What Iceland’s rising Covid-19 case count tells us about vaccine efficacy


In Iceland, 96% of females and 90% of males 16 years or older have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. Its vaccination rate, one of the highest in the world, makes it a particularly interesting place to look at the incidence and severity of breakthrough infections.

Covid-19 vaccines were first administered in Iceland at the end of 2020; by mid-July, every resident over the age of 16 was offered a shot. Yet tests show an alarming number of domestic Covid-19 infections are still happening with the onset of the delta variant.

In the US, where vaccination rates are lower, officials have described the virus’s ongoing spread as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” But given the lopsided numbers of vaccinated versus unvaccinated people in Iceland, the island country is currently seeing more cases of Covid-19 among the vaccinated than the unvaccinated.

Since the pandemic began, there have been 8,738 infections and 30 coronavirus-related deaths reported in Iceland. The country managed to control the virus relatively well and has reported only one death in 2021, on May 25.

That there are hardly any deaths accompanying the rising case count is a good sign. The data show that vaccinated people who are getting the virus are generally recovering without serious illness.

Iceland provides a case study for how an effective vaccine rollout perhaps doesn’t guarantee herd immunity but prevents hospitalizations and deaths.