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Covid-19 in Switzerland: Why number of deaths among the vaccinated is misinterpreted

You might have seen posts on social media or heard claims that more vaccinated people have died of coronavirus in Switzerland and elsewhere than unvaccinated ones. Is this really the case - and what do the figures mean?

Swiss death statistics should account for proportionality.
Vast majority of elderly people in Switzerland are vaccinated. Photo by CDC on Unsplash

“At the end of October, the virus killed twice as many people vaccinated as unvaccinated”: a statistic which has been circulating on social networks intends to prove that the vaccine against Covid is ineffective.

This claim is indeed scary and can put into question the validity of the immunisation campaign.

These figures, however, are taken out of context.

Comparing death rates between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals based on raw numbers alone is misleading. That’s because these are different-sized groups and include people of different ages and health status.

To depict an accurate picture of the situation, the proportion of Covid-related deaths in each group, not just overall numbers, must be compared. 

So what about the argument that the virus killed twice as many vaccinated people in Switzerland — a claim which “spread like wildfire” on social media, according to 20 Minutes news site.

In Switzerland, 22 people who died during the last 10 days of October were not vaccinated, while 24 people who died were immunised, so there were not twice as many, but two more.

But these numbers don’t make much sense per se, as the proportion of vaccinated people is significantly higher than that of unvaccinated: nearly 65 percent versus roughly 35 percent, according to data from the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH).

So taking proportionality into account, 24 people out of approximately 5.6 million (again, based on FOPH figures) is far fewer than 22 people out of roughly 3 million who have not had their shots.

This FOPH chart shows that death rates are indeed higher among the unvaccinated than those who have had both or even one dose of the vaccine.

READ MORE: Biggest fall since WWII: How Covid slashed life expectancy in Switzerland

The age factor

Additionally, there is another metric at play here: age.

The highest number of deaths have been among people over 80, nearly 90 percent of whom were vaccinated.

“There have been, in terms of absolute numbers, more vaccine deaths in this age group in recent weeks”,  FOPH spokesperson Daniel Dauwalder said in an interview with 20 Minutes.

However, the 10 percent who were not vaccinated represent around 50 percent of deaths in this age group.

Again, proportionally speaking, this means fewer older vaccinated people died of Covid than their unvaccinated counterparts.

The reason for high mortality rate among the elderly, Dauwalder said, is that vaccine protection is declining faster in people over 75, as they were the first to be inoculated nearly a year ago; vaccine’s protection is believed to last at least 12 months, but may wane quicker in the elderly, “especially those with chronic illnesses”.

Health authorities are hoping to remedy this situation by administering booster vaccines, with priority given to people over the age of 65 and those suffering from chronic health conditions.

Boosters are expected to be made available to general public in the coming days.

READ MORE: Switzerland set to approve booster shots for all amid surge in infections

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”