An online blog saying 62% of England’s recent COVID-19 deaths are among vaccinated individuals has taken Public Health England (PHE) data out of context. Medical experts told Reuters it is also important to consider the demographics of vaccinated people.
The headline of the blog post, published on June 26, reads: “Whilst you’ve been distracted by Hancock’s affair, PHE released a report revealing 62% of alleged Covid deaths are people who’ve been vaccinated” (archive.is/CokVU). The first part of the headline refers to a scandal that led to the resignation of then British health minister Matt Hancock.
According to the blog, a PHE briefing revealed “the majority of alleged Covid-19 deaths are significantly higher in people who have had at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, with the highest number of deaths occurring in people who are supposed to be fully vaccinated.”
Referring to table 4 on page 13 of the PHE briefing released on June 25 (here), the blog details the calculations made to reach its conclusion.
The table shows the total number of deaths in people who tested positive for the Delta variant of COVID-19 from Feb. 1 to June 21 was 117. Of those fatalities, 20 individuals had received one dose of a vaccine while 50 people had received two. Forty-four people were unvaccinated, and the vaccination status of three people was unknown.
The headline of the blog claims this equates to 62% of the 117 fatalities being people who received either one or two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. The blog itself, however, says this figure is actually 60%, which is closer to Reuters’ calculation of 59.82%. This 2% discrepancy appears to stem from the headline percentage including the three people whose vaccination status was unknown.
The blog also says 37% of the fatalities (Reuters’ calculation: 37.6%) happened in unvaccinated individuals.
However, it is misleading to suggest these figures prove a correlation between vaccination and death – and Reuters has addressed a similar claim before (here).
“It is important to understand the whole context to avoid misunderstanding data,” said Dr Shamaila Anwar, science communicator at Team Halo (teamhalo.org/).
Speaking to Reuters, she noted the importance of accounting for the demographics of vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, especially as Britain’s inoculation programme has prioritised those who are older or clinically vulnerable.
Anwar added that data currently shows the number of infections is “much less” in the vaccinated population, which indicates that “vaccination is working”.
Dr Muge Cevik, a clinical lecturer in infectious diseases and medical virology at the University of St Andrews, previously told Reuters that when the majority of people have been vaccinated “most infections and deaths are expected to be among those vaccinated”.
Moreover, there were 92,029 cases of the Delta variant confirmed during the period covered in the PHE report – 7,235 of which were in those who had received two doses of a vaccine. There were 53,822 cases in those who had not received any shots.
Another PHE report has also found that two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines are effective against hospitalisation and serious disease from the Delta variant (here).
Missing context. Vaccinated individuals are not at higher risk of dying from the Delta variant. The Public Health England figures cited in a blogpost have been taken out of context.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here.
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