RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Are more fully vaccinated people dying of COVID-19 these days than unvaccinated people?

That’s what a new chart making the rounds on social media appears to show.

But it’s easy to misinterpret what it’s actually telling you.

It’s based on CDC data at the national level and plots the number of COVID-19 deaths each week by people who are either fully vaccinated or unvaccinated.

It shows that, for the past few months, more fully vaccinated people have in fact died of COVID than have unvaccinated people — which is noted by the black (vaccinated) line moving higher than the blue (unvaccinated) one at some unspecified point after February.

(Source: CDC)

But Dr. David Weber, an infectious disease specialist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, says that chart is missing one very important piece of information and context: Age.

“Most of the cases we’re seeing now of deaths … many of them are in older people,” Weber said. “The majority of older people, in particular — because of their risks for COVID — are vaccinated. So it’s not surprising if the majority of people are vaccinated. Even if the vaccines are working, the majority of deaths will be in people who are vaccinated.”

That’s why at the state level, the comparison in the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services weekly report includes a key phrase — “age-adjusted.”

(Source: NCDHHS)

“The real question is not what percentage of deaths or hospitalization are in vaccinated or an unvaccinated?” Weber said. “It’s by age. What’s the risk of death in vaccinated versus unvaccinated individuals?”

Taking that into account, the death rate for unvaccinated people remains significantly higher than it is for vaccinated and for boosted, once those figures are adjusted for age.

According to NCDHHS, unvaccinated people in mid-to-late July and early August were nearly 10 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than boosted people were.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the chart compares the unvaccinated with the fully vaccinated — but makes no mention of those who have received booster shots.

Those who received both doses of the primary series a year ago — or more — are most likely dealing with a drop in immunity that a booster shot can fix, Weber says.

And it could only be a matter of weeks before new booster shots that specifically target the omicron subvariants could be available — welcome news for people who received their first booster shot but so far are not yet eligible for a second one.

“So that’s really the question that you need to ask is, vaccinated versus unvaccinated? What age group? And then, did you have two, three or four doses?” Weber said.

Vaccine opponents have latched onto the chart as evidence that the shots don’t work.

Weber says it’s incredibly easy to misread that chart and come to the wrong conclusion.

“It’s all depending on how you use statistics,” he said, comparing it further to deaths in automobile wrecks.

“It’s like the majority of people who die in a car crash were wearing a seatbelt, right?” Weber said. “Because almost everyone wears a seatbelt.”


CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March 2020, compiling data from federal, state, and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.