Catching Covid-19 is not less risky than vaccination

3 December 2021
What was claimed

The survival rate of Covid-19 without vaccination is 99.8%.

Our verdict

While recent data shows the UK death rate from Covid-19 is 0.2%, this was reported after those most vulnerable to Covid-19 had been vaccinated and doesn’t tell us what the survival rate in an unvaccinated population is. There is evidence that vaccines offer significant protection from serious illness and death.

An Instagram post claims: “By declining the vax I am 100% safe from adverse reactions and 99.8% safe from Covid”. This suggests that the survival rate from a Covid-19 infection is 99.8%, without vaccination.

It is correct that the most recent figures state the Covid death rate is 0.2%. However, this is based on data recorded after the vast majority of the population were vaccinated. The post also doesn’t mention evidence of the significant protection vaccines offer against serious illness and death. 

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What is the Covid-19 death rate?

It’s difficult to come up with an exact death rate from Covid-19 as we don’t know exactly how many people have caught Covid-19 or died from it. Scientific estimates put it between 0.5% and 1% in August 2020, although this predates the wide spread of variants such as the Alpha and Delta variants, and the roll-out of vaccination programmes worldwide. 

The case fatality rate (the risk of death following a laboratory-confirmed Covid-19 diagnosis) from the Delta variant in the UK general population to 5 July 2021 was around 0.2%, according to Public Health England, which later removed this measure from its data. A UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) spokesman confirmed to Full Fact this measure was later removed from weekly data releases to avoid misleading comparisons between Covid variants.

Former health minister Jo Churchill stated in August of this year that, as of 15 July, the estimated overall infection mortality rate (the proportion of deaths among all infected individuals) was 0.1%. 

However, it is worth noting that most of the population most vulnerable to the disease in the UK had been vaccinated by this point. Had the more vulnerable not been vaccinated it is likely the rate would be higher. 

In its most recent report, the UKHSA said that “high levels of protection (over 90%) are also seen against mortality with all 3 vaccines and against both the Alpha and Delta variants”. Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that, from 2 January to 2 July 2021, the proportion of Covid-19 deaths among those who were unvaccinated were almost twice as high as those among the entire population regardless of vaccination status. 

So, although recent data shows the death rate among a largely vaccinated population is 0.2%, this does not mean the survival rate among unvaccinated people is 99.8%. 

What about the side effects from vaccines?

The Instagram post also claims that declining the vaccine will mean someone is 100% safe from “adverse effects” caused by it. Obviously, not taking a vaccine will prevent any side effects caused by it but the post also misses some important context about the relative risks of not being vaccinated.  

As of 24 November, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has received 395,049 reports to its Yellow Card drug safety scheme of side effects reported after vaccination, which include 1,815 “events with a fatal outcome” (deaths). 

The MHRA states that reports of side effects and deaths from vaccinations do not necessarily mean they are linked. It also states: “For all COVID-19 vaccines, the overwhelming majority of reports relate to injection-site reactions (sore arm for example) and generalised symptoms such as ‘flu-like’ illness, headache, chills, fatigue (tiredness), nausea (feeling sick), fever, dizziness, weakness, aching muscles, and rapid heartbeat. Generally, these happen shortly after the vaccination and are not associated with more serious or lasting illness.”

Nevertheless, there is advice on some reported side effects. 

The MHRA has received 427 reports of cases of blood clotting after use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, including 74 deaths

While it says the overall benefits of the vaccine “outweighs the extremely rare adverse events”, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has advised use of an alternative to the AstraZeneca vaccine for adults aged under 30 without underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of severe Covid-19.

A very small number of people have also reported myocarditis and pericarditis (inflammation of the heart). The MHRA says cases have been typically mild and extremely rare and that people should still come forward for their vaccinations when invited unless advised otherwise. 

It adds: “It is important that anyone who experiences new onset of symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath or feelings of having a fast-beating, fluttering, or pounding heart seeks medical attention.”

However, evidence suggests the risk of these side effects may be higher following Covid-19 infection, compared to vaccination. 

A study published by the University of Oxford states that the risk of blood clots were substantially higher and more prolonged after a Covid-19 infection than after receiving a vaccine. 

Myocarditis is also (according to new research) more likely following infection from Covid-19 than following vaccination. 

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