An article published by a site that has previously been found by Reuters Fact Check to have shared health misinformation suggests COVID-19 vaccines make people more likely to die from the virus. However, it has misrepresented UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data on deaths by COVID-19 vaccination status and overlooks context about high vaccine coverage.
The blog, published on March 4 and shared online more than 1,750 times (here), states: “The latest data published by the UK Health Security Agency confirms fully vaccinated individuals in England are up to 3.2 times more likely to die of Covid-19 than unvaccinated individuals based on Covid-19 death-rates per 100,000 population.”
Social media users have circulated the story’s claims here, here and here.
However, it is misleading to claim these figures show vaccinated individuals are far more likely to die with COVID-19 than the unvaccinated – and Reuters has addressed similar claims previously here, here and here.
The UKHSA’s March 3 COVID-19 vaccine surveillance report shows that the rates of death concerning COVID-19, adjusted to represent cases per 100,000 people, are consistently lower for the triple-vaccinated in all age groups in comparison to the unvaccinated (here).
The weekly report previously displayed unadjusted rates of COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 people for the double-vaccinated and unvaccinated (here). Releases from Jan. 20 onwards show rates among those vaccinated with at least three doses (per 100,000), as well as the rates among unvaccinated people, but not the death rate for the double-vaccinated (here).
Because of this, the blog site manually estimates COVID-19 death rates for those who have had two vaccines. It does so by combining death data from the Week 9 report with recent totals of double-vaccinated people extracted from the National Immunisation Management Service (NIMS), here.
To reach the number of double-vaccinated individuals, the site subtracted NIMS numbers of those who had at least three doses from the group who had received at least two doses.
The blog then compares the estimated death rates for double-vaccinated people to rates of deaths for unvaccinated individuals per 100,000, displayed in the UKHSA’s Week 9 report (page 45, here).
The website goes on to conclude that England’s double-vaccinated population are “statistically more likely to die of Covid-19 than the unvaccinated population in every age single age group”, with all double-vaccinated people over the age of 70 “at least 3 times more likely to die of Covid-19 than unvaccinated individuals over 70”.
The UKHSA told Reuters via email that, given vaccine uptake levels in England are very high, it is expected that a large proportion of cases and deaths would occur in vaccinated individuals, even with a highly effective vaccine, because a larger proportion of the population are vaccinated than unvaccinated.
According to UK Government data, 85.6% of the population has received at least two doses; 67% have received a booster or third dose (here).
Dr Muge Cevik, a clinical lecturer in infectious diseases and medical virology at the University of St Andrews, previously told Reuters that when much of a population has been vaccinated, “most infections and deaths are expected to be among those vaccinated” (here).
The UKHSA also says the prioritisation of individuals who are more at risk of severe COVID-19 in vaccine rollouts means those vaccinated may be more at risk of death from COVID-19 and contributing factors, regardless of vaccination.
The agency also told Reuters that it is useful to compare case, hospitalisation and death rates in boosted individuals with those who are unvaccinated given third doses have now been offered to all age groups in England.
Further detail on the effectiveness of two COVID-19 vaccine doses on preventing death is also available within the “vaccine effectiveness” section of the surveillance report. It says that after 25 weeks following the second dose, “vaccine effectiveness was around 60% while at 2 or more weeks following a booster vaccine effectiveness was 95% against mortality”.
The weekly surveillance report has become a continuous tool used in COVID-19 vaccine misinformation throughout the pandemic.
Reuters previously addressed similar claims taking UK data on deaths by COVID-19 vaccination status out of context, here, here, here.
Misleading. COVID-19 vaccines do not make people more likely to die from the virus. The manual death rate estimates misrepresent UKHSA data and miss context about the high level of vaccine coverage in England.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here.
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