Social media users are sharing a 45-second clip from a British news channel’s report which juxtaposes European COVID-19 vaccination rates and a single month of mortality rates to imply that countries with higher COVID-19 vaccination will have greater “excess mortality”.
One Facebook user posted a version of the video (here) alongside the caption: “Study shows that the European countries with the lowest vaccination rate has the lowest excess mortality rate and the country with the highest vaccination rate has the highest excess mortality.”
Similar posts can be found on Facebook (here and here), while other versions of the clip can be seen on Twitter (here, here and here), where they have been collectively viewed more than 200,000 times and amassed more than 5,700 shares.
However, no “study” has reached the conclusion that European national vaccination rates correlate with mortality, as suggested in some social media posts. The clip from a news report shared online implies a causal relationship based on a presenter’s juxtaposition of cherry-picked examples from two unrelated sets of data, independent experts told Reuters Fact Check. The comparison between total vaccination doses given in Europe and mortality rates during a single month also fails to account for other potential causes of death or provide any evidence of a connection to vaccination, experts said.
WHAT DOES THE CLIP SAY?
The footage circulating on social media, which originally aired on Aug. 24, 2022, is a 45-second excerpt (from 39:47 here) taken from a GB News report hosted by presenter Mark Steyn.
In the portion of the report seen in the clip, the presenter looks at figures up to Aug. 4, 2022, compiled by independent data platform Statista (here), and shows a map depicting the total number of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered per 100 population in Europe. Based on the data, the presenter correctly points out that the least-vaccinated country is Bulgaria, and the most-vaccinated country is Malta, followed by Portugal.
A map published by the European Union statistical office, Eurostat, (here) in August 2022 is also displayed on the screen. The map depicts so-called excess mortality rates across Europe in June 2022, which is the excess of deaths that month as compared to the average rate in the same month during the baseline period 2016-2019.
The Eurostat map indicates that at one extreme, Bulgaria’s mortality rate in June 2022 was 7.9% lower than the baseline average, while at the other extreme, Portugal recorded 23.9% more deaths than usual for June.
Based on these unrelated datasets, the presenter notes that Portugal, which according to Statista is the second most-vaccinated country in Europe, “has the highest excess mortality” going by Eurostat’s data. He also notes that Bulgaria is the least-vaccinated and has the least excess mortality, concluding, “So, the country with the lowest vaccination rate has the lowest excess mortality and the country with the highest vaccination rate has the highest excess mortality,” before adding: “But all together now, ‘correlation is not causation’.”
A spokesperson for Statista – who said the statistics were taken from Our World in Data, with original sources being the World Health Organization and government institutions – told Reuters via email that “comparing all vaccinations with just one month is obviously nonsense”.
Moreover, Professor Jeffrey Morris, director of biostatistics at the University of Pennsylvania, told Reuters Fact Check via email that the presenter appears to be “cherry picking specific locations of high and low vaccination rates which fit their narrative”.
Pointing out that the implied relationship does not hold for some of the other countries depicted in the two maps, Morris said, “If vaccines were causing substantial excess deaths, we should consistently see it in high-vaccination countries, not just a cherry picked few.”
“They (Steyn) sarcastically say ‘correlation is not causation’, but that is true,” Morris added. “However, they have not even demonstrated that there is indeed a correlation if looking broadly beyond their cherry-picked examples.”
OTHER CAUSES OF EXCESS DEATHS
“There can be all kinds of reasons for excess deaths which have nothing to do with vaccination,” Morris said. “You really can’t draw valid conclusions on a single factor, like vaccination rates from country-level aggregated data, since countries differ in many ways other than vaccination. Aggregated country-level summaries have limited usefulness for assessing vaccine effects, even if not cherry picked.”
Likewise, a spokesperson for Eurostat told Reuters via email that the presenter’s analysis “might be misleading because excess mortality can be caused by several factors”, such as heatwaves and other extreme weather. The Statista spokesperson agreed that excess mortality could be heat related, citing a severe heatwave in Portugal and Spain during June 2022 (here), as did a spokesperson for the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
Reports about Portugal experiencing extreme heat in June can be found in Portuguese (here and here) and in English (here and here).
DATA MISSING AND MISUSED
Morris said that finding a valid relationship between vaccines and excess deaths would require “individual-level data” including numerous variables – such as cause of death, people’s vaccination status and comparisons between the vaccinated and unvaccinated.
Additional data would also be needed to account for “confounding factors related to vaccination status and risk of death, including age, sex, socioeconomic status, preexisting health conditions, vocation – as it relates to potential high COVID exposure – COVID infection history etc. by appropriate design or analysis approaches,” Morris said.
Simply comparing the two unrelated maps can be misleading, the ECDC spokesperson said: “It is possible to run analyses using different data sources, but this would not make sense without a sound rationale and a description of the methods. It is not good practice to draw conclusions by simply eyeballing... For example, you could imagine data showing a higher prevalence of anything (car sales or number of showers per inhabitant) in countries with a higher mortality rate in a given month or week, but would you conclude that there is an association?”
The spokesperson added: “There is sound evidence that vaccines are effective in reducing the risk of severe outcomes, including death. There are several studies confirming these findings, including two led by the ECDC.” (here) and (here)
Reuters Fact Check has previously addressed claims based on GB News content (here) and (here).
The news channel did not respond to requests for comment about the clip.
Misleading. The clip selectively compares unrelated European datasets to suggest that high national rates of COVID-19 vaccination led to high excess mortality.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here.
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.