Excess deaths would be higher without Covid-19 vaccines

13 January 2023
What was claimed

The Covid-19 mRNA vaccines are a likely contributing factor to the number of excess deaths in the UK.

Our verdict

A few dozen people have died as a result of a Covid-19 vaccination, but the vaccines have also prevented tens of thousands of deaths. This means that on balance there would have been more excess deaths without them.

Obviously there’s been a big concern recently around excess deaths. Now the British Heart Foundation have said, certainly during the pandemic or since the pandemic, there’s been 30,000 excess deaths specifically due to coronary artery disease. That’s my area of expertise… [Reduction in statin prescription is unlikely to be a cause.] But what is almost certainly, and if you’ll allow me to say this Lukwesa [Burak, the presenter], what my own research has found—and this is something that is probably a likely contributing factor, is that the Covid mRNA vaccines do carry a cardiovascular risk. And I’ve actually called for a suspension of this, pending an inquiry.

A guest on the BBC News channel, a cardiologist called Dr Aseem Malhotra, claimed that the mRNA Covid-19 vaccines were “probably a likely contributing factor” to the large number of excess deaths seen recently in the UK. The video has been viewed more than a million times and shared more than 33,000 times on Twitter alone, including by some politicians.

The BBC later spoke to Professor Peter Openshaw of the UK Vaccine Network to clarify Dr Malhotra’s remarks.

It’s not clear whether Dr Malhotra was talking about the effect of mRNA Covid vaccines on the total number of excess deaths, or only on the 30,000 excess deaths mentioned by the British Heart Foundation.

In either case, while it is true that the small number of deaths from Covid vaccines will have formed part of the total number of excess deaths occurring, his comments were misleading because they did not make clear that the Covid-19 vaccines, including mRNA vaccines, have on balance greatly reduced the number of excess deaths.

Excess deaths” is a measure of how many more deaths occurred than might have been expected, so it is sometimes not straightforward to explain what the cause of an excess might be.

However, the net effect of Covid vaccines, including the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna), has clearly been to reduce the number of deaths that would have occurred—meaning that the number of excess deaths would have been much higher without them.

Dr Malhotra has been contacted for comment.

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The net benefit of the Covid vaccines

A small number of people have died as a result of vaccination against Covid. Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that 51 people in England and Wales died due to “COVID-19 vaccines causing adverse effects in therapeutic use” up to the end of November 2022, with a further eight deaths “involving” the vaccines, but where they were not the underlying cause. This data is not broken down by vaccine type, so we don’t know how many of these would have been caused by mRNA vaccines specifically.

In very rare cases, the mRNA vaccines can cause myocarditis or pericarditis (inflammation of the heart) that is “usually mild or stable and patients typically recover fully without medical treatment”.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency says: “As of 23 November 2022, there have been 851 reports of myocarditis and 579 reports of pericarditis following the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. There have been 251 reports of myocarditis and 149 reports of pericarditis following the use of the Moderna vaccine.” These are reports following vaccination, so some cases may not have been caused by it, and others may have happened but not been reported.

By contrast, research about England by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) published in February 2022 says: “Estimates suggest that 127,500 deaths and 24,144,000 infections have been prevented as a result of the Covid-19 vaccination programme, up to 24 September.”

This does not describe the mRNA vaccines specifically, but it is not plausible to suggest that they played no significant role in preventing these deaths since the majority of Covid vaccine doses administered in the UK have been with mRNA vaccines, which are highly effective at preventing death from Covid.

In other words, as we have written before, the Covid vaccines have prevented far more deaths than they caused. So without them, the number of excess deaths would have been much higher.

The ONS is currently reporting a large number of excess deaths in England and Wales. These may be explained by a number of factors, including delays in treatment, which Dr Malhotra mentioned.

We have also written before about the 30,000 excess deaths involving heart disease mentioned by the British Heart Foundation. This figure covered the period between March 2020 and August 2022, when almost 21,000 people suffering with heart disease died with Covid-19 listed as the underlying cause, which may have been another significant factor contributing to the excess. Many of these deaths also occurred before the vaccine roll-out began.

When Full Fact contacted the British Heart Foundation about this, the charity changed part of its online statement to say: “Covid-19 infection was likely a significant factor in excess coronary heart disease-related deaths during the first year of the pandemic.”

The British Heart Foundation said last month that the evidence shows “the benefits of receiving the Covid-19 vaccine greatly outweigh the risk of extremely rare side effects for the vast majority of people”.

We have previously fact checked claims from Dr Malhotra linking the Covid vaccines to heart attacks.

We took a stand for good information.

After we published this fact check, we contacted the BBC to ask questions about their editorial processes in relation to this interview. 

The BBC apologised for the lack of challenge in the interview with Dr Malhotra and published a note about this on their website. 

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