Seatbelts, Vaccines, and Hitler

I have a good friend that disagrees on the topic of Covid-19 vaccines. After a lengthy phone call, they sent me some data from their local health department showing that over the last two weeks four vaccinated people had died and only 1 unvaccinated individual had died from Covid-19. However, the health department still recommends people get the Covid-19 vaccine. How could that be? To show a simplified reason why I think data analysis should be left to the experts such as the health department, let me share one of my many text message I am dubbing Seatbelts, Vaccines, and Hitler.

My Message

I probably don’t have the patience to talk about flat earth right now, but I wanted to share this hopefully helpful example of why ratios, rates, and percentages are more important than total numbers.

In 2019, the most recent year I could find the data:

  • 10,441 people died in car wrecks while not wearing a seatbelt. 
  • 11,773 died while wearing a seatbelt. 
  • Though more died while wearing a seatbelt, this doesn’t mean you are less likely to die if you are unbelted. 
  • In many years more people die buckled than unbuckled. 

There are over 200 million drivers in the US and roughly 90% of them wear seatbelts. The ratio, rate, or percentage of deaths among belted people was much lower than unbelted people. 

  • 1 out of about 15,000 belted people died (0.007%)
  • 1 out of 2,000 unbelted people died (0.05%)
  • Hence seatbelts are good!

The concept is the same with the COVID-19 vaccines, but the math is more complicated because you need to account for comorbidities, vaccination rates, age, and many other variables. 

Hopefully the seatbelt example helps show why it is wrong to conclude that the data you sent suggests that “you’re no more likely to get Covid or die from it if unvaccinated.” That data did not account for the necessary variables such as group size and does not support that conclusion.

When a seatbelt law in Michigan was being debated back in the 80s, an anti-seatbelt law legislator said it was “a pretty good lesson in mass hysteria created by a corporate-controlled media,” and others compared the bill’s sponsor to Hitler. Some may hate seatbelts, but they save thousands of lives. Even more lives are saved by vaccines, but history still rhymes. 

Disclaimer

My numbers and estimates are simplified. A real seatbelt analysis would need to account for total passengers not just drivers etc. Direct sources are available below. In that particular county the older population has a 92% vaccination rate. So there are roughly 9 times as many old vaccinated people that are getting exposed to Covid.

Source 1

https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/seat-belts#:~:text=Of%20the%2022%2C215%20passenger%20vehicle,seat%20belts%2C%20in%202017%20alone

Source 2

https://www.history.com/news/seat-belt-laws-resistance

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