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Misleading claims surround new COVID-19 infections in Iceland

August 20, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Iceland, where nearly the entire adult population is fully vaccinated, is setting daily records for new infections, mostly among the vaccinated.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Missing context. The rate of COVID-19 is more than twice as high in unvaccinated individuals in Iceland as it is in vaccinated people.

THE FACTS: Social media users are using data from Iceland’s health ministry to make it appear vaccines aren’t working in the country of 360,000 people.

Experts say the misleading posts are leaving out context. Katrine Wallace, epidemiologist and adjunct assistant professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago, said the rate of those infected with COVID-19 in Iceland was more than two times as high in unvaccinated individuals as it was in those who were vaccinated.

“They are only looking at the number of cases, not looking at it in the total context of the data,” she said.

About 84 percent of people 12 years old and older in the country are fully vaccinated. As of Thursday, 30 vaccinated individuals were among domestic infections in the country compared with 28 unvaccinated people who had COVID-19.

Ásgeir Haraldsson, professor of pediatrics at the University of Iceland, said in an email that the posts online fail to mention the proportion of those hospitalized with the disease who are vaccinated versus unvaccinated.

“So comparing the numbers of the infections in vaccinated vs unvaccinated is heavily skewed,” Haraldsson said.

Studies by health officials in Iceland show that vaccines used in the country are 60% effective against the delta variant and protect over 90% of the population against serious illnesses, Áslaug Karen Jóhannsdóttir, a spokesperson with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, said in an email.

The majority of the COVID-19 cases in the country have been reported as asymptomatic or having only mild symptoms. The country has seen a total of 30 people die from COVID-19, with only one death since May.

“The vaccines have continued to be highly effective at preventing symptomatic covid-19 disease particularly in more severe cases,” said Brandon Guthrie, epidemiologist and assistant professor of Global Health and Epidemiology at the University of Washington.

According to the ministry of health, Iceland’s uptick in cases since June has been a result of the delta variant, which experts have found to be more transmissible. The Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are all approved for use in Iceland. The country is also offering a third dose of the vaccine to those who are immunocompromised. Those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine who have not had a history of COVID-19 are advised to receive a booster shot as well.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.