Post #969: Political affiliation: Vaccine irrationality and its side-effects.

Posted on January 22, 2021

Every once in a while I stumble across separate pieces of seemingly-true data that make me question my own sanity.

When in fact, I should be questioning the sanity of others.


As I have noted before, flu vaccine is only about 60% effective in the best years.  Most years, it’s not even that effective.  (The graph on the left is from the U.S. CDC).  Flu rarely kills anyone other than the frail elderly, and has a case mortality rate of about 0.1% in a typical year.*  For most people, flu is a nuisance.  And most people have some degree of native immunity against some prevalent strains of flu, every year.

* That’s flu as cause of death, divided by flu “cases”, that is, people who were formally diagnosed with flu.  And that’s really the only hard number that exists, in this regard.  If you see somebody citing something else, either they’re making it up, or they are using a denominator that is something other than diagnosed cases.

In short, with flu vaccine, we’re talking about a modestly-effective way to reduce the odds of catching a mostly-harmless short-lived disease.  That you might not catch anyway, because you already have some of the right antibodies.

By contrast:  The COVID-19 vaccine is being touted as 95% effective.**  COVID kills a lot of people, and so far in this pandemic the U.S. case mortality rate rate is (400,000 / 24,100,000 =) about 1.6%.**  And near as we can tell, nobody has native immunity to COVID.

** As discussed in earlier posts, the COVID effectiveness can’t be directly compared to the flu effectiveness.  For COVID, that’s the effectiveness at preventing severe, symptomatic infections.  They don’t actually know how good the vaccine is at preventing infection in total (including mild and asymptomatic infection), because they didn’t draw blood and test for antibodies.  By contrast, the flu figure is the effectiveness at preventing all infections, as evidenced by presence of any antibodies to flu in the blood, whether or not flu symptoms were present.

*** See note above.  Anybody who cites a vastly lower number is either making it up, or using some other denominator such as an estimate of all infections.  In which case, the number would not be comparable to the 0.1% case mortality rate for flu.  You see a lot of disinformation based on apples-and-oranges comparisons between some putative “all infections” mortality rate for COVID, and the standard case mortality rate for flu.  That’s not a valid comparison.

So, COVID is more dangerous, the COVID vaccine is more effective, and fewer people have any immunity to COVID.  Compared to flu.  Those appear to be the facts.

And so, rationally, shouldn’t you be more willing to get the COVID vaccine than to get the flu vaccine?  I mean, maybe you just dismiss all vaccines.  OK.  But for the more rational part of the population, shouldn’t you be more likely to get the COVID vaccine than the flu vaccine, given the facts?

Nope.  Not if you’re Republican.

Here are results from two seemingly accurate national surveys.  And I note that the COVID question specifically phrased it as “determined to be safe by scientists and free to everyone”.  And that the December numbers were higher than estimates from September.  If you were to have asked in September, Republicans were far less likely to say they’d get the COVID vaccine than the flu vaccine.

For four-out-of-ten Republicans, getting vaccinated is off the table.  No matter what.  Not if the vaccine is guaranteed safe.  Not if it’s free.   You literally can’t give it away to that crowd.  Not even while the Republican POTUS is (incorrectly) taking credit for having developed the vaccine.

I’ve made up my mind, don’t confuse me with the facts?  That’s pretty much how I read this.  If that’s the attitude, then I guess there’s no arguing with it.  It is what it is, and it’s not going to change.  No matter what.

Luckily, screw ’em, we don’t need them.  They’re irrelevant.  Above is a modified version of the herd immunity calculation presented in a recent post.  The upshot is that if people simply follow through with their intentions, given the current state of the world, we’ll still exceed the 70% level required for herd immunity. And, as long as the limiting factor is the shortage of vaccine, it makes no difference that more than 40% of Republicans refuse to be vaccinated.  We’ll get there in the same amount of time, regardless.

So, ultimately, my take on it is, let them be ignorant.  It doesn’t do the population as a whole any harm, assuming that the overall amount of vaccine available is the limiting factor.  And assuming that 70% is the herd immunity level. (And that the vaccine literally prevents infections, including asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic infections, something that has not yet been shown.)  Even if we achieved no more herd immunity via infections, Republican intransigence on COVID vaccination is irrelevant.  We have enough rational people on both sides of the aisle to resolve this without them.