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Fact check: Flu does not kill 14 times more people than COVID-19

A Facebook post questioning the need for a coronavirus vaccine makes the false assertion that flu kills people at 14 times the rate of COVID-19.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

The post (bit.ly/3cosqyk ) includes a screenshot from a Daily Telegraph article about the Oxford vaccine, on which the Facebook user comments: “Good luck to the sheeple chomping at the bit to get this rushed, dodgy, unlicensed vaccine which they don't need. P.s Flu is killing 14 times more than COVID-19 and we have had a vaccine for it for 78 years! Yet these people have been brainwashed into thinking a vaccine will get rid of COVID-19!”

Firstly, while it is true the vaccine process has been accelerated, many scientists have stressed this is not at the expense of safety (here).

In the United Kingdom, the government has also gone to lengths to explain that an unlicensed vaccine does not mean untested. The Department of Health and Social Care has said it plans to follow the “usual route” for enabling deployment of a potential COVID-19 vaccine, which is through a product licensing process. However, it said there could also be grounds to bypass the process “given the nature of the threat we face” while still ensuring it is safe to do so (here).

Regarding the claim that the flu is killing 14 times more people than COVID-19, current data suggests this is not accurate. Scientists are still trying to pinpoint the mortality rate of COVID-19, but have predicted it is higher than that of influenza (here, here) .

Oxford University’s Vaccine Knowledge Project estimates around 600 people die in the United Kingdom each year following complications from flu (here), although some years have seen this number rise to 10,000 or more. This is because of a huge variance in the different strains of the illness spread around at any one time.

In 2019, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) said 1,223 people in England and Wales had died with influenza being listed as an underlying cause (here) . This can be compared against ONS data from March 1 to June 30, 2020, which revealed a total of 46,736 people had died in England and Wales where COVID-19 was listed as an underlying cause of death (here) .

Worldwide, the World Health Organisation estimates between 290,000 and 650,000 people die of seasonal influenza each year (tinyurl.com/umr22lm). The overall worldwide death toll for COVID-19 stands at just below 1 million (coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html) .

Many considerations need to factored in as researchers continue work to calculate the mortality rate of COVID-19 (here) – including how testing is carried out, the way deaths are counted, and the age and pre-existing conditions of a patient – but available figures do not support the claim that “flu is killing 14 times more” than the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

VERDICT

False. There is no evidence to suggest flu is killing 14 times more people than COVID-19. Current evidence suggests COVID-19 has a higher mortality rate than influenza.

Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here .

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