Social media posts have claimed that those who have received a COVID-19 vaccine are more than six times more likely to die from being infected by variants than those who have not been inoculated. While the data was indeed taken from a Public Health England (PHE) briefing held in June, it was taken out of context.
Several blogs have spread the claim and screenshots of the blogs are being shared on social media.
The headline of a blog post, published on June 23 by DC Clothesline, reads: “Vaccinated people found to be 600% more likely to die from covid “variants” than unvaccinated people” A headline from a similar blog published in Life Site News on June 18 reads: “Death rate from variant COVID virus six times higher for vaccinated than unvaccinated, UK health data show.” Those are some o the blogs being shared on social media to have published the claims.
Referring to data compiled by Public Health England (PHE) in a technical briefing released on June 18 regarding the SARS-CoV-2 variants (here), the authors of the blogs make several calculations.
On page 12 of the briefing, it shows that 26 people have died since February 1 after testing positive for the Delta variant of the virus, having also been fully vaccinated for more than two weeks. In total, 4,087 tested positive more than two weeks after their second dose. Meanwhile, 35,521 people who were unvaccinated tested positive for the Delta variant and 34 people died.
The authors then divide the number of deaths by the total number of people who tested positive for the Delta variant and found the rate of death to be 0.000957 for unvaccinated individuals and 0.00636 for those who have been inoculated.
The logic is flawed, however, and PHE told Reuters that two doses of the vaccine have shown “high levels” of protection against the Delta Variant. Reuters also previously addressed the claim that a vaccine makes individuals more vulnerable to variants.
“The analysis presented is very misleading and ignores the fact that deaths predominantly occur in older age groups who have had much higher vaccination coverage,” Prof Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine at Norwich Medical School told Reuters over email.
The figures in the blog posts lack context, Dr Muge Cevik, clinical lecturer in infectious diseases and medical virology at the University of St Andrews, told Reuters by email.
In England, approximately 85% of the adult population have had one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 65% are fully inoculated, Dr Cevik said.
“When most people are vaccinated, most infections and deaths are expected to be among those vaccinated,” she added.
The vaccination program also prioritised “clinically vulnerable” individuals, and thus the majority of those vaccinated will “disproportionately represent elderly and those with underlying comorbidities, who are already at significant risk of hospitalisation and death,” Dr Cevik, said.
The posts do not consider the overall higher number of cases due to the Delta variant for those who are unvaccinated compared to those who are inoculated.
The overall rate of infection is much less in vaccinated populations, which “indicates that vaccination is working,” Dr Shamaila Anwar, science communicator with Team Halo, told Reuters.
Another recent PHE report showed high levels of protection against symptomatic disease from the Delta variant among vaccinated people.
Vaccines are “highly effective at preventing hospitalisation, so it is vital to get both doses to gain maximum protection against all existing and emerging variants,” the PHE spokesperson told Reuters via email, echoing what was said in the report.
Vaccines don’t fully eliminate the risk of infection and hospitalisation.
“They reduce the risk of symptomatic infection by 60-80%, and if infected they reduce the risk of severe illness and hospitalisation by 90-98%. While vaccines provide significant protection, they are not curatives,” Dr Cervik said.
Reuters reports Dr Robert Bollinger, an infectious disease specialist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine as saying previously that “compared to unvaccinated people, vaccinated people are less likely to get infected by all of the strains, including the variants.”
Missing context. Vaccinated people are not at higher risk of dying from the Delta variant than those who are unvaccinated. The figures were taken out of context from a PHE briefing released in June.