The Five Percent Absolution

Gov. Phil Scott grabbed the headlines Tuesday with his pronouncement that only 5% of adult Vermonters are unvaccinated. It was a surprisingly small number, suggesting that the vax-averse are nothing but a tiny minority of cranks. It served to amplify Scott’s sterner-than-usual call for all eligible persons to get their shots. He rebuffed the notion of a mask mandate by saying the 95% who’ve done the right thing shouldn’t be hemmed in because of that small number of holdouts.

But what does it mean, really? A hell of a lot less than it appears. It was the latest in the Scott administration’s flood of misleading statistics. (I sometimes think his Selective Statistics Team is bigger than his Covid Policy Team.) And our news media deserves zero credit for regurgitating the number without a thought.

WCACX-TV went even further, helpfully exaggerating the number in its headline “Scott says 5% of unvaccinated Vermonters are ‘the problem.'” It’s not unvaccinated Vermonters, it’s unvaccinated adult Vermonters. (The accompanying story got that crucial detail right.)

Let’s explore the other limitations on this shiny new statistic, shall we?

In terms of fighting the pandemic, the usefulness of the vaxxed/unvaxxed percentage is as a measure of a population’s protection from Covid-19. Cutting out this group or that group or lots of groups in order to produce the smallest possible number isn’t a scientific process, it’s a political one. (That 95% figure also suggests that the administration’s vaccine push is far more successful than it really is, and that’s pure politics at its most venal.)

So who was excluded? Those under 18, obviously. There’s no good reason to exclude kids and teens except, again, if your goal is to get to a small number. Kids and teens get Covid and spread it to others.

One can make an argument for excluding those under 5 because they’re not eligible for vaccination. But young children are part of the population pool that the coronavirus splashes around in. Their unprotected status makes us just as unsafe as the alleged Five Percenters.

The biggest hole in the 5% calculation is that it only includes the completely unvaccinated. Those who received one dose are counted as vaccinated even though their protection is questionable at best. Also, as administration officials said Tuesday, the definition of “fully vaccinated” will soon include booster shots because only the boostered have the best protection from Covid. In no other place besides this calculation does the administration suggest that one shot is all you need.

If you look at the administration’s own Vaccine Dashboard, you’ll see the real relevant figure. It’s not 95% of adult Vermonters, it’s 84% of Vermonters age 5+. That number also includes those who’ve only received one dose. The Dashboard shows that 78% of Vermonters age 5+ have completed the initial course — two shots for Pfizer or Moderna, one shot for J&J. And only 50% have also received a booster. So if you want to count the truly vaccinated, the fully protected, that’s your percentage. Not 95%.

The administration might counter-argue that those who’ve gotten one dose have at least some protection. The truth of that statement would depend on how much protection a single shot actually offers. And its truth is limited by the exclusions of those 18 and under and those who can’t be vaccinated.

One other thing. If Scott wanted to deliver a well-targeted message, he could have cited county-by-county vaccination rates. By the standard measure — Vermonters aged 5+ who’ve gotten at least one jab — the county rates range from 90% (Chittenden and Lamoille) to 62% (Essex).

Essex is, in fact, the worst by a wide margin. It’s the only county below 75% (Orleans). If Scott wants to reach the unvaccinated, he ought to train his fire on the Northeast Kingdom.

As purely a messaging tool, this 5% thing could be effective if it makes the holdouts see themselves as a tiny, isolated group. But as a public health tool, the headline figure is nonsense.

16 thoughts on “The Five Percent Absolution

  1. P.

    And nobody thinks to ask “If we have such amazing vaccination rates, how come we keep setting records for new COVID cases? Are there simple things that could be done to help stop the spread of viruses?”

    Reply
  2. H. Jay Eshelman

    Re: “So who was excluded? Those under 18, obviously. There’s no good reason to exclude kids and teens except, again, if your goal is to get to a small number. Kids and teens get Covid and spread it to others.”

    So what? Vaccinated Vermonters, even the ‘fully’ vaccinated, spread the virus too. Some studies say children spread the virus as much as do adults. Some studies say they don’t.

    Here’s the deal. Are you more concerned with the safety of our children or your own adult -ss? Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 20 months ago, no one in Vermont 18 years of age and younger had been vaccinated. So now, all of a sudden, you’re concerned that children be vaccinated?

    Not only that; since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 20 months ago, only in the last few weeks have these kids been vaccinated. Only six of them had been hospitalized, and none had died. So, who is really at risk here?

    There are several reasons why the data is being distorted, which I won’t get into now. But I find it unconscionable that we are insisting the kids be injected with a vaccine with dubious effectiveness when they are at virtually no risk from the virus.

    Reply
  3. Walter Carpenter

    “Cutting out this group or that group or lots of groups in order to produce the smallest possible number isn’t a scientific process, it’s a political one. ”

    Yep, and it’s probably going to doom his administration. This whole approach is costing lives to get or keep voters from a fantastically idiotic base that is gladly sacrificing their lives to prove a point and turn COVID into a culture war and do not care a wit about our lives.

    Reply
  4. H. Jay Eshelman

    It now appears to be more important than ever to start getting the data of hospitalizations and deaths of the vaccinated and unvaccinated cohorts by age group. This latest report shows a 700% increase in the likelihood that an unvaccinated person will die of Covid, while the likelihood of death for a vaccinated person declined 22% – between the two weeks ending December 1st and the two weeks ending December 15th. According to these reports over the last three months, this abrupt differential is on the verge of being statistically impossible.

    https://vtdigger.org/coronavirus/#covid-breakthrough

    Keep in mind that more than 60% of the Covid deaths in Vermont over the last three months have been vaccinated people…. until this last 2 week period. Is this an anomoly? Is the data being collected differently? Did that many unvaccinated people die over the last two weeks compared to the previous two weeks? … the previous 3 months?

