ABC News' Terrible, Scary, and Inaccurate Vaccine Headline

By Josh Bloom — Apr 01, 2021
ABC News really pulled a stinker when it published an online article entitled "Over 100 fully vaccinated people contract COVID-19 in Washington state, officials say." Sounds scary, right? No. The results paint a very different picture. Cheap scare tactics are the last thing we need right now.
ABC Gets a D. Credit: OBP Medical

"Over 100 fully vaccinated people contract COVID-19 in Washington state, officials say."

That ridiculous headline is from a new ABC News story. Whoever wrote it should be ashamed of him or herself. It's disgraceful journalism like this that scares people, especially those who read only the headline – probably a healthy percentage of us. 

Was ABC's article an attempt to prevent people from getting a very safe vaccine? Or was it clickbait? Who knows, but the article's accurate headline should have been:

"ONLY 100 fully vaccinated people contract COVID-19 in Washington state, officials say."

Here's why.

In Washington State, more than 1.2 million people have been vaccinated. A grand total of 102 breakthrough cases – people who have been vaccinated but still become infected – was reported. The incidence of infection is 102 divided by 1,200,000, which is a horrifying 0.01% (1 person in 12,000).

You may be thinking, that even though the chances of being infected are very low, if you're the 1 in 12,000, you're still going to get sick. That's not true. Not even close. According to a press release from the Washington State Department of Health:

"The majority of those in Washington state with confirmed vaccine breakthrough experienced only mild symptoms"

DOH Communications, Washington State, 3/30/21

Of the 102 breakthrough cases, only 8 required hospitalization. Now we're down to 8 divided by 1,200,000, which comes to 0.0008%, or 1 person in 150,000. Of this total, two people, both older than 80 with underlying health problems, died. So, according to Washington State, reported numbers for the vaccines offer :

  • 99.99% protection from any infection
  • 99.9992% protection from a severe infection requiring hospitalization
  • 99.9997% protection from dying

Of course, these numbers are inflated. During clinical trials, where these parameters were carefully measured, (1) the protection against infection was about 95%, and from death, close to 100%.

Let's take it a step further. Based only on the data from the Washington DOH and reported by ABC, the headline should read:

"Vaccinated People Are Almost Entirely Protected From COVID-19"

It is shoddy reporting like this that is guaranteed to confuse and frighten people who are hesitant to take the shot, either because it's a new technology or worried that the development was rushed, so the shot is unsafe.

And the timing of the report could not be worse since a surge in cases, what is being called a "fourth wave," is being seen in certain states. This is precisely the time to take the vaccine. Let's give ABC a D in journalism.


(1) In the clinical trials all of the tens of thousands of people who got vaccine or placebo were monitored, so the number of infections could be accurately measured (at least within the limits of the imperfect PCR test). How many people in the whole state were tested? Who knows? But there had to be plenty of uncounted infections. So the 99.99% protection against infection is almost certainly an artifact of an incomplete count. The number of hospitalizations and deaths are (presumably) all counted, so these numbers are probably more accurate. 


Josh Bloom

Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science

Dr. Josh Bloom, the Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science, comes from the world of drug discovery, where he did research for more than 20 years. He holds a Ph.D. in chemistry.

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