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Jeff Cercone
By Jeff Cercone January 4, 2022

Claim about omicron risk for the vaccinated is missing key context

If Your Time is short

  • Statistics from the U.K. show that among people who tested positive for COVID-19, people who are fully vaccinated and boosted had a greater chance than the unvaccinated of testing positive for the omicron strain of the virus.

  • Unvaccinated people were more likely, according to the study, to test positive for a non-omicron version of COVID-19. And the unvaccinated are more likely to test positive for any strain of COVID-19.

  • Early research shows a reduced risk of hospitalization for those with the omicron variant compared with the delta variant, though the studies are preliminary.

Recent data from the United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics showed that infected people who had been fully vaccinated and had a booster shot were more likely to test positive for the omicron variant of COVID-19 than were unvaccinated people.

But those statistics were shared on social media without some key context, and with a post falsely suggesting that it’s safer not to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

A Facebook post reads, "It feels amazing to know I’m 4.5 times LESS LIKELY to catch #Omicron than a boosted Fauci-ite. Can’t wait to see how the media spins this information. It is preliminary but seems like there’s an inverse relationship between number of vaccinations and chances of infection."

This post 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 post shares a screenshot of a graphic from an article in The Daily Skeptic. The data from the U.K. statistics agency used in that article looked at those in the population with a positive COVID-19 test result, then those "were then looked at to see which characteristics of that population were associated with omicron," Jonathan Cooke of the ONS wrote in an email to PolitiFact.

The analysis did show that COVID-19-infected people who had received three doses of a vaccine were 4.5 times more likely to have a positive test compatible with omicron compared with an unvaccinated person who tested positive for COVID-19, Cooke said.

It’s worth noting that the U.K. studies compared populations of people who had tested positive for COVID-19. Those who didn’t contract omicron would have been infected by another variant, possibly one associated with more serious health effects. 

Unvaccinated still at greater risk

An ONS statement on the analysis said, "It is too early to draw conclusions from our data on the effectiveness of vaccines against the omicron variant." 

In addition, unvaccinated people are still more likely to catch COVID-19 and have worse outcomes than the fully vaccinated.

The U.K. analysis showed 1,816 people testing positive for COVID-19 between Nov. 29 and Dec. 12, with 115 of those 1,816 cases compatible with omicron. People with three vaccine shots accounted for a total of 185 COVID-19 infections, 21 of which were omicron. Unvaccinated people had a total of 536 infections, 14 with the omicron variant.

Based on its modeling technique, the agency said fully vaccinated and boosted people who tested positive for COVID-19 were 4.5 times more likely to be infected with the omicron variant than unvaccinated people.

A more recent release by ONS from Dec. 3 through Dec. 16 shows the ratio growing to six times. 

But, again, that doesn’t mean the unvaccinated didn’t get COVID-19. According to the study, they simply tested positive for a variant of the virus other than omicron.

In both analyses, unvaccinated people were more likely to get any variant of COVID-19 than people with three shots, the statistics agency said. In the later period, where there were 2,091 positive cases, there were 262 COVID-19 infections among people with three shots and 99 omicron cases out of those. Unvaccinated people had 559 infections, with 47 being from omicron.

"Our statement on the analysis did make clear, using analysis from our recent characteristics release, that unvaccinated people overall are more likely to test positive for COVID-19, regardless of variant," said Cooke. 

Reuters fact-checkers found similar posts shared by users on social media also were missing that key context.

UK health agency: 50% lower risk of hospitalization with omicron

As in the rest of the world, the omicron variant is spreading rapidly across all U.K. regions, according to ONS data and the UK Health Security Agency, and is now the dominant strain in the U.K. The U.K. set a daily record with 189,846 new COVID-19 infections of any kind on Dec. 31.

The UK Health Security Agency said studies using data through Dec. 29 show there is a roughly 50% lower risk of hospitalization for those infected with the omicron variant, compared with the delta variant. 

People who are fully vaccinated and boosted who get the omicron variant are 81% less likely to be admitted to a hospital than those who are unvaccinated, the agency said. The studies also show the vaccines have waning effectiveness over time in preventing an omicron infection.

Preliminary studies from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and the Imperial College of London also showed significantly lower risk of hospitalization from omicron than delta.

Our ruling

A Facebook post with a graphic claimed that people fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 were 4.5 times more likely than unvaccinated people to catch the omicron variant. The post gives the false impression that unvaccinated people are better protected against COVID-19.

The ratio comes from statistics published by the UK’s Office for National Statistics, and it rose to 6 times more likely in more recent data. 

However, the Facebook post leaves out key context that is included in the ONS report and in the Daily Skeptic article the graphic posted on Facebook comes from.

The agency’s analysis compared people who had tested positive for COVID-19, meaning that those who didn’t contract omicron were infected with another variant, possibly a more dangerous one. 

The ONS report clearly states that unvaccinated people are more likely to contract COVID-19 of any strain and that it is too early to draw conclusions from the data about vaccine effectiveness.

The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate this claim Mostly False.

Our Sources

Facebook post, Dec. 22, 2021

CDC, "Omicron Variant: What You Need to Know," Dec. 20, 2021

PolitiFact interview with Jonathan Cooke, spokesperson for the Office for National Statistics, Dec. 23, 2021

Office for National Statistics, "Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection Survey, UK: Characteristics related to having an Omicron compatible result in those who test positive for COVID-19," Dec. 21, 2021

Office for National Statistics, statement about the survey above, Dec. 21, 2021

Office for National Statistics, "Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection Survey, early analysis of characteristics associated with the Omicron variant among Covid-19 infections, UK: 23 December 2021," Dec. 23, 2021

Office for National Statistics, "Interim results from the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection Survey, UK: 24 December 2021," Dec. 24, 2021

UK Health Security Agency, "COVID-19 in the UK"

UK Health Security Agency, "COVID-19: Omicron daily overview"

UK Health Security Agency, "COVID-19 variants identified in the UK," Dec. 23, 2021

UK Health Security Agency, "SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern and variants under investigation in England," Dec. 31, 2021

Imperial College of London, "Report 50 - Hospitalisation risk for Omicron cases in England," Dec. 22, 2021

University of Edinburgh, "Severity of Omicron variant of concern and vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic disease: national cohort with nested test negative design study in Scotland," Dec. 22, 2021

Reuters, "Fact Check-Article examining the probability of Omicron variant breakthrough cases is misinterpreted online," Dec. 23, 2021

BBC News, "Covid: UK cases reach record again as PM urges New Year's Eve caution," Dec. 31, 2021

White House COVID-19 response team, "Press briefing on Dec. 22, 2021"

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Claim about omicron risk for the vaccinated is missing key context

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