Lorraine Kelly and her guests were wrong about Covid-19 patients

8 December 2021
What was claimed

90% of people in hospital with Covid-19 are unvaccinated.

Our verdict

This is not correct. The true figure is more like 36%. However there are signs that unvaccinated people are the majority in intensive care.

90% of people in hospital are unvaccinated right now with Covid.

90% of people in hospital [with Covid] have not been vaccinated.

90% of the people that are in hospital [with Covid] are unvaccinated.

Update 23 December 2021: This article correctly summarises the latest data available at the time it was published. Since then, new data has become available, which shows that similar proportions of Covid patients admitted to ICU in October and November were vaccinated and unvaccinated. We’ve published a new article to explain what we now know about Covid vaccines and patients in ICU.

Both Dr Hilary Jones and Lorraine Kelly got the latest Covid-19 hospital figures wrong during her show on ITV on 6 December. The actor and musician Martin Kemp then made the same mistake on the show the following day.

They claimed that 90% of people currently in hospital with Covid have not been vaccinated. In fact, the latest data for England suggests that it’s more like 36%.

It’s possible that Dr Jones, Ms Kelly and Mr Kemp had been incorrectly referring to figures for Covid patients receiving intensive or other specialist care, since there is some evidence that most of these are unvaccinated.

Overall, vaccination is highly protective against severe Covid, reducing people’s chance of being admitted to hospital with the disease by more than 90%.

However, a very large share of the UK’s population has now been vaccinated, especially those most at risk, meaning that the small fraction of vaccinated people who still become seriously ill are numerous enough to make up a majority of hospital admissions.

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What the latest data says

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) publishes a vaccine surveillance report using data from England each week. This includes data on the number of people who recently tested positive for Covid “presenting to emergency care resulting in an overnight inpatient admission”.

This data also shows how many of these people have been fully vaccinated (meaning it’s at least two weeks since their second dose) or are unvaccinated (meaning they haven’t received any doses).

The latest figures, which cover admissions in the four weeks up to 28 November 2021, show that about 36% were people who had not been vaccinated, and about 61% were fully vaccinated. A widely shared tweet also explained this on Monday morning.

 

Earlier in the year, when fewer people had been vaccinated, the majority of Covid patients were unvaccinated, but that changed as vaccination numbers rose. It’s also possible that the partial waning of vaccine protection in some people may have played a part.

We’ve written about this in an earlier article.

What about the most seriously ill?

At the time of writing, we do not have up-to-date figures on the vaccination status of recent admissions to intensive care.

The latest data from the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC) covers admissions in the months of May, June and July 2021. Page 45 of its report from 3 December shows that about 73% of intensive care unit (ICU) admissions with Covid involved unvaccinated people (2.6% of whom had received one dose of a vaccine less than two weeks before testing positive). About 20% were fully vaccinated.

 

Anecdotal data from Professor Andrew Pollard, Chair of the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation, also suggests that a majority of Covid patients currently in intensive care are not vaccinated.

In an article in the Guardian on 23 November, he wrote. "This ongoing horror [of severe Covid], which is taking place in ICUs across Britain, is now largely restricted to unvaccinated people."

Full Fact asked Professor Pollard if there was a source for this claim. He replied by agreeing that the data was not yet available from ICNARC, but said that the majority of ICU admissions were unvaccinated.

He added: “Fortunately, it is easy to verify by discussing with hospitals in the UK, which we did before writing the article to check our own observations that ICUs are full of the unvaccinated. We called around infectious disease specialists who work with the ICUs, but ICU teams have also been writing about this issue.”

He said that data from intensive care units was a better way to assess the effect of the Covid vaccines “as they have a much clearer definition of severe covid that isn’t so confounded by the way general hospital admission data are collected.”

Did they mean ECMO?

A possible source for the claim made by Ms Kelly and her guests is an article that appeared in the Sunday Times on 5 December (and online the day before). It reported that “more than 90 per cent of Covid sufferers requiring the most specialist care are unvaccinated”.

Later, the article explained this in more detail, saying: “Between July and November, NHS England said that 150 [Covid] patients were referred for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or Ecmo, where blood is cycled through an artificial lung machine before returning it to the body. Of these patients, only 6 per cent had been fully vaccinated.”

Full Fact has contacted the NHS and the Times to verify these figures, but the number of patients receiving ECMO treatment make up only a small minority of the thousands in hospital or in intensive care with Covid.

We’ve asked ITV whether Lorraine or her guests might have been mistakenly referring to this data, but have not yet received a reply.

Vaccination protects very well

All the Covid vaccines currently available in the UK greatly reduce your chance of getting seriously ill with the disease.

At the end of September 2021, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) gave a consensus view on the effectiveness of two doses of the Covid vaccines against hospitalisation with the disease, saying: “The AstraZeneca vaccine is assessed to be 95% effective at 0-3 months, falling to 85% at 4-6 months and 75% at 6+ months. For the Pfizer vaccine,there is less of an absolute reduction in effectiveness, with VE at 99%, 95% and 90% for the same follow up periods. The Moderna vaccine is also assessed to be 99% at 0-3 months, but data for later periods are not yet available.”

Update 23 December 2021

A line was added to explain that new data has become available since this article was published.

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