Study doesn’t prove that statins ‘cut’ the risk of dying from Covid

15 October 2021
What was claimed

Taking statins cuts the risk of dying of Covid-19.

Our verdict

We do not know if this is true. A new scientific study found that people taking statins were less likely to die of Covid-19—but it did not find that the statins themselves cut the risk.

‘Wonder statins’ cut risk of dying from Covid

The headline on the front page of Friday’s Daily Express misreports new research about statins and Covid-19.

The headline of the online version of the article makes a similar mistake, saying: “Covid breakthrough as 'wonder' statins cut risk of death”. Statins are a group of medicines that can help lower cholesterol.

In fact, the research found an association between taking statins and a lower risk of death from Covid—but it did not show that the statins themselves actually reduced the risk.

Later on, the Express article itself cites one of the researchers, Rita Bergqvist, warning about this point. “Ms Bergqvist stressed that the study was observational and could not prove that statins caused the drop in risk,” the article says.

What the research says

A team of scientists in Sweden used the health records of nearly a million older residents of Stockholm to show that those prescribed statins before the pandemic started were about 12% less likely to die of Covid, up to the middle of November 2020.

The scientists tried to account for any other differences between people who were prescribed statins and the rest of the population, in case these might also affect the chance of them dying of Covid.

However, they accept that they might not have done this perfectly. For example, the results were not adjusted for smoking or body mass index, only diagnosed obesity. This means that people taking statins might be significantly more or less likely to die of Covid for other reasons.

As a result, the paper concludes: “These findings suggest that statin treatment may have a modest preventive therapeutic effect on COVID-19 mortality, although randomized trials are needed to determine the causality of the observed association.”

It added that its findings support the continued use of statins in line with current recommendations during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tim Chico, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine and Honorary Consultant Cardiologist at the University of Sheffield said via the Science Media Centre: “There has been far too much speculation and premature confidence about which drugs are useful for COVID (such as hydroxychloroquine). It’s important to learn from this and to be suitably measured in how we describe these results.

“This study does suggest statins are safe in COVID19 (which is reassuring but was never really in question). These results do not in any way justify using statins to treat COVID19.”

In summary, it is possible that taking statins lowers someone’s risk of dying from Covid, but that isn’t shown by this research. The Express was therefore wrong to say in its headlines that statins actually “cut” the risk.

We took a stand for good information.

After we published this fact check, we contacted The Daily Express to request a correction regarding this.

They printed a correction and amended their online article.

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