An orthopaedic surgeon made several false and misleading claims about Covid-19 vaccines during an appearance on GB News on 22 January 2022.
The video has been viewed more than 230,000 times combined, just on GB News’s Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channels. A version of the video has also been shared by others on Facebook, and on Twitter by the Conservative MPs Esther McVey and Philip Davies, who conducted the interview.
Many of the claims made by the surgeon, Mr Ahmad Malik, are pieces of common vaccine misinformation that we have checked before.
Vaccinated people are not more likely to be infected
Mr Malik said: “If you look at the UK safety agency data, there’s some incredible stuff coming out, which shows that if you’re double vaccinated and boosted, you’re more likely to get infected than [un]vaccinated [people].” (Mr Malik’s exact words were that “you’re more likely to get infected than vaccinated”, but he seemed to be making a comparison with unvaccinated people here.)
This is not true.
It appears to come from a common misinterpretation of the UK Health Security Agency’s (UKHSA) vaccine surveillance report. Mr Malik tweeted a similar false claim based on unadjusted UKHSA data on 24 January.
In fact, this data cannot be used to determine whether vaccinated or unvaccinated people are more likely to catch Covid. It is likely to be biased by many factors and is based on calculations that “almost certainly overcount the eligible population [of unvaccinated people], and so lead to large systematic biases in the case rates in the unvaccinated groups”, according to the Office for Statistics Regulation. This may make unvaccinated people look much less likely to catch Covid than they really are.
The UKHSA report itself says that the data “should not be used to estimate vaccine effectiveness” and that the numbers “do not take into account underlying statistical biases in the data”.
The same UKHSA report also includes other estimates which do show that the vaccines are effective in making people less likely to catch Covid.
We’ve written previously about the widespread issues with the way this data is presented.
Vaccines do protect against severe Covid
Mr Malik said: “There’s a study that’s just come out of Israel, Gazit et al. They’ve looked at the vaccines and unvaccinated group, and the vaccinated group are 27 times higher risk of developing symptoms, and eight times higher risk of hospitalisation.”
This is extremely misleading.
It seems to be a reference to non-peer-reviewed research published in August 2021, which Mr Malik also tweeted about on 24 January. The research paper is called “Comparing SARS-CoV-2 natural immunity to vaccine-induced immunity: reinfections versus breakthrough infections”, and is authored by Sivan Gazit et al.
As its title suggests, this research did not simply compare vaccinated people with unvaccinated people. It compared vaccinated people with unvaccinated people who had previously tested positive for Covid. In other words, it sought to compare protection from vaccines with protection from prior infection.
It said: “After adjusting for comorbidities, we found a 27.02-fold risk… for symptomatic breakthrough infection [in vaccinated people] as opposed to symptomatic reinfection [of unvaccinated but previously infected people].” The “eight times higher risk” mentioned by Mr Malik seems to be a reference to a table about hospitalisation risk, which shows vaccinated people being more likely to be admitted to hospital after testing positive for Covid than previously infected but not vaccinated people.
The paper also says that people who had previously been infected and received one dose of the vaccine were about half as likely to catch Covid, compared with those who had been infected but not vaccinated.
This research is observational and has some limitations, which mean it may not give an accurate picture of the effects of the vaccines, especially as they might be used in the UK now. In particular, it does not look at the effects of boosters or the Omicron variant.
We have written about misleading uses of this research before.
In summarising this data Mr Malik also said: “What it’s trying to say is this whole premise that take the vaccine, reduce hospitalisation, make things safer, is actually nonsense. It’s the other way round.”
However, there is already overwhelming evidence that being vaccinated makes you less likely to be admitted to hospital with Covid, especially following a booster dose, so Mr Malik’s summary of the evidence is wrong.
‘Natural immunity’ is riskier than vaccination
Mr Malik said: “Now even the CDC are coming out and saying natural immunity is what’s paramount.” (The phrase “natural immunity” is often used to refer to protection from a previous infection.)
But this is not what the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.
Mr Malik seems to be referring to research from the CDC that was published on 19 January 2022. On 24 January, he tweeted a screenshot of a Reuters report of the research.
This research did find that, when the Alpha and Delta variants were dominant and before booster doses were widespread, some groups of previously infected people were less likely to test positive for Covid than vaccinated people. However it also found that unvaccinated and not-previously-infected people were by far the most likely group to be admitted to hospital with Covid.
Far from saying that natural immunity is “paramount”, the CDC said that “vaccination remains the safest and primary strategy to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infections, associated complications, and onward transmission.”
Acquiring natural immunity means catching Covid, which is far more risky for an unvaccinated person, as we have said before.
The Covid vaccines are safe
Mr Malik said: “We’re told that [the Covid vaccine] is safe, but there is data showing that people are dying, having serious side effects from this. It isn’t well established. It is experimental. The phase three trials run until 2023.”
This is very misleading. Some deaths and serious side effects have occurred as a result of the Covid vaccines, but they are extremely rare—and much rarer than serious complications from the disease itself.
On 30 January, Mr Malik tweeted that the Covid vaccine “kills and maims thousands of young and healthy”, which is certainly untrue in the UK.
According to the latest data available, 17 deaths in the UK so far have been due to “COVID-19 vaccines causing adverse effects in therapeutic use”. They consist of 10 up to the end of 2021 in England and Wales, six in Scotland up to 16 January 2022 and one in Northern Ireland up to the end of September 2021.
At the same time, in these places up to these dates, more than 130 million Covid vaccine doses were administered.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has been monitoring the safety of the Covid vaccines.
So far it has reported a small number of very rare serious events that may be linked with vaccination. Overall, however, it says: “The expected benefits of the vaccines in preventing COVID-19 and serious complications associated with COVID-19 far outweigh any currently known side effects in the majority of patients.”
We have written before that four Covid vaccines have been approved by medical regulators, and shown to be safe and effective in clinical trials, which makes it misleading to call them “experimental”.
We have also written about why it is misleading to suggest that the phase three trials are not finished until 2023 without also explaining what this means, because data showing that the vaccines are safe and effective has already been peer-reviewed and published.