One of the headlines in Dutch papers today is that 15 people have died after receiving the Covid vaccine. That sounds bad, but is it?

According to the RIVM, a total of 571361 vaccinations have been given (with a certain 414858). Since the Dutch government has decided to ignore the recommendation to give people the second injection 3 weeks after the first, that number is very close to the number of people who have received the vaccine.

If we assume people live till they are 80 and the 571361 people were sampled completely random, we would expect 571361 / 80 / 365.25 = 19,6 people from the population to die daily from old age. I don’t have numbers of the average age of people given the vaccine, but like everywhere else, the Netherlands focus vaccination of health personnel (nurses, doctors, care personnel) and old people. I would expect the first group to die way less but the latter group to die way more. As such, 15 deaths after more than month is negligible.

As of writing, there has been a total of 106821590 cases of Covid world-wide, leading to 2330294 deaths. That’s a mortality rate of 2.2%. If we assume that the 15 deaths are reflective of the global mortality from the vaccine (which it is not), it would have a mortality rate of 0.0026%. That means, you’re 870 times more likely to die from Covid than from the vaccine. And don’t get me wrong, there is no third option: you cannot just “not get vaccinated and not get Covid.” The Netherlands just surpassed 1 million cases this weekend, meaning that one in 17 have been infected already, and the only outcome is that everybody gets infected or vaccinated.

People are not good at probabilities. It is a known psychological fact that people over-estimate small probabilities and under-estimate high probabilities. Heck, people cannot even remain consistent about identical probabilities if presented differently; in a landmark paper Tversky and Kahneman ask people about a disease expected to kill 600 people if we do nothing. One group is asked whether they prefer A: to save 200 people, or B: save 600 people with probability ⅓ and save nobody with probability ⅔. Another group were asked whether they prefer C: to let 400 people die, or D: nobody dies with probability ⅓ and 600 people die with probability ⅔. Of course, A = C and B = D, but people had strong preferences for A and D. People are wildly risk-seeking when faced with a choice that suggests a loss.

So no, there’s is no risk of dying from the Covid vaccine. There’s a very good chance of avoiding a deadly disease. 571346 people out of 571361 now no longer have to fear Covid.

Time person of the year 2006, Nobel Peace Prize winner 2012.