Do fully vaccinated people account for nine in every 10 COVID-19 deaths in England? Yes, it's slightly exaggerated but true: However, simple ratio analysis based on that statistic doesn't fully tell the story. The report that these figures come from warns on Page 45 that "Comparing case rates among vaccinated and unvaccinated populations should not be used to estimate vaccine effectiveness against COVID-19 infection."
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 March 1, 2022, with the headline "Whilst you've been distracted by Russia's Invasion, the UK Gov. released a Report confirming the Fully Vaccinated now account for 9 in every 10 Covid-19 Deaths in England." It opened:
The latest data published by the UK Health Security Agency confirms deaths are rising dramatically among the triple vaccinated population whilst declining steadily among the not-vaccinated population in England.
With the most recent figures showing the fully vaccinated accounted for 9 in every 10 Covid-19 deaths over the past month; and the triple vaccinated accounted for 4 in every 5 of them.
This is what the post looked like on The Exposé website on March 3, 2022:
(Source: The Exposé screenshot taken on Thu Mar 3 15:46:27 2022 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 8 from the U.K. Health Security Agency (HSA), published on February 24, 2022. The footnote on Page 38 says:
This data should be considered in the context of the vaccination status of the population groups shown in the rest of this report. 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 England was 73.5% fully vaccinated as of March 3, 2022, with 117 million doses given, according to the U.K. coronavirus website. That compares to 64.8% of the total U.S. population being fully vaccinated through February 23, 2022, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Everyone aged 12 and over, and some children aged 5 to 11, can get a first and second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the U.K. National Health Service. People aged 16 and over, and some children aged 12 to 15, can also get a booster dose:
Based on antibody testing of blood donors, 99.1% of the adult population have antibodies to COVID-19 from either infection or vaccination compared to 28.6% that have antibodies from infection alone.
According to calculations based on HSA COVID reports (Table 12) from January 30, 2022-February 20, 2022, virus-related deaths totaled 4,883 during that timeframe -- 559 (11.4%) were unvaccinated, 4,324 (88.6%) were vaccinated. That means nearly 8.9 in every 10 COVID-19 deaths in England 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 HSA report included the following as part of its key results (Page 38) through February 24, 2022:
The rate of hospitalisation within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test increases with age, and is substantially greater in unvaccinated individuals compared to vaccinated individuals.
The rate of death within 28 days or within 60 days of a positive COVID-19 test increases with age, and again is substantially greater in unvaccinated individuals compared to fully vaccinated individuals.
The Executive Summary of the report says the safety of COVID 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
Earlier Lead Stories fact checks looked at similar claims by The Exposé and found them to be misleading (here and here).