 60 years, we end up with a 1 in 31 chance that a fully vaccinated person will die from COVID-19 over a 60-year period. That is a 3 percent chance. Compare that to other lifetime probabilities: Dying in a car accident = 1 percent; dying of cancer = 15 percent; dying of heart disease = 17 percent.

Obviously, the lethality of COVID-19, the treatments for it, and the immunities that may build up within us to fight it off renders such a long-term estimate meaningless. But, the point remains, the chances of a vaccinated person dying from COVID-19 are exceedingly remote.

That doesn’t mean CNN won’t find those deadly “breakthrough” cases that do occur and try to scare the crap out of you.

There is irrationality on every side of the political spectrum

What is worse? Not getting vaccinated or harboring a grotesquely inaccurate understanding of the risk probabilities associated with COVID-19?

I think both pose serious problems. The unvaccinated potentially hurt themselves and those close to them who are also unvaccinated. There is also a small chance that other people will be denied ICU beds because they are occupied by unvaccinated COVID-19 patients.

But possessing an unwarranted fear of COVID-19 is equally dangerous and can also cause needless, even life-threatening, harm to others. Every time a state shuts down businesses and economic sectors due to surges in COVID-19, they are putting people out of work, a large number of whom cannot afford lapses in income and health insurance.

The wealth of the world’s wealthiest has surged during the COVID-19 pandemic, while millions of people worldwide have descended into poverty. This is not hyperbole. It is widely-accepted fact among economists. Furthermore, people can die when they become impoverished.

So, when the majority of Democrats hold irrational fears about the dangers of COVID-19, they increase the likelihood that politicians will pursue bad COVID-19 policies that may do more harm than good. People die when livelihoods are threatened and giving them a $2,000 check now and then is not enough to change that fact.

Whether from a left, right or center perspective, what is the solution to all of this? Stop watching, listening or reading the news from mainstream news outlets and seek alternative news sources (The GrayzoneBreaking Points, etc.). Perhaps then the national news outlets will consider hiring more trained journalists with backgrounds outside of our elite universities. I recommend University of Iowa journalism grads, but I’m biased.

  • K.R.K.

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