Vaccine boosters post wrongly says people not offered Covid-19 vaccine ‘declined’ it

10 February 2023
What was claimed

19.2 million people declined the first Covid-19 vaccine in the UK.

Our verdict

This is an overestimate. It includes many children who were not offered the vaccine, and assumes a much higher UK population than exists in reality.

What was claimed

Only 17.2 million people in the UK had an autumn booster and the rest chose not to have it.

Our verdict

This is not true. The autumn booster was only offered to those at higher risk, such as those over 50, anyone pregnant, and frontline health and social care workers. Most people did not have the chance to reject it.

A post on Facebook claims that “the masses no longer trust the ‘covid vaccines’” because far fewer people had a fifth or sixth Covid-19 vaccine than had the first one.

The post says: “On jab 1, we are told nearly 50 million people in the UK had it, and 19.2 million declined. By jab number 5/6, administered between September 5th 2022 and up until yesterday, thankfully, the number accepting the jab has dropped to 17.2 million people.

So in summary, the numbers have done a compete [sic] flip. Today 50 million are saying NO instead of yes and 17 million are saying yes instead of no.”

This is not true for two reasons. Firstly, the number of people who “declined” the first dose was much lower than 19.2 million. For one thing, this would include many children who were not offered it. And secondly, most people are not eligible for an autumn booster, so most of the people who didn’t get it did not ‘say no’.

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Wrong to say 19.2 million ‘refused’ vaccine

It’s true that about 53.8 million people in the UK, as of 11 September 2022, had received a first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. 

But the post then claims that a further 19.2 million people declined the vaccine altogether. We don’t know exactly how many people declined it, but the true figure is certainly much lower than this. 

For one thing, combining these two groups would give the UK a total population of 73 million, which is significantly higher than its estimated population of 67 million.

And even that 67 million includes millions of children under five who have not been routinely offered the vaccine at all (even though it has been approved for use in this age group).

We’ve written about why it’s difficult to estimate the unvaccinated population before. It’s hard to say for sure exactly how many people haven’t had the vaccine, mainly because there isn’t a single perfect estimate for the total population.

According to others who made the claim that 19.2 million people aren’t vaccinated, it comes from an April 2022 table produced by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), which said that 44 million out of the 63 million people registered with the NHS in England had been given at least one dose. 

But the figure in the UKHSA table is expected to overestimate the total population of England (and therefore the total number of unvaccinated people), as it includes people who are still registered with the NHS but have moved abroad for example, and may double count people registered with more than one GP. 

We can see that the 63 million population figure is too high, because the population of England was much lower, at 56.5 million, when it was measured in the census of March 2021.

So how many people haven’t been vaccinated? About 53.8 million people had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by September 2022. The total population of the UK, according to mid-2021 estimates by the ONS, was about 67 million. The difference between these two figures is about 13 million people.

Not all of these people “declined” the vaccine, however, because about 3.6 million were under five years old, and were therefore not routinely offered it. Around five million of the remainder would have been aged 5-11 and not in a clinical risk group, and were therefore given only a “non-urgent offer” of the vaccine.

The numbers have not ‘done a complete flip’

The post claims the numbers have now flipped and “17 million are saying yes [to the vaccine] instead of no”. But this is not correct, because most people in the UK were not eligible for an autumn booster, so they didn’t ‘say no’ to it.

The post was published on 23 January and features a screenshot of NHS data on how many people in England have had an autumn Covid-19 vaccine booster. As of 22 January 2023, that number was 17,291,300. 

Autumn boosters here are defined as “any vaccination with a dose number greater than or equal to 3, delivered in England on or after 5 September 2022, where the time since previous dose is greater than or equal to 84 days”.

They were offered to some higher-risk groups, including those aged 50 years or over, those at higher risk or who are pregnant, and frontline health and social care workers.

So while it’s true that fewer people have had an autumn booster dose than had a first dose, this is not surprising, because a much smaller section of the population was offered it. 

Initially, only autumn boosters given to those in this eligible cohort were included in the data, but from December 2022 the definition was changed to include “a small number of first boosters delivered to those not in an autumn booster cohort”.

The vast majority (about 87%) of those who had an autumn booster were aged 50 or over. In England at the end of December, about 72% of those over 50 and eligible for an autumn booster had had one.

Image courtesy of Sam Moghadam Khamseh

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