“Israel records ZERO daily Covid deaths for first time in ten months as it closes hospital coronavirus wards with more than 80% of adults vaccinated,” announced a Daily Mail headline on April 24th.
The article opens with the following sentence: “Israel has recorded no new daily Covid death for the first time in ten months as it continues to lead the world in its vaccination drive.”
The implication of these statements is obvious: the low Covid death count in Israel is due to the country’s vaccination program, which is one of the most advanced in the world.
But the implied causal relationship is misleading. This is because the strength of the pathogen that causes Covid-19 fluctuates with yearly seasons. In the northern hemisphere, this type of virus generally weakens in late spring and summer and waxes strong from late fall through winter. Being located in warm Mediterranean climate, spring comes early to Israel and with it a decline in seasonal viral infections of the upper respiratory tract. To wit, at this time last year the Covid death toll was nearly as low as it is now even though there was no vaccination program in place then.
This was the death tally in Israel from Covid-19 around this period twelve months ago:
April 18, 2020: 11 deaths
April 19, 2020: 8 deaths
April 20, 2020: 6 deaths
April 21, 2020: 9 deaths
April 22, 2020: 5 deaths
April 23, 2020: 3 deaths
April 24, 2020: 2 deaths
Compare this data with this year’s figures:
April 18, 2021: 4 deaths
April 19, 2021: 6 deaths
April 20, 2021: 4 deaths
April 21, 2021: 1 death
April 22, 2021: 0 deaths
April 23, 2021: 0 deaths
April 24, 2021: 4 deaths
As you can see the death counts for this time of the year are very low in both instances. In the same week last year, there were twenty-five more deaths from Covid-19 in the whole nation of Israel. Out of a population of nearly ten million, this figure is so low as to be statistically insignificant.
Also please note that last year the low Covid mortality continued throughout spring and summer, culminating in days where there were no deaths on a number of days in June. This occurred on June 10, June 11, June 15, June 18 and June 21. This zero-death scenario was likely to repeat itself in 2021 regardless of whether or not the population was vaccinated.
If a journalist still wanted to spin a pro-vaccination headline, the strongest claim he could honestly make would go something like this:
“The implementation of the nationwide vaccination program in Israel may have resulted in a decrease of twenty-five deaths across Israel in the third week of April when compared with the same period last year.”
This, however, would not sound particularly triumphant especially given the fact that there have been numerous deaths and serious injuries reported as a results of vaccine side effects.
Furthermore, there is every reason to believe that the Israeli authorities try to minimize Covid deaths at this time. In the early panic-filled stages of the pandemic, governments often reported all those who died after testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 as Covid deaths regardless of the serious co-morbidities many of the victims carried. This resulted in overstating the true number of Covid fatalities. Having implemented an expensive vaccination program on which it staked its reputation, it is quite likely that the Israeli government now seeks to understate the number of victims by ascribing their demise to other causes. Given that governments generally like to massage data to put themselves in the best light, it is, therefore, not outside the realm of possibility that more people are dying of Covid in Israel these days than were dying last year during the same period.
Even though I am highly skeptical about the efficacy and safety of the hastily developed and inadequately tested vaccines, I hope – as does nearly everyone else – that these vaccines are sound and effective and that they will put an end to the pandemic. But to imply that the present low Covid death count in Israel is due to its vaccination drive is disingenuous.
We will only see whether the Israeli inoculation program is a success come October or November when the virus should once again begin waxing strong. If there are appreciably fewer deaths at that point relative to what we saw last year, we may be able to conclude that the vaccination program is responsible for a drop in fatalities. But even in that case data will have to be analyzed with care before jumping to conclusions. Given that a significant proportion of Israelis have already been infected with the virus, naturally acquired immunity will also have to be taken into consideration as a potential death-reducing factor.
What is certain is that we will have to wait and see before the true effect of the vaccination program is known. To make misleading statements about vaccine effectiveness in the meantime, however, is neither science-based nor honest.
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