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A general view of AstraZeneca offices and the corporate logo in Cambridge, England. (AP) A general view of AstraZeneca offices and the corporate logo in Cambridge, England. (AP)

A general view of AstraZeneca offices and the corporate logo in Cambridge, England. (AP)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher October 29, 2021

COVID-19 death rate in England much higher among unvaccinated than vaccinated

If Your Time is short

  • The statistic applies only to England, not all of the U.K.

  • A high percentage of COVID-19 deaths in England occurred among fully vaccinated people largely because high percentages of Englanders are vaccinated, especially older people who are more likely to die from illness.

  • The unvaccinated are still much more likely to die from COVID-19: The COVID-19 death rate — the number of deaths per 100,000 people — is much higher among unvaccinated people than vaccinated people.

A dramatic claim about the pandemic in the United Kingdom was made by Alex Berenson, a former New York Times reporter who has questioned the safety of COVID-19 vaccines and whose posts are sometimes cited for misinformation.

"I have to keep saying this to people because they almost don’t believe it," Berenson said to podcast host Joe Rogan. 

"In the U.K., 70-plus percent of the people who die now from COVID are fully vaccinated."

Video excerpts from the podcast were included in an article widely shared on Facebook. The article was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The data Berenson cited apply only to England, not the entire U.K.

And while a high percentage of COVID-19 deaths occurred among vaccinated Englanders, according to a mid-September report, that’s largely because such high percentages of the population are vaccinated. 

Moreover, the same data show that unvaccinated people in England are far more likely than vaccinated people to die from COVID-19.

The 70% figure

Berenson in the interview cited a report from Public Health England, a government agency. But he misstated the scope of the data. The report’s figures apply only to England, a spokesperson for the agency told PolitiFact, and not the rest of the U.K., which also includes Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Berenson highlighted a table in the report that showed COVID-19 deaths in England, broken down by age group, for the four-week period ended Sept. 19. Deaths are counted as COVID-19 deaths if they occurred within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test.

Totaling the figures in the table shows that 2,284 of the 3,158 deaths during the period, or 72%, occurred among fully vaccinated people.

More telling: the death rate

But the same table, along with another graphic in the report, show that deaths occurred at a far higher rate among unvaccinated people.

The table reports the rate of deaths — that is, the number of COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 people.

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The rate for people under age 18 was zero for both the vaccinated and the unvaccinated.

But for each of the other seven age groups, the rate of death was higher for unvaccinated people than for vaccinated people.

For example, for people age 80 and over, the rate among unvaccinated people was 156 deaths per 100,000 people — more than three times higher than the 49.5 for the vaccinated.

The difference was highest among people age 50 to 59. In that group, the rate was 12.4 deaths per 100,000 people among the unvaccinated, compared with 1.4 deaths among the vaccinated, or more than eight times higher.

The report also says estimates suggest that vaccinations prevented 123,000 deaths as of Sept. 17.

"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, hospitalizations 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," the report says. "This is especially true because vaccination has been prioritized in individuals who are more susceptible or more at risk of severe disease."

The report shows vaccination rates exceeding 90% among certain age groups, including those age 70 and above.

"The important thing is the percentage of vaccinated people who get severe disease versus unvaccinated people who get severe disease, and we know from those statistics that the vaccines are protecting people really well," said virologist Emily Bruce, a professor in microbiology and molecular genetics at the University of Vermont.

Our ruling

Berenson said that in the United Kingdom, "70-plus percent of the people who die now from COVID are fully vaccinated."

The figure he cited does not apply to the entire U.K., only England.

But a high percentage of COVID-19 deaths in England occurred among fully vaccinated people largely because high percentages of Englanders are vaccinated, especially older people who are more likely to die from illness. 

Moreover, the report Berenson cited shows that the unvaccinated are still much more likely to die from COVID-19: The COVID-19 death rate — the number of deaths per 100,000 people — is much higher among unvaccinated people than vaccinated people.

We rate the claim False.

Our Sources

KanekoaTheGreat’s Newsletter, "Alex Berenson Tells Joe Rogan: 'Over 70% of COVID-19 Deaths in England Were Fully Vaccinated In September," Oct. 19, 2021

Email, global health professor Brooke Nichols, health economist and infectious disease mathematical modeler at Boston University, Oct. 28, 2021

Email, virologist Emily Bruce, professor in microbiology and molecular genetics at the University of Vermont, Oct. 27, 2021

Public Health England, "COVID-19 vaccine surveillance report Week 38," (Table 4) Sept. 23, 2021

PolitiFact, "Claim on COVID-19 in UK ignores data showing death more likely for unvaccinated," Oct. 19, 2021

The Conversation, "Most COVID deaths in England now are in the vaccinated – here’s why that shouldn’t alarm you," July 14, 2021

Reuters, "Fact Check-England’s COVID-19 death statistics do not suggest vaccines aren’t working," July 7, 2021

Email, Public Health England spokesperson James McCreadie, Oct. 28, 2021

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COVID-19 death rate in England much higher among unvaccinated than vaccinated

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