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• A report from the U.K. Health Security Agency indicates that the Pfizer and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines are each about 90% or more effective at preventing hospitalization and mortality, with medium to high degrees of confidence.
• Without controlling for outside factors, data on U.K. COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and vaccinations appear to indicate that a higher percentage of vaccinated people are contracting COVID-19 and experiencing serious health outcomes compared with unvaccinated people.
• The U.K.’s public health agency has warned people against presenting data in misleading ways that indicate the vaccinated are more at risk for serious health outcomes from COVID-19.
An article claiming that the omicron COVID-19 variant will be most dangerous to fully vaccinated people is circulating on social media.
"Only the Fully Vaccinated should fear the New ‘Worst Ever’ Covid-19 Variant; data shows they already account for 4 in every 5 Covid Deaths," reads the headline, which we found screengrabbed and shared on Instagram.
The alarming story was published by The Daily Expose, a U.K.-focused site that has published COVID-19 misinformation before. The article purports to take readers "on a journey" through months of COVID-19 data from the U.K. Health Security Agency.
The blog post lists statistics and percentages about the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, making comparisons between those who are vaccinated and those who are unvaccinated.
According to the article, the data shows, "why, if the rumours are true, the unvaccinated population have absolutely nothing to worry about, but the vaccinated population have everything to fear."
This is inaccurate and misleading. The Health Security Agency, the U.K.’s public health arm, has repeatedly warned against misrepresenting and misinterpreting the available COVID-19 data in this way.
The posts sharing this article were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
There is no evidence that suggests only those who are fully vaccinated should fear the newly discovered omicron variant. Studies show that the available vaccines are safe and effective at preventing severe COVID-19, hospitalization and death.
The Daily Expose cites the Health Security Agency’s Nov. 25 COVID-19 Vaccine Surveillance Report as the source of its data, but it was unclear how the numbers referenced in its article were reached.
The article claims that there were "833,332 recorded Covid-19 cases, 9,094 Covid-19 hospitalisations and 3,700 Covid-19 deaths from October 25th to November 21st."
From there, it proceeds to provide the percentages of those individuals who were unvaccinated vs. those who were vaccinated.
"Of these the unvaccinated accounted for 39% of all cases, 34% of all hospitalisations, and 19% of all deaths," the article reads. "Whilst the vaccinated accounted for 61% of all cases, 66% of all hospitalisations, and 81% of all deaths."
Presumably the percentages were calculated by dividing the number of people in each group who tested positive for COVID-19 by the total number of cases and multiplying the outcome by 100, and then repeating the same process for COVID hospitalizations and deaths.
Calculations aside, presenting the data in this way is misleading, because it fails to account for the U.K.’s high overall vaccination rate and differences between vaccinated and the unvaccinated populations that may skew the numbers.
The Health Security Agency report emphasized that in a number of ways. Early on in the report, the following warning is provided:
"We present data on COVID-19 cases, hospitalisations and deaths by vaccination status. These raw data should not be used to estimate vaccine effectiveness as the data does not take into account inherent biases present such as differences in risk, behaviour and testing in the vaccinated and unvaccinated populations."
In the interpretation section of the report (Page 27), just before the vaccine data breakdown is provided, the agency warns that the "vaccination status of cases, inpatients and deaths should not be used to assess vaccine effectiveness because of differences in risk, behaviour and testing in the vaccinated and unvaccinated population."
"The case rates in the vaccinated and unvaccinated populations are crude rates that do not take into account underlying statistical biases in the data," reads the report.
The report goes on to point out potential examples of "systematic differences" between those who are vaccinated and unvaccinated, such as:
People who are vaccinated may be more health conscious, and therefore more likely to get tested for COVID.
People who were first in line for vaccines were those at higher risk due to their age, occupation or underlying health conditions.
Vaccinated and unvaccinated people may have different levels of exposure to COVID because of the ways they behave.
Then, once again, the agency warns people to interpret the data provided with careful consideration. Each table says, "These data should be interpreted with caution," and directs people to a footnote:
"In the context of very high vaccine coverage in the population, even with a highly effective vaccine, it is expected that a large proportion of cases, hospitalisations and deaths would occur in vaccinated individuals, simply because a larger proportion of the population are vaccinated than unvaccinated and no vaccine is 100% effective."
Beyond those warnings, the Health Security Agency published a blog post of its own to explain why claims like the ones made in The Daily Expose’s article are misleading.
"A simple comparison of COVID-19 case rates in those who are vaccinated and unvaccinated should not be used to assess how effective a vaccine is in preventing serious health outcomes," the agency wrote in a Nov. 2 blog post. "This is because these figures are susceptible to a number of differences between the groups, other than the vaccine itself, and these biases mean that you cannot use the rates to determine how well the vaccines work."
The agency noted that when simply comparing the numbers of cases in vaccinated and unvaccinated people, "the rate of cases in the vaccinated people appears higher for many age groups." (The bold emphasis is ours.)
"This is because there are key differences in the characteristics and behaviour of individuals who are vaccinated compared to those who are unvaccinated," the agency explained. "The rates therefore reflect this population’s behaviour and exposure to COVID-19, not how well the vaccines work."
The agency went on to explain how it controls for those factors when assessing the effectiveness of the vaccines.
In the vaccine surveillance report, the Health Security Agency indicates on page 10 that the vaccines are highly effective against the widespread delta COVID variant.
For example, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is 95%-99% effective at preventing hospitalization with a high degree of confidence and 90%-99% effective at preventing mortality with a medium degree of confidence.
The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, which is approved in the U.K., is similarly 90%-99% effective at preventing hospitalization with a high degree of confidence and is 90%-95% effective at preventing mortality.
"We believe that transparency — coupled with explanation — remains the best way to deal with misinformation," the agency wrote.
An article claimed, "Only the Fully Vaccinated should fear the New ‘Worst Ever’ Covid-19 Variant; data shows they already account for 4 in every 5 Covid Deaths."
This is inaccurate and misleading. Without controlling for outside factors, data for U.K. COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and vaccinations appear to indicate that a higher percentage of vaccinated people have contracted COVID-19 and experienced serious health outcomes compared to unvaccinated people. But experts have repeatedly warned that interpreting the available COVID-19 data this way is misleading.
There is no evidence that only those who are fully vaccinated should fear the omicron variant. Studies show that the available vaccines are safe and effective at preventing severe COVID-19, hospitalization and death — at least in variants that have been researched.
We rate this claim False.
Instagram post, Dec. 3, 2021
Office for Statistics Regulation, "Communicating data is more than just presenting the numbers," Nov. 2, 2021
Gov.uk, "Transparency and data – UKHSA’s vaccines report," Nov. 2, 2021
PolitiFact, "COVID-19 vaccines did not cause a 366% increase in miscarriages, as article claims," April 2, 2021
FullFact.org, "Many more than 3,000 people have died of Covid-19," Feb. 22, 2021
UK Health Security Agency, "COVID-19 vaccine surveillance report - Week 39," accessed Dec. 5, 2021
UK Health Security Agency, "COVID-19 vaccine surveillance report - Week 42," accessed Dec. 5, 2021
UK Health Security Agency, "COVID-19 vaccine surveillance report - Week 46," accessed Dec. 5, 2021
UK Health Security Agency, "COVID-19 vaccine surveillance report - Week 47," accessed Dec. 5, 2021
BBC, "Covid vaccines still effective against Delta variant," Aug. 19, 2021
National Health Service, "Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines," accessed Dec. 6, 2021
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