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This is a stupid conversation


I’ll confess to getting a grim laugh from the Twitter handle of the person who embedded this highly educational video:

I’m fascinated by the apparently rampant belief among anti-vaxxers that “healthy lifestyles” are the key to maintaining a strong natural immune system, and that using a vaccine to greatly enhance the “natural” protection offered by such an immune system is a bad idea because [some paranoid/stupid nonsense here].

Now there’s no question the vulnerability to suffering serious illness and dying from COVID varies enormously between individuals. By an overwhelming margin, the best population-level proxy for this variation is age. For example, among unvaccinated individuals in the USA as of October, the risk ratios for dying of COVID looked like this:

18-29 year olds: 1.00 (baseline)

30-49: 8

50-64: 40

65-79: 150

80+: 200

In other words, the weekly mortality risk for dying of COVID among the unvaccinated was 200 times higher for somebody 80 or older than it was for people in their 20s. Perhaps more startling yet is that it was fully eight times higher for young(ish) people in their 30s and 40s than it was for younger people still in their 20s. Obviously the waning of the natural protective power of the immune system with age must be playing an enormous role in these numbers.

What should also be obvious, but obviously isn’t, is that such radical shifts in risk via aging must as a simple statistical matter totally overwhelm what have to be, statistically speaking, such marginal factors as the lifestyle habits of a 45 year old with good lifestyle habits versus those of a 25 year old with bad ones..

By contrast, what isn’t a marginal factor at all is comparing COVID death risk between vaccinated and unvaccinated persons of the same age. How much does being vaccinated reduce your COVID death risk? Using the same numbers quoted above, that is, for Americans as of October (the most recent available stats), here’s what those look like. In each case, the first number is the weekly death risk from COVID among the vaccinated, while the second is the death risk from COVID among the unvaccinated in the same age cohort:

18-29: This is technically an infinite ratio, as the weekly death risk during the first week of October from COVID among the vaccinated was zero, while among the unvaccinated it was 0.19 per 100,000.

30-49: 0.11 versus 1.67. In other words, the unvaccinated in this age group had approximately a sixteen times higher risk of death from COVID than the vaccinated.

50-64: 0.39 versus 8.36. The unvaccinated were 22 times more likely to die from COVID than the vaccinated.

65-79: 1.57 versus 31.87. The unvaccinated were 20 times more likely to die from COVID than the vaccinated. Note that this means that the death risk from COVID for a vaccinated 70 year old was about the same as that for unvaccinated 35 year old. Basically in terms of protection against COVID, the vaccines turn an old person’s immune system into a young person’s.

80+: 6.51 versus 38.28. Only among the very elderly does the relative protection offered by vaccination drop significantly, but even here the unvaccinated are nearly 500% more likely to die from COVID than the vaccinated.

Now the most interesting question to me is, why do anti-vaxxers reject these numbers, which prove beyond any reasonable doubt that vaccines are almost infinitely more effective in protecting against COVID than “healthy lifestyles?” Possible answers that come to my mind are:

(1) They think the numbers are fake. (Paranoia)

(2) They don’t understand the numbers, because they can’t. (Stupidity)

(3) They think the numbers don’t apply to them, because these are averages, that don’t take into account their individual circumstances, such as having a healthy lifestyle (A slightly more complicated form of stupidity).

(4) They trust in God (the most complicated form, socially speaking, of stupidity).

I’m sure there are other explanations but I’m tired about talking about this for the moment.

. . . CP in comments with a plausibly economical summation:

It’s conservatism 101. They desperately want to believe they live in a moral universe where people who have negative life outcomes, unless they’re them, deserve it.

(It’s also eugenics. “Let the weak and sinful die, so the strong and virtuous may live.”)

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