    We need to see:
    Vaccinated Hospitalizations per capita by age group
    Unvaccinated Hospitalizations per capita by age group
    Vaccinated Deaths per capita by age group
    Unvaccinated Deaths per capita by age group

    Reply
    1. Walter Carpenter

      “Keep in mind that more than 60% of the Covid deaths in Vermont over the last three months have been vaccinated people…. until this last 2 week period.”

      Do you have the proof for this statement? I have a friend of a friend who died of COVID at 43. He was an anti-vaxxer. I have another friend, a family friend, also an anti-vaxxer, who screamed about mandates curtailing his freedom, who may not make it as the covid weakened him so he caught pneumonia along with the Delta. He is 64.

      Here is the death rates of those in Trump counties across the USA compared to Biden counties. The death rate for the Trumpers is significantly higher. Why in Vermont would it be any different?

      Pro-Trump counties now have far higher COVID death rates : Shots – Health News : NPR
      https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/12/05/1059828993/data-vaccine-misinformation-trump-counties-covid-death-rate

      Reply
      1. John S. Walters Post author

        Vermont’s overall death rates, and ICU admission rates, are populated largely by the unvaxed. Eshelman cherry-picked a brief period where the usual pattern was reversed. But that’s all. The broader pattern tells the tale.

      2. Walter Carpenter

        “Eshelman cherry-picked a brief period where the usual pattern was reversed.”

        Thanks, John, I thought something was up. I knew that wasn’t right. It did not make sense with that report about the Biden/Trumper counties and Vermont’s hospitals and morgues filling up with the unvaccinated where even Scott admits it. I was not aware of that brief period with the pattern reversed in Vermont, but I can see how he would cherrie that to use as a pattern for the whole.

  5. H. Jay Eshelman

    Having just noticed your remarks, it’s interesting, John, that you and Mr. Carpenter don’t cite any data. And it’s interesting, too, that the VT DOH hasn’t provided the vaccinated and unvaccinated breakdown of Covid deaths for December. In the meantime, do the math. And please don’t kill the messenger. The VDC participates in the weekly government press conferences and asks specific questions of the State’s administrators to attain this data.

    76% of September Covid-19 deaths are vax breakthroughs
    https://vermontdailychronicle.com/2021/09/30/76-of-september-covid-19-deaths-are-vaxxed-breakthroughs/

    October: 57% Vermont Covid-19 deaths fully vaccinated
    https://vermontdailychronicle.com/2021/11/05/october-57-vermont-covid-19-deaths-fully-vaccinated/

    Covid kills more vaxxed Vermonters than unvaxxed for third straight month [59.4% of November Covid-19 fatalities were fully vaccinated]
    https://vermontdailychronicle.com/2021/11/30/majority-of-november-vt-covid-deaths-fully-vaxxed/comment-page-1/

    Again, keep an eye on the children, ages 18 and below. For the first 20 months of the pandemic, this Vermont cohort (more than 100,000 kids) have been unvaccinated. Over the same period, only six have been hospitalized with Covid and none have died.

    Beginning sometime in November this year, the move to vaccinate children has hit full steam. According to the VT DOH, 81% of kids ages 12-17, and 53% ages 5-11, have been vaccinated within the last month.

    Of course, this data is suspect too. I note that the DOH says 100% of Vermonters 70-74 have been vaccinated… which I know for a fact is incorrect. And I know the ‘dashboard’ data has been ‘cherry picked’ from the get-go, requiring much reading between the lines.

    Again, it’s more important than ever that we see:
    – Vaccinated Hospitalizations per capita by age group
    – Unvaccinated Hospitalizations per capita by age group
    – Vaccinated Deaths per capita by age group
    – Unvaccinated Deaths per capita by age group

    “Thou shalt not distort, delay, or withhold information.”
    ― Meadows. Donella, Thinking in Systems: A Primer

    Reply
      1. Walter Carpenter

        “I don’t trust anything Vermont Daily Chronicle says. That’s worse than no data.”

        Until Jay put these links in, I did not know of the Vermont Daily Chronicle, but now that I do, I have to agree with John’s comment about it. When I read the history of Guy Page, the founder, and came across this line in the last paragraph,”He [the founder, Guy Page,] is an occasional guest host for the Ethan Allen Institute “Common Sense Radio” program on WDEV,” it explained where those numbers came from and why they were put there. I’ve battled the EAI before.

        https://vermontdailychronicle.com/about/

  6. H. Jay Eshelman

    So, you think Health Department spokesman Ben Truman, Health Department Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine, and State of Vermont statistician Erik Filkorn of Buildings and General Services, provided incorrect data to VDC? Or, if you believe VDC may have misrepresented what these administrators said, can you explain why they didn’t demand a correction?

    Reply
    1. Walter Carpenter

      “It’s not about you or me, John. It’s about what the Department of Health is telling VDC.”

      I’m not sure that it’s that either. The Department hasn’t seemed to tell other publications the same things as it has the VCC, but whatever the VDC is getting from them (or perhaps is making up, but that’s another story), it fits into a certain frame of mind that is absolutely set on believing whatever the VDC says no matter what is really going on.

      Reply
  7. H. Jay Eshelman

    Re: “See, the thing is, it’s not worth my time to debate you.”

    It’s not about you or me, John. It’s about what the Department of Health is telling VDC. If you won’t investigate what the DOH reported to VDC, the only reason left to spend one’s time considering your and Mr. Carpenter’s mutual admiration society is to demonstrate your journalistic hypocrisy to anyone who cares to pay attention to you. I don’t think that works well for VPO either.

    Reply

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