No, the CDC chief didn't say that 75% of all COVID deaths involved four comorbidities

This clip, suspiciously shorn of context, has gone viral on righty Twitter today for the same reason that all content goes viral in political media, because it confirms (or appears to confirm) the audience’s priors. A huge share of Republicans have believed from the start that the threat from COVID was grossly overblown and therefore all precautions, starting with draconian lockdowns but ultimately extending even to voluntary vaccination and mask-wearing, were gratuitous. Now here’s apparent confirmation from the head of the CDC herself. Only the very, very sick are dying from COVID. It’s all been a scam.

The punchline is that Walensky’s making the opposite of the point anti-vaxxers think she’s making here. Watch.

Three-quarters of all COVID deaths have come among people with four different comorbidities? By that standard, only the sickest of the sickest of the sick are at any risk of dying. There’s nothing to worry about unless you’re old and obese and diabetic and have a heart condition or cancer or something.

But Walensky wasn’t talking about all COVID deaths. She was talking about COVID deaths among the vaccinated. She was referring to this study published by the CDC on Friday, the same day she gave the interview above.

During December 2020–October 2021, a total of 1,228,664 persons aged ≥18 years completed primary vaccination (Pfizer-BioNTech, 72.8%; Moderna, 20.0%, Janssen, 6.5%; unspecified mRNA vaccine, 0.8%) across 465 facilities in PHD-SR. Among these, 2,246 (18 per 10,000) acquired COVID-19, including 327 who were hospitalized, 189 (1.5 per 10,000) who had a severe COVID-19 outcome, and 36 (0.3 per 10,000) who had a COVID-19–related death (including nine persons discharged to hospice). Among those who acquired COVID-19 after primary vaccination, 1.6% (36) died, 1.1% (24) survived and were admitted to an ICU, and 5.7% (129) survived and received a diagnosis of acute respiratory failure or required NIV but were not admitted to an ICU…

All persons with severe COVID-19 outcomes after primary vaccination had at least one of the eight risk factors identified as significant in the model. The frequency of having four or more risk factors increased with disease severity, ranging from 18.8% (386) among persons who had nonsevere outcomes, 56.9% (87) among survivors who had respiratory failure or were admitted to an ICU, to 77.8% (28) among persons who died.

Out of 1.2 million vaccinated people, just 36 died. That’s .003 percent, a phenomenal survival rate. Of those 36, slightly more than three-quarters had four comorbidities. Which is to say, even if you have three comorbidities, getting vaxxed all but guarantees that you won’t die if you’re infected.

Walensky was celebrating how wildly successful the vaccines have been at saving lives. Anti-vaxxers and the influencers who make bank off of pandering to them took the clip, which had been selectively edited to remove that context, and offered it as evidence that vaccination is unnecessary. Until the past year I never would have imagined that a media niche would become politically invested in increasing its own audience’s risk of dying from a miserable disease by lying to them chronically.

She’s getting it from the left today too for another anodyne comment that’s been blown out of context:

“The overwhelming number of deaths, over 75 per cent, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities,” Ms Walensky said in an interview with Good Morning America.

“So really these are people who were unwell to begin with and yes, really encouraging news in the context of Omicron.”

Critics are mortified that she’d suggest that it’s “encouraging” that people with four comorbidities are the only ones at meaningful risk of dying after being vaccinated, as if Walensky was treating their deaths as no big deal. Her point, obviously, was that it’s encouraging to see the vaccines working so well, that only the most unwell recipients face even the smallest risk of dying. But everyone’s a victim now, and there’s a pile-on of Walensky and the CDC that’s been happening over the past week due to the agency’s abysmal messaging on quarantine that people are eager to join. So now she — a doctor, who went into medicine to help the unhealthy — is being accused of not caring about people’s health. What a country.

I’ll leave you with the obligatory semi-apology to idiots who were offended.