Vaccinated people sometimes die of Covid-19—but very rarely

2 July 2021
What was claimed

PHE released a report revealing 62% of Covid-19 deaths are people who have been vaccinated.

Our verdict

PHE’s report suggests 61% of Covid-19 deaths with the Delta variant are in people who have received at least one vaccine dose. But this is not unexpected when no vaccine is 100% effective and so many vulnerable people have been vaccinated.

A widely shared post on social media claims that Public Health England (PHE) has released a report revealing that two thirds of Covid-19 deaths are people who have been vaccinated. This is missing important context.

The risk of death with Covid is very much smaller after vaccination, but it is not zero, and the vaccine take-up has been very high among those most at risk. Most people dying are therefore already vaccinated, because there are very few high-risk people left unvaccinated in the UK.   

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What did the post say?

The text of the post reads: “Whilst you’ve been distracted by Hancock’s affair, PHE released a report revealing 62% of alleged Covid deaths are people who’ve been vaccinated.”

This claim comes from a longer article published by website The Daily Expose, which cites its source as a technical briefing on Covid-19 variants published by PHE on 25 June.

The article claims the briefing shows that, of the 117 Covid-19 deaths caused by the Delta variant that have occurred since 1 February, 60% of them were people who had received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccines and, of this group of vaccinated people, 70% had received both doses. 

These figures are roughly right. Of the 117 deaths, 3 involved people whose vaccine status was unknown, 70 were people who had received at least one dose of the vaccine (61% of the 114 known cases), and 44 were people who had not been vaccinated (39%). Fifty of the deaths (44%) were people who had received both doses. 

However, this does not mean that the vaccines do not work, or are dangerous. 

None of the current vaccines are 100% effective against Covid-19, but they do make a big difference. The same PHE briefing also reported that two doses of the vaccine are 96% effective against hospitalisation with the Delta variant. 

The UK’s vaccination programme has prioritised ensuring that the elderly and vulnerable were vaccinated first, meaning these people are also the most likely to have received their second vaccine dose. However, this group is also the most at risk from Covid-19, and no current vaccine removes all risk. 

Writing for The Guardian, statisticians Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter and Anthony Masters said that someone aged 80 who is fully vaccinated essentially is at the same risk from Covid-19 as an unvaccinated person of around 50.

The most recent vaccination figures, as of 1 July, show that 44.8 million people in the UK have received their first vaccine dose, and 33 million have received their second.  

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