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Survival rates for COVID-19 misrepresented in posts

July 23, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: If you are unvaccinated, you can get COVID and have over 99% chance of survival. If you get vaccinated, you can STILL get COVID and will still have over 99% chance of survival.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Missing context. On average about 98.2% of known COVID-19 patients in the U.S. survive, but each individual’s chance of dying from the virus will vary depending on their age, whether they have an underlying health condition and whether they are vaccinated. While people who are vaccinated can still get infected, these “breakthrough” cases are rare and vaccines dramatically reduce severe illness and death.

THE FACTS: As of July 23, there were more than 34.3 million known cases of COVID-19 in the United States and 610,370 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. That means the case fatality ratio -- or the portion of known cases that result in death in the country -- is 1.8%. In other words, on average, 98.2% of known COVID-19 patients in the U.S. survive. Because the true number of infections is much larger than just the documented cases, the actual survival rate of all COVID-19 infections is even higher than 98.2%.

A popular tweet this week, however, used the survival statistic without key context. “Unvaccinated, you can get COVID and have over 99% chance of survival. Get vaccinated and you can STILL get COVID and will still have over 99% chance of survival,” reads the tweet.

The message is misleading. The average for the entire country cannot be used to calculate an individual’s chance of dying from the virus. The likelihood that a COVID-19 infection will result in death increases with age and if the patient has a pre-existing condition..

Dr. Thomas Giordano, professor of medicine and section chief of infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine, said the tweet ignores the fact that many people who survive COVID-19 have long-term symptoms, and that people who survive it can spread the disease to high risk patients who will not be as lucky.

“One in 500 people in the U.S. has died from COVID. To try to trivialize it and say it’s nothing, it doesn’t matter, I think it’s just a gross mischaracterization of what we are all living through,” Giordano told The Associated Press in a call.

Furthermore, vaccinated people are far less likely to become severely ill or die from COVID-19 compared to unvaccinated people.

Most vaccinated people with breakthrough infections experience mild illness, Dr. William Moss, a vaccine expert at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the AP.

Giordano said compared to the average COVID-19 death rate in the U.S., “you look at what the vaccines can do, they decrease the risk of death and severe illness by more than 90 percent, 95 percent in the randomized studies.”

Data from May showed nearly all U.S. deaths from the virus were among people who haven’t received the vaccine, AP reporting found. About 99.5% of all deaths from COVID-19 are in the unvaccinated, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has said.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with Facebook and other platforms to add context to misleading content and reduce its circulation online.