Articles misrepresent data on teen deaths in the UK
CLAIM: The rate of teenager deaths in the U.K. increased significantly from 2020 to 2021, coinciding with the timeline of when teenagers in the country began receiving COVID-19 vaccines.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: Missing context. This claim is based on a flawed analysis of health data. It wrongly implies the COVID-19 vaccines caused teenagers to die when there is no evidence to support that. Experts said no known deaths among teenagers in the U.K. have been linked to COVID-19 vaccines.
THE FACTS: A website that has repeatedly spread COVID-19 misinformation in recent months is advancing a new misleading claim this week, this time about vaccines and teenagers.
“An investigation of official ONS data has revealed that since the Covid-19 vaccine was offered and administered to teenagers in England and Wales there has been a 63% rise in deaths among teenage boys,” read one article published Oct. 4 by the website, The Expose.
An earlier article published Sept. 30 by the website pushed a similar claim: that U.K. deaths among all teenagers have jumped 47% since that population began getting vaccinated.
These claims are misleading and based on an improper analysis of data from the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics, ONS spokesman Glenn Garrett confirmed.
The Expose’s Oct. 4 article cited a time period from May to September 2021, claiming that May was when the rate of teenagers getting COVID-19 vaccinations began picking up in the U.K. It then compared death rates from that period to the same time period in 2020.
While it’s true that there were more teen deaths in summer 2021 than summer 2020 in the U.K., it’s false to suggest the rise is due to the vaccines, Garrett said. Instead, there are many factors which may have contributed to a lower than usual number of deaths in summer 2020. For example, coroner investigations faced delays because of the coronavirus, and COVID-19 restrictions kept many teenagers in their homes that year.
“2020 is not a ‘normal’ year to compare with,” Garrett said.
To control for factors that change from year to year, a better approach is to compare death rates against a five-year average, according to Garrett. Using a recent five-year average for comparison, U.K. deaths among males aged 15 to 19 increased in 2021 by a much smaller amount, about 17%, while deaths among females aged 15 to 19 decreased by 11%.
The article also baselessly suggested that a type of rare heart muscle inflammation called myocarditis, which has been seen in a small number of teenagers after COVID-19 vaccination, was responsible for deaths. However, multiple experts confirmed to The Associated Press that there have been no deaths associated with this side effect, nor with the COVID-19 vaccines in general, among teenagers in the U.K.
“There are no deaths in U.K. teenagers known to be caused by the COVID-19 vaccines,” said Dr. Michael Head, senior research fellow at the University of Southampton. “The risks of serious adverse events, such as myocarditis, are known to be very low after vaccination but far more common and more serious after a COVID-19 infection.”
An article in the journal Pediatrics that looked at seven teen boys in the U.S. who developed myocarditis after COVID-19 vaccination reported that none of the boys became critically ill, and none died. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is actively monitoring reports of the rare condition and continues to recommend the vaccine for anyone 12 years and older.
Staff at The Expose did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.