Speed Reads

the coronavirus crisis

How the risk of a post-vaccination COVID-19 infection compares to other daily dangers

The early returns on COVID-19 vaccinations have largely been positive in the United States and elsewhere. There have certainly been so-called "breakthrough" cases, in which fully vaccinated people have been infected, but The New York Times' David Leonhardt notes that statistics so far indicate the chances of that happening are about one in 11,000, and the rate dwindles even further when it comes to the chances of developing anything worse than a mild infection.

Still, many people who have been vaccinated remain nervous. This is understandable, Leonhardt writes, given the novelty of the virus and the toll it's taken. The risk of dying from COVID-19 post-vaccination is probably more akin to "high profile," but "extremely rare dangers" like plane crashes, lightning strikes, or shark attacks. Getting in a car, on the other hand, is a "bigger threat," Leonhardt writes.

FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver and data scientist David Shor also made this point, and Shor estimated that the "per hour risk of killing somebody driving sober is at least 33 times higher than the per hour risk of killing somebody from [COVID-19] hanging out maskless post-vaccination."

That's where sociologist Zeynep Tufekci jumped in. Tufekci generally agrees that COVID-19 vaccination leads to a "dramatic risk reduction." She does, however, think the risks of driving and doing certain activities while vaccinated are not completely comparable. That's because car accidents are generally more individualized, while spreading COVID-19 can lead to a transmission chain, which is why Tufekci thinks government agencies need to be explicit about how effectively the vaccines curb transmission to determine what the true risk factor is. Tim O'Donnell