Fact Check: Canada's Data Do NOT Prove COVID-19 Vaccine Is Either A Failure Or That Omicron 'Preferentially Infects' The Vaccinated

Fact Check

  • by: Dean Miller
Fact Check: Canada's Data Do NOT Prove COVID-19 Vaccine Is Either A Failure Or That Omicron 'Preferentially Infects' The Vaccinated False Choice

Do data from Ontario, Canada prove COVID-19 vaccines are either a failure or that omicron "preferentially infects vaccinated people"? No, neither of those choices is true: Using only raw data, the claim-maker draws a misleading conclusion and forces only two of the many interpretations that can be made from the data. The statistically elementary and valid way to compare the omicron infection's impact on vaccinated versus unvaccinated is to express the cases as a rate per thousand. When you do that, the data show the opposite of the claim to be true: Vaccines are clearly protecting most vaccinated people, and the unvaccinated are the majority of those hospitalized and in intensive care, even though they are a minority of the population as a whole.

The claim appeared in a December 20, 2021, blog post (archived here) in the Unreported Truths newsletter by spy novelist Alex Berenson, titled "Stunning data about vaccine failure from Ontario, Canada." It opened:

Them thar green line is infections among the vaccinated. Assuming these are Omicron cases, there are only two possibilities: The vaccines have n...

Users on social media only saw this title, description and thumbnail:

Stunning data about vaccine failure from Ontario, Canada

Them thar green line is infections among the vaccinated. Assuming these are Omicron cases, there are only two possibilities: The vaccines have n...

Any analysis of health statistics that does not use basic per capita comparisons is likely to mislead, since the raw number of cases is relatively meaningless if you don't know what portion of the overall population it accounts for.

The clear sign the vaccines are doing their job is found on the Ontario province's COVID-19 data site, Professor Barbra Richardson said in a December 21, 2021, email to Lead Stories. Richardson, a biostatistician in the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, said the key fact is that 81% of eligible Ontarians are fully vaccinated. Since no vaccine is perfect, some vaccinated persons still catch a mild case of COVID, called a "breakthrough infection." It's rare, but since the pool of vaccinated Ontarians is so large, the occasional breakthrough cases will easily outnumber new cases among the 19% of Ontarians not yet vaccinated.

Richardson wrote:

... when you look at the graph of rate of cases per 100k you get the correct denominator to compare apples to apples (numbers adjusted for the number unvaccinated, vaccinated and partially vaccinated make up in the population) rather than apples to oranges when looking just at number of cases, which doesn't account for there being FOUR times as many vaccinated versus unvaccinated.

Even more telling, she pointed out, is the seriousness of COVID infections among those who are not vaccinated:

... look at the hospitalization and icu data. Unvaccinated are the majority of those, while they also are minority in terms of population.

The vaccines are doing their job keeping people from getting severe disease.

Here's the data the claim-maker left out when trying to prove vaccines don't work:

Berenson Omitted.jpg

(Source: Lead Stories graphic with emphasis cues added to covid-19.ontario.ca/data screenshot taken Wed Dec 22 at 01:07:04 2021 UTC)

Berenson has published other false claims based on misinterpretation of official data.

In one, he accused Pfizer of under-reporting deaths in the clinical trial of its COVID vaccine. In another, he fell prey to a common amateur statistician's mistake by not focusing on the wide age spread in English death rates, making a misleading "same age" comparison between the death rate of unvaccinated and vaccinated people ranging from age 10 to age 59. Here is a link to those two Lead Stories debunks.

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.

  Dean Miller

Lead Stories Managing Editor Dean Miller has edited daily and weekly newspapers, worked as a reporter for more than a decade and is co-author of two non-fiction books. After a Harvard Nieman Fellowship, he served as Director of Stony Brook University's Center for News Literacy for six years, then as Senior Vice President/Content at Connecticut Public Broadcasting. Most recently, he wrote the twice-weekly "Save the Free Press" column for The Seattle Times. 

Read more about or contact Dean Miller

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