This is how COVID-19 vaccination rates expose the folly of broad averages

eNitiate | Bra Willy Seyama | Folly of Averages | COVID-19 | Total Vaccinations | 30 Dec 2021 - banner-

This is the third eNsight on the topic of data being new gold to South Africa.

You can check out the second eNsight in this series here:

RELATED ENSIGHT:

How COVID-19 proves data is new gold to South Africa

In this eNsight, I demonstrate how comparisons based on averages can lead to wrong findings and conclusions.

For this purpose, I shall use COVID-19 vaccination data as a perfect example.

And I want to convince you, now that you took the trouble to visit this eNsight, to at least follow my reasoning.

So let’s go.

Table of Contents

Inspiration for this second eNsight in the series

I am currently reading a book by Daniel Kahneman titled Thinking Fast and Slow.

A passage on page 62 in the book struck a chord, and here it is: 

A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished fro truth. Authoritarian institutions and marketers have always known this fact.

Daniel Kahneman | Thinking fast and slow Tweet

So what has the passage above have anything to do with averages and COVID-19?

I am about to test my theory that there is a folly in the comparisons based on averages that are made between African countries – using South Africa as a proxy – and the West on some of the fronts, including GINI Coefficient, the latter which I hope to share my thoughts on sometime in the future.

To give you a clue about COVID-19, age distribution lies at the heart of the title for this eNsight.

Read on, for the unfolding of my inspiration.

Countries for comparing averages against South Africa in this eNsight

For purposes of my  “expose”, I shall compare COVID-19 vaccination averages of South Africa to those of 3 countries – the US, the UK and Israel.

I could have chosen any number of countries in the west, but I decided on the first two above because they continue to hog the COVID-19 spotlight.

By the way…

I am aware that the UK is not one but four countries – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

However, Our World in Data – the main source I use for comparative vaccination data – displays stats for this group of counties as an aggregate. 

Therefore, my loose reference to the UK as if it is a country is out of contextual convenience.

And Israel?

Because, this country of  9.3 million people – or one sixth of South Africa’s population size, was one of the first off the blocks with the Pfizer vaccine

COVID-19 vaccinations: South Africa vs the US, the UK and Israel

According to Our World in Data, South Africa’s total vaccinations are at 31%, next is Israel at 70%, then the US at 73% and lastly the UK at 76%; in the ascending order.

eNitiate | Bra Willy Seyama | Folly of Averages | COVID-19 | Total Vaccinations | South Africa | United States | United Kingdom | Israel | 29 Dec 2021
Graph 1

If nothing else is considered, South Africa’s vaccinations are far off when compared to the other 3 countries.

However, this does not tell the whole story.

Age distribution: South Africa vs the US, the UK and Israel

I have already indicated that age distribution is at the heart of my assertion that there is a folly in the use of averages to compare African countries with the west.

Now, it is an accepted fact that older people are more vulnerable to COVID-19, which has been the reason why vaccination drives focused on them first, the world over.

Building on this age factor, let us compare the four countries that are the subject of this eNsight, based on the sizes of their citizens who are 50 years and older.

eNitiate | Bra Willy Seyama | Folly of Averages | COVID-19 | Populations: Total versus Over 50 versus 65 & Older | South Africa | United States | United Kingdom | Israel | 29 Dec 2021
Graph 2

Findings:

  • The US has the largest population of the four countries (330 million, or almost 6 times the size of the South African population), and Israel has the smallest population (9 million).
  • The US also has the oldest population of the four countries, as judged by the percentage of members of its population who are over 50 (37%), followed closely by the UK (36%).
    Meanwhile, South Africa has the youngest population of the four countries. 

RELATED ENSIGHT:

18 sources that generate rich data for South Africa – the country’s new gold

By implication:

The younger the population of a country, the lesser the burden of the COVID-19 disease, all other things considered.

Naturally then, South Africa’s low vaccination rate is explained, at least in part,  by the fact that the nation’s older members who get vaccinated first are fewer in number. 

South Africa: vaccination stats for the vulnerable age groups

What do the South African total vaccination stats look like for members of the population who are 50 years and older?

See the answer below.

eNitiate | Bra Willy Seyama | Folly of Averages | COVID-19 | Total Vaccinations | 50 years & Older | South Africa | 29 Dec 2021
Figure 1 | Source: sacoronavirus.co.za

Findings:

6.6 million South Africans who are 50 years and older have received at least one vaccine jab, and that is well over 6 in every 10 people in this age group.

What are the total vaccination stats for the vulnerable groups in the other 3 countries that re being compared with South Africa?

In Israel, over 8 in every 10 people who are 50 years and older have received at least one vaccine jab. 

eNitiate | Bra Willy Seyama | Folly of Averages | COVID-19 | Total Vaccinations | 50 years & Older | Israel | 29 Dec 2021
Graph 3 | Source: https://datadashboard.health.gov.il/

The vaccination data by age group for the US and the UK is not easily accessible, and/or it is not structured in a user-friendly way.

However, I am happy that Israel provides enough evidence for the purpose of this eNsight.

The folly of averages exposed?

When comparing the data for South Africa and Israel, it is clear that:

  1. Mzansi’s overall vaccination rate is lower due to a younger population, and
  2. Mzansi’s vaccination rate for a population of 50 and older does not fall too far behind. 

By extension, the two points above apply to the US and the UK as well, given the larger sizes of the older age groups of these two countries.

Without a doubt, the overall COVID-19 vaccination averages on their own do not tell the whole story, or explain some of the nuances that must be taken into account, such as a nation’s age distribution that has a direct impact on vaccination rates.

RELATED ENSIGHT:

Why aggregate stats are not best performance indicators

Point made regarding South Africa’s total vaccination rate of 31%, when compared to UK’s 76%, US’s 73% and Israel’s 70%?

I hope I got you to think again.

My closing thoughts

The abundance of COVID-19 stats is a gift to Africa. 

The responsibility now rests with Africans to be vigilant, to unearth the truths buried in the available stats, and to tell their own positive stories, their own way. 

RELATED ENSIGHT:

Why the Internet is the best thing for Africa since a slice of bread

In this era of the Internet, and in the case of South Africa, where reliable data is in plain sight, there is no reason why People of the South cannot do their own bidding.

I hope that this eNsight has proven yet again, that data is new gold to South Africa.

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