ONS release doesn’t show vaccines ‘killing in huge numbers’

17 March 2023
What was claimed

Covid-19 vaccines are killing people in huge numbers now, and new ONS data proves this.

Our verdict

The vaccines are not killing people in huge numbers, and the data does not show this either.

A post on Instagram claims that new data from the Office for National Statistics shows that the Covid-19 vaccines “in fact are killing in huge numbers now”.

This is not true.

The post presents a graph, taken from Twitter, that appears to show in raw numbers that far more vaccinated than unvaccinated people have died with Covid-19. While this is true, it reflects the fact that many more people have been vaccinated than haven’t. It does not mean that the vaccine is causing people to die of Covid-19.

If we look at rates of death with Covid-19 in the ONS data for both the unvaccinated and vaccinated groups, rather than the actual number of people who have died in each category, it shows much higher rates among unvaccinated people.

This data cannot be used to measure vaccine effectiveness because the two groups may differ in other ways besides whether they were vaccinated, but other data clearly shows that the vaccines have not been killing “huge numbers” of people. Indeed they have prevented many thousands of deaths

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What does the release actually say?

The ONS bulletin mentioned in the post talks about age-standardised mortality rates (ASMRs), which take into account both population size and age, so it’s easier to compare deaths in two populations. 

As the ONS says, the ASMRs for deaths involving Covid-19 “have been consistently lower for all months since booster introduction in September 2021 for people who had received at least a third dose or booster at least 21 days ago, compared with unvaccinated people and those with just a first or second dose”.

“The ASMRs for first and second vaccine doses have been similar to those for unvaccinated people from March to December 2022; however, the confidence limits are wide for these groups because of lower populations in these vaccination statuses.”

The ONS adds that this data shouldn’t be mistaken for a measure of the vaccines’ effectiveness.

We’ve seen several people mistakenly use the fact that more vaccinated people have died as ‘evidence’ that the vaccine is what’s killing them, or claim that the vaccine is causing mass deaths, sometimes misinterpreting publicly available data to make their points.

Statistics on their own have limitations. The way they are presented is a crucial part of how they are interpreted and understood by the public. Selective or misleading use of official information about vaccines can damage public trust and contribute to the spread of health misinformation. In this case it overstates the risks of the vaccine and could cause distrust in medical professionals, or lead people to make bad decisions about their health.

How many people have died from the Covid-19 vaccine?

Some people have sadly died as a result of the Covid-19 vaccine, but not in “huge numbers”, as the post claims. 

According to ONS data, 52 deaths have been registered in England and Wales due to “COVID-19 vaccines causing adverse effects in therapeutic use” as of January 2023. In Scotland there have been nine in the period up to 12 February. There has been at least one registered death in Northern Ireland up to the end of 2022. It is possible that this UK total of 61 may rise, if there’s been a delay in registering some deaths.

Image courtesy of Mohammad Shahhosseini

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