Thousands of averted Covid deaths in Israel: science fiction

Eyal Shahar
5 min readJun 8, 2023

In a paper published in Lancet Infect Dis, Haas and his colleagues argued that the Pfizer vaccine averted over 5,000 deaths in Israel in the first quarter of 2021, during the Covid wave that coincided with the first vaccination campaign (Figure 1).

I will show here that their claim is false. If any deaths have been averted at all, the number is far from their estimate — undetectable in mortality statistics.

Figure 1

There is more than one way to show the falsehood of claims about exceptional benefits of Covid vaccines. I will rely on comparative data from Sweden. The country that showed the world the futility of lockdowns and mask mandates will prove helpful again.

Both Israel and Sweden faced a major Covid wave in the winter of 2020–2021, but the timing deferred by about one month (Figure 2). In Sweden, the mortality wave began in November and peaked in late December, whereas in Israel the mortality wave began in December and peaked in late January. Case waves (not shown) are shifted to the left by about two weeks.

To allow for a fair comparison, I will examine mortality in a five-month period that contains the full mortality wave in Sweden: November 2020-March 2021.

Figure 2

Unlike Israel, Sweden experienced the winter wave largely unvaccinated. By the time the mortality waves subsided, at the end of March 2021, only 10% of the population of Sweden received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine as compared with 55% of the population of Israel. At the end of February the numbers were 5% and 50%, respectively.

The Sweden population is somewhat larger than that of Israel (10.4 million versus 9.2 million), but as far as mortality is concerned, the key difference is the size of the elderly population (>65 years old). It is about twice as large in Sweden: two million versus one million. Consequently, all-cause mortality in Sweden has been 2–2.5 times all-cause mortality in Israel (Figure 3). In recent years the ratio has been essentially stable, just above 2. The value of 1.9 in 2019 reflects exceptionally low mortality in Sweden before the pandemic.

Figure 3

Figure 4 shows the cumulative number of reported Covid deaths in each country, at the beginning and the end of the period of interest, along with the percentage of the population that received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine by four time points. The graphs are shown on a log scale, which visually captures changes, or lack of changes, in the ratio of the number of deaths: when the curves look parallel, the ratio is maintained. If Israel fared better than Sweden, the curves should have diverged. They did not.

Figure 4

In early November 2020, the Covid mortality ratio was 2.3 (=5,995/2,569). At the end of March 2021, it was 2.2 (=13,583/6,205). In between, the ratio was 2.1 (7,588 Covid deaths in Sweden versus 3,636 in Israel). That is exactly the typical mortality ratio for Sweden versus Israel in recent years.

Haas et al. claim that Israel should have seen over 8,000 Covid deaths, in the absence of vaccination (Figure 1), which implies over 16,000 Covid deaths in unvaccinated Sweden and expected mortality ratio of about 4. The actual number of deaths in Sweden was 7,588, and the mortality ratio was 2.1, as we just saw. Where is the evidence that 5,000 deaths were averted in vaccinated Israel, but 10,000 deaths were not averted in Sweden (twice as many, proportionally)?

Reported Covid deaths have been subject to misclassification. In both Israel and Sweden, many deaths with Covid have been counted as deaths from Covid. So let’s check, next, all-cause mortality in the relevant period. Is there evidence of thousands of averted deaths in Israel, but not in Sweden?

Figure 5 shows the number of all-cause deaths in the two countries between November and March in the past two decades (winter mortality). Again, the ratio has been maintained in recent years: about twice as many deaths in Sweden than in Israel in that five-month period.

Figure 5

As shown in the bar graph on the right, the same ratio (1.9) was maintained between November 2020 and March 2021: 43,954 deaths in Sweden versus 22,830 in Israel. If the vaccination campaign in Israel averted 5,000 deaths, the ratio should have increased from a baseline of 2 to about 2.3, because the number of deaths in unvaccinated Sweden should have been higher by thousands of “non-averted deaths”. Where is the evidence, in all-cause mortality, that a highly vaccinated country fared better than a largely unvaccinated country?

Lastly, let’s compare excess mortality in that period (Figure 6). Notice, first, that the ratio of expected deaths in Sweden versus Israel is, again, close to 2 (40,000/21,000), using independent assumptions on expected deaths.

Figure 6

Israel’s Health Ministry has estimated 9.5% excess mortality in a four-month period (November 2020 excluded), similar to my most conservative estimate (8.9%), which included November. If 5,000 deaths were averted, excess mortality in that period — in the absence of vaccination — should have been over 30%! But excess mortality in Sweden was essentially identical to Israel (< 9%).

Whichever metric is used to compare unvaccinated Sweden with vaccinated Israel — reported Covid deaths or all-cause deaths — there is nothing to indicate any deviation from the usual pattern of comparative mortality in the two countries: twice as many deaths in Sweden. Judging from excess mortality, the death toll of the winter Covid wave was identical. It is impossible to reconcile these data with thousands of averted deaths in Israel by the Pfizer vaccine.

Lockdowns were futile and detrimental, mask mandates were futile, Covid vaccines were marginally beneficial, futile, or worse, and influential studies of vaccine effectiveness contain at least one major flaw, and probably more.

These truths will become common knowledge when contemporary, brainwashed Covid scientists are replaced by a new generation of scientists with inquisitive minds. Then, it will be the job of sociologists to explain how gross falsehoods, like the one discussed here, have reached the pages of medical journals during the Covid era.

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Eyal Shahar

Professor Emeritus of Public Health (University of Arizona); MD (Tel-Aviv University, Israel); MPH, Epidemiology (University of Minnesota)