Do fully vaccinated people account for nine in every 10 COVID-19 deaths in Scotland? Yes, that's a bit exaggerated yet true: But simple ratio analysis based on that statistic doesn't tell the story fully. The figures are found in the COVID-19 weekly report for Scotland published December 1, 2021. That report warns users that "the total number of COVID-19 cases, COVID-19 related acute hospital admissions and confirmed COVID-19 deaths by their vaccination status and does not assess the effectiveness of the vaccine or whether the vaccine has worked in these individuals." Biostatistics experts have explained in related Lead Stories fact checks that those most likely to be vaccinated in the United Kingdom are the elderly, who are also most at risk of serious illness if they suffer a breakthrough infection. Looking at all COVID deaths -- instead of comparing like-age patients -- muddles the evidence of vaccine effectiveness.
The claim appeared in an article (archived here), published by The Exposé on December 3, 2021, under the title "Fully Vaccinated account for 9 in every 10 Covid-19 Deaths since August according to latest Official Data." It opens:
Authorities are slowly tightening the noose again around the necks of the British public in response to an alleged new Covid-19 variant dubbed Omicron that is feared may evade the current available Covid-19 vaccines. The problem with this is official data shows the alleged Delta variant has been evading the Covid-19 vaccines for at least the 3 past months, because since August 2021 the fully vaccinated have accounted for 9 in every 10, Covid-19 deaths.
This is what the post looked like on The Exposé website on December 6, 2021:
(Source: The Exposé screenshot taken on Mon Dec 06 16:12:22 2021 UTC)
The figures in The Exposé article are largely accurate, but aren't presented in context and ignore an important footnote from the COVID-19 vaccine surveillance report Week 48 from the U.K. Health Security Agency. The footnote says:
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. This is especially true because vaccination has been prioritised in individuals who are more susceptible or more at risk of severe disease. Individuals in risk groups may also be more at risk of hospitalisation or death due to non-COVID-19 causes, and thus may be hospitalised or die with COVID-19 rather than from COVID-19.
The population of Scotland was 72.6% fully vaccinated as of December 6, 2021, with more than 10 million doses given, according to the U.K. coronavirus website. That compares to 59.6% for the United States through December 3, 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As of November 1, 2021, everyone 16 years of age and older was eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccination in the U.K.:
Based on antibody testing of blood donors, 98.1% of the adult population now have antibodies to COVID-19 from either infection or vaccination compared to 20.2% that have antibodies from infection alone.
According to calculations based on Public Health Scotland COVID-19 reports from August 14, 2021 - November 19, 2021, virus-related deaths totaled 1,489 people during that timeframe - 219 (14.7%) were unvaccinated, 1,270 (85.3%) were vaccinated. That means just over 8.5 in every 10 COVID-19 deaths in Scotland were among those who had received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine (greater than 95% had received two or more shots). It's less than The Exposé's 9 in 10 claim, but still a similar number. The publication rounded up.
The Public Health Scotland COVID-19 Statistical Report included the following as part of its key results through November 29, 2021:
- In the last four weeks from 30 October 2021 to 26 November 2021, the age-standardised COVID-19 related acute hospital admission rates are lower for vaccinated individuals than unvaccinated individuals.
- Age-standardised mortality rates for COVID-19 deaths are lower for people who have received at least two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine compared to individuals that are unvaccinated or have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The Executive Summary of the weekly surveillance report says the safety of COVID-19 vaccines is continuously being monitored by the U.K. Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency:
They conclude that overall, the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines outweigh any potential risks.
An earlier Lead Stories fact check looked at a similar claim by The Exposé and found it to be misleading.