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Fact Check-COVID-19 cases in Iceland are not proof that vaccines are ineffective

Rising COVID-19 cases in Iceland are not proof that vaccines are a “failure”, despite claims made online.

The screenshot is of a tweet published on June 25, which reads: “Social distanciation [sic] and masks are back in one the most vaccinated nations of the world: Iceland. Yesterday, 82% of the new cases were fully vaccinated ( here ).”

On July 24, the day prior to the tweet, Iceland recorded 87 cases. Of the total number of positive cases, 71 were fully vaccinated, which equates to 81.6%, which indeed rounds up to 82% ( www.covid.is/data ).

Meanwhile, 14 were unvaccinated and 2 were partially vaccinated.

The tweet is accompanied by a graph, showing 7-day average case numbers per 100,000 people (blue) and vaccination rates (red).

Reuters found the case numbers and vaccination rates (of the eligible population, which currently relates to those aged 16 and over) on the graph to be comparable with Reuters figures and those provided by the Icelandic Department of Health ( here ), ( www.covid.is/data ), ( here ).

It is also true to say that Iceland has reinstated social distancing measures such as masks wearing and social distancing ( here ).

The government had lifted all domestic restrictions on June 25, prior to the recent rise in cases ( here ).

One person who shared the screenshot on Facebook said: “Its [sic] almost as if the vaccine is making it worse, not better...now why would they be pushing the vaccine so hard knowing this? ( here )”

Reuters previously addressed the claim that vaccines cause variants ( here ).

Another commented: “Psssst, the vaccines don’t work. And Covid isn’t that bad. Governemnt [sic] is just evil. Carry on.” ( here )

Others shared seven-day infection date statistics alongside the vaccine update rate, calling it the Iceland “vaccine failure” ( here ), ( here ), ( here ).

However, although the statistics are accurate, the rates are not proof that the vaccines are ineffective at countering symptomatic disease and in a country with high vaccine uptake, a higher positive case rate among those vaccinated versus unvaccinated is expected.

“In Iceland, 85.3% of people over 16 years old are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and 4.9% are partially vaccinated. It should therefore not come as a surprise that among new domestic cases, most are vaccinated. Since 9 July, 77% of domestic infections were among vaccinated individuals,” Ásthildur Knútsdóttir, Director General of the Ministry of Health in Iceland told Reuters via email.

A Public Health England (PHE) study found both the Oxford-AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines effective against hospitalization due to the Delta variant ( here ). According to Director General Knútsdóttir, rates of protection against hospitalization following vaccination in Iceland are comparable with the results of the PHE study.

“According to the Chief Epidemiologist, evidence shows that the vaccines used in Iceland protect about 60 percent of those fully vaccinated against any kind of infection caused by the delta variant of the virus and over 90 percent against serious illnesses,” she said.

“Currently there are 1072 people in isolation due to COVID-19 in Iceland, ten of which are hospitalised. About 97 percent of those infected have mild or no symptoms,” Knútsdóttir added. This latter statistic is not taken into consideration by the alarmist posts on social media.

“The fact that many vaccinated people are testing positive after the vaccine with the delta does not mean the vaccine doesn’t work,” Prof Monica Gandhi, Professor of Medicine and Associate Division Chief of the Division of HIV, Infectious Diseases, and Global Medicine at the University of California San Francisco, told Reuters.

“Many asymptomatic people are tested after vaccination and, without incorporating cycle threshold assessment in the PCR test or using antigen-based testing, we don’t know if that test is really a “case” or a low viral load result from the vaccine fighting the virus in your nose ( here ),” Gandhi said.

“Moreover, we are seeing more mild symptomatic breakthrough infections with the delta variant although protection of the vaccines against severe disease seems very high and enduring. Vaccinated people are more likely to seek testing with symptoms than the unvaccinated so the cases may be overrepresented more in the vaccinated,” she added.

There was consensus that the vaccines curbed transmission with the alpha variant.

VERDICT

Missing context. A graph showing rising case numbers in Iceland is accurate. However, it is not proof that vaccines are ineffective at countering symptomatic disease in the country. Vaccines are also not the cause of rising infections.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here.

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