As Mark Twain once observed, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” When it comes to COVID-19 data, we get plenty of all three, so take this vaccination data from Our World in Data with a sizable grain of salt. Washington Post columnist Brian Klaas ran the numbers on first-dose vaccinations per 100 people per country, and discovered that the UK and the US have vaulted into the lead:
This vaccination chart is quite something. pic.twitter.com/Xzo2TXe0Hu
— Brian Klaas (@brianklaas) February 18, 2021
As NBC’s Richard Engel remarked, “Striking.” What makes this even more fascinating is the large gaps that have opened up in this metric between the US/UK leaders and the rest of the West. None of the European Union countries have hit the 10 people per 100 mark. Most of them appear to be below the 5% mark on vaccinations for the public, a status that is perhaps especially discouraging for EU nations after Brexit.
So how accurate is this? The US data matches up pretty well with the official CDC numbers, which get updated every day. They list 56.2 million first-dose vaccinations thus far, which with a population of 330 million or so would be a 17% rate. The issue here isn’t so much accuracy as it is completeness. This is what the chart shows while including a few more competitors into the Vaccination Olympics:
The US drops out of medal contention when we add in Israel and the UAE — which coincidentally had their first exchange of ambassadors ever this week. There are good reasons not to include them in this comparison, of course. Both countries have very small populations that are mainly concentrated in a few areas, which makes it much easier to conduct vaccination programs. However, their performance has been impressive, even if their model doesn’t easily compare to other countries.
So what does this chart show us otherwise, assuming the accuracy of the underlying data? It shows that the US has had an effective plan for rolling out vaccinations from the beginning, even if that plan might be hampered by some logistical hurdles and supply issues at times. The change in leadership here did not have an impact on what appears to be an arithmetic progression rather than exponential or logarithmical, as one might have hoped by now, but it suggests that the Biden administration has managed not to drop the baton passed to it by the Trump administration. We certainly could do better, but most countries are doing far worse on a percentage basis — even China and Russia, and that’s if you believe their official data.
So while we have plenty of ways to improve, we’re still #2. Or #4. It all depends on which stats you like better.