STORY UPDATED: check for updates below.
Are vaccines proven ineffective by a U.K. report published in February 2023, which found that 92 percent of "deaths involving COVID-19" occurred in fully vaccinated individuals? No, that's not true: Implying causality from a limited set of data leaves out consequential variables such as the ages of the dead, other underlying diseases, and whether booster recommendations had been followed. While it is possible to derive 92.4% from one of five tables of data included in a U.K. government report, the U.K. Office of National Statistics (ONS) told Lead Stories that such a generalization is a "highly misleading" interpretation of the data. Furthermore, the report is not meant to be a measure of vaccine effectiveness, as many other factors can impact mortality rates, according to an ONS senior statistician.
More than 93 percent of the U.K. population 12 years and older had received at least one vaccine dose by the end of August 2022, which means there is a higher likelihood that a person who died during the timeframe evaluated had been partially vaccinated. The report specifically stated that those who had received "at least a third dose" were less likely to die of COVID since September 2021 compared with people who were unvaccinated.
The claim originated in an article published by The Daily Expose on February 22, 2023, titled, "While you were distracted by the Nicola Bulley Tragedy, the UK Gov. quietly published a report confirming the Vaccinated account for 9 in every 10 COVID Deaths over the past TWO Years" (archived here). An introduction to the article read:
Official figures quietly published by the UK Government reveal that the fully/triple/quadruple vaccinated population has accounted for 9 in every 10 Covid-19 deaths in England over the past two years and 92% of Covid-19 deaths throughout the entirety of 2022.
Below is how the article appeared at the time of writing:
(Source: The Daily Expose screenshot taken Tues Feb. 28 09:19:27 UTC 2023)
The article claimed that a report compiled by ONS titled, "Deaths involving COVID-19 by vaccination status, England: deaths occurring between 1 April 2021 and 31 December 2022" confirmed that the "Vaccinated account for 9 in every 10 COVID Deaths over the past TWO Years." This was recirculated by Slay News and on social media to suggest that "92% of Covid Deaths" occur in fully vaccinated individuals.
The Expose looked at figures published in the tab titled "Table 1" of this data set. A filtered view of the data shows that "deaths involving COVID-19" totaled 84,075 during the time frame in question. Of those, "unvaccinated" deaths totaled 6,307 and three categories of vaccination status (Ever vaccinated; First dose, less than 21 days ago; Second dose, less than 21 days ago; and Third dose or booster, less than 21 days ago) totaled 77,768. It's necessary to include the partly vaccinated with the fully vaccinated to calculate that 92.4% of deaths involving COVID-19 deaths did occur in vaccinated persons.
However, this is an overly simplistic view of complex data, experts told Lead Stories.
"These claims are highly misleading interpretations of that data. When most of the population is vaccinated, most deaths are in vaccinated people," an ONS spokesperson told Lead Stories in an email received March 2, 2023.
What the report actually showed, according to a statement it included by Vahé Nafilyan, senior statistician at ONS, was:
People who had received at least a third dose, or booster, of a COVID-19 vaccine have been less likely to die from COVID-19 since September 2021 compared with people who are unvaccinated.
When looking at deaths from other causes, mortality rates are broadly consistent between those who have received at least a third dose or booster and those who have not received any.
Today's data are not as a measure of vaccine effectiveness as many other factors can affect mortality rates.
ONS report does not establish vaccine effectiveness
The February 21, 2023, report (archived here) used the dataset titled, "Deaths occurring between 1 April 2021 and 31 December 2022." To streamline the data and account for differences in age that may affect mortality rates, researchers used a process known as age-standardized mortality rates (ASMRS) for deaths during this timeframe that involved COVID and did not involve COVID, plus all deaths by vaccination status, broken down by age group.
As the ONS report authors note, ASMRs do not measure vaccine effectiveness:
... they account for differences in age structure and population size, but there may be other differences between the groups (particularly underlying health) that affect mortality rates.
At least 90% of British have received at least 1 dose of COVID vaccine
Because the bulk of British people has received at least a first dose of the COVID vaccine, statistically speaking it is more likely that a person who died during this timeframe was vaccinated than not.
"Some deaths are expected in vaccinated people as the number who are vaccinated is high and no vaccine is 100% effective," wrote ONS. For example, by the end of August 2022, of those 12 and older in the U.K.:
93.6% had received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine
88.2% had received a second dose
70.2% had received three or more doses
(Source: GOV.uk Coronavirus Dashboard)
According to data published on February 23, 2023:
Over 53.8 million people in the UK have received their first dose.
Over 50.7 million people have received their second.
And more than 40.3 million people have received their third dose.
Those with at least a third dose less likely to die of COVID
Though the Expose's analysis lumps together anyone ever vaccinated, Data from the ONS report showed that as of February 21, 2023, COVID mortality rates were the lowest for those with at least three vaccinations (the last of which was administered within 21 days) compared with both unvaccinated people and those with only a first or second dose:
Between March and December 2022, risk of death involving COVID-19 was similar for those who had received only a first or second dose and unvaccinated people, indicating possible waning in protection from vaccination over time. However, there is more uncertainty around these estimates because of smaller populations.
Non-COVID-19 mortality rates for people who have had at least a third dose or booster at least 21 days ago have been similar to those for unvaccinated people in the latter half of 2022.
While these rates are adjusted for age, they are not the same as vaccine effectiveness. Vaccinated and unvaccinated people likely differ in characteristics other than age, such as health.
The Daily Expose is a website that mostly features anonymously published content about U.K. COVID data and statistics. Lead Stories has looked at several of their articles in the past and found them to be misleading. In July 2021, U.K.-based fact checking organization logically.ai uncovered evidence that implies the site is being run by Jonathan Allen-Walker of Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire in the U.K., a man apparently associated with a local welding, machining and metalworking company.
Lead Stories has also reported that a study did not prove COVID-19 vaccinated have a 14.5 percent higher mortality rate than non-vaccinated, confirmed that the U.K. is not forbidding boosters for healthy people, and that videos do not show people "dropping suddenly" because of the vaccine. All the Lead Stories COVID-19 fact checks can be found here.
2023-03-04T01:32:52Z 2023-03-04T01:32:52ZCorrection: The story has been revised to show that some subsets of data released in 2023 show that 92% of "COVID-involved deaths" in the UK were vaccinated people, but that health authorities rebut claims that those data can be used to declare COVID-19 vaccines ineffective.
2023-03-02T17:13:01Z 2023-03-02T17:13:01ZAdds statement from ONS.