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Post misrepresents data from Public Health England report on vaccine efficacy

July 16, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Data from Public Health England on the coronavirus delta variant shows that patients are more than 745% more likely to die after two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine than unvaccinated patients.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The U.K.’s public health agency’s June 25 report on coronavirus variants did not provide evidence that people who are vaccinated are more likely to die. Rather, the report shows that COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing people from being hospitalized from the delta variant and no one under the age of 50 who was fully vaccinated died from that variant.

THE FACTS: This week, a false claim circulated on social media that misrepresented data from Public Health England on coronavirus variants, including delta, a mutation found in more than 80 countries that spreads more easily.

“UK Government data shows you are 745% more likely to die if you have had 2 vaccination doses Vs none at all,” a Twitter post falsely claimed. The post included a screenshot from the public health agency’s data on delta variant infections and deaths, but the data does not support the claim.

From Feb. 1 to June 21, the public health agency documented 92,029 cases of patients infected with the delta variant. Of those patients, 53,822, or about 58%, were unvaccinated and 7,235, or less than 8%, had received both doses of a vaccine.

“If the vaccine didn’t work, you’d expect those numbers to be equal,” explained David Cennimo, an infectious disease expert at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. You’re seeing in the data that the vaccine is working.”

The agency’s data shows 117 people died from the delta variant within 28 days of a positive test, including 44 people who were unvaccinated and 50 who were fully vaccinated.

The Twitter post uses those numbers to falsely claim the data shows people who were vaccinated had a 0.69% chance of dying and people who were unvaccinated had just a 0.08% chance of dying, and the difference between those is 745%. But experts say that form of analysis is invalid because the data does not take into account age of patients and other underlying illnesses.

The math used to interpret the data in the Twitter post “doesn’t make sense,” Cennimo said. “You have no idea how comparable the vaccinated and unvaccinated groups are. It’s not a controlled group. We don’t know who had cancer, who was immunocompromised.”

More than 90% of people over the age of 50 have been fully vaccinated in Britain. The report states that no one under the age of 50 who received two doses of the vaccine died from the Delta variant.

“This same point has been debunked multiple times,” Luke Weeks, a spokesperson from the British agency told The Associated Press in an email. “The data should be interpreted taking into consideration the context of very high vaccine coverage in the UK population, even with a highly effective vaccine, it is expected that a large proportion of cases would occur in vaccinated individuals, simply because a larger proportion of the population are vaccinated than unvaccinated.”

Some of the people who died after being infected with the delta variant may have died of other causes, Weeks explained.

“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 because of Covid-19,” he said.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536