This Morning guest makes misleading claims on vaccine efficacy

1 June 2021
What was claimed

The Covid-19 vaccine doesn’t stop you catching the disease.

Our verdict

Data shows that even one dose can significantly reduce your chances of getting infected, even without symptoms.

What was claimed

The Covid-19 vaccine doesn’t stop you transmitting it.

Our verdict

Data has shown that even one dose can reduce the chances of you passing it to your household.

What was claimed

The Covid-19 vaccine is a trial drug.

Our verdict

Research on the ongoing efficacy and safety of the vaccines will continue but data on key safety and efficacy aspects has been published and peer reviewed.

What was claimed

The survival rate from Covid-19 is 99.8%.

Our verdict

It’s almost certainly not as high as that in the UK.

What was claimed

The average age of death from Covid-19 is 82.

Our verdict

This is true for deaths involving Covid-19 registered in England and Wales between October 2020 and January 2021.

A heated exchange between presenter Dermot O’Leary and guest Beverley Turner on This Morning, about whether the Covid-19 vaccines stop you from catching and passing on the disease has gone viral on social media. 

Ms Turner claimed: “[The vaccine] does not stop you contracting or passing on the virus.”

Multiple, reliable forms of evidence show that vaccines greatly reduce a person’s chance of contracting or passing on a virus.

Ms Turner has asked us to clarify that she meant that the vaccines don’t always stop the transmission of the disease, which is correct as set out below. The NHS website says that the vaccines reduce your risk of catching, spreading, getting symptoms, getting ill, and dying from Covid, and she has asked us to clarify that her remarks about transmission were intended to reflect that.

Studies have found that people given one dose of the Pfizer vaccine have a 70% reduced risk of becoming infected, both with and without symptoms, rising to 85% after the second dose. This data comes from testing healthcare workers who were tested for Covid every two weeks, regardless of whether they had symptoms.

Data in adults over 70 shows that both the Pfizer and the AstraZeneca vaccines are between 60-70% effective against symptomatic disease around a month after the first dose, and 85-90% after the second dose of Pfizer (this particular study didn’t look at the effect after two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine).

As to Ms Turner’s claim on vaccines not stopping people passing on the virus, the evidence suggests that one dose of either the AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccines significantly reduces your chances of passing on the virus to members of your household, if you do catch it.

Initial research, covering over a million contacts in the UK, has found that people who became infected three weeks after their first vaccination were between 38% and 49% less likely to pass the virus onto household contacts. This protection appeared from around two weeks after the vaccination, and was regardless of age.

This may be what Ms Turner was referring to when she then went on to say there was “a little bit of evidence to suggest that it might minimise transmission, but that’s because it ameliorates your symptoms and if it ameliorates your symptoms then you are less likely to pass it on.”

She also made a number of other claims about the Covid survival rate and whether the vaccine is in trials that we have written about before.

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Ongoing study does not mean Covid-19 vaccines are a ‘trial drug’

Ms Turner described the Covid-19 vaccine as a “trial drug”. While it’s not quite clear what this means, we have checked similar claims before. These claims have been based on the fact that some of the Covid-19 vaccine trials have completion dates set in the future.

As we’ve explained before, data on key safety and efficacy outcomes has already been published in peer-reviewed journals, but data on long term protection and safety will continue to be collected over the coming years. 

The three coronavirus vaccines currently approved and being rolled out in the UK have been through all the normal stages of vaccine testing, including animal and human studies.

The survival rate is almost certainly lower than 99.8% 

“99.8% survival rate from Covid-19. The average age of death is 82.”

The survival rate is almost certainly lower than this in the UK, as we’ve written before

We’ve covered elsewhere how  estimates for Europe (countries with similar age profiles and healthcare quality as the UK) put the fatality rate at somewhere between 0.5% and 1%, meaning the “survival rate” could be somewhere between 99% and 99.5%, but not as high as 99.8%.

Covid-19 is more dangerous in older populations, which is part of the reason survival rates vary between countries.

As of 14 May there have been about 153,000 deaths registered with Covid-19 recorded as a cause on the death certificate. That’s about 0.23% of the entire UK population. If the survival rate really was 99.8%, and 0.23% had died, that implies that the entire population of the UK has been infected. As we’ve written before, this is almost certainly not the case. The figures don’t show high enough rates of infection for this to be the case.

It’s true that the average age of death involving Covid-19 is 82. That was the average age of people whose deaths were registered in England and Wales between October 2020 and January 2021 which involved Covid-19.

It’s been estimated that people who die of Covid lose, on average, around ten years of life.

Update 11 June 2021

This article was updated to add a clarification from Ms Turner on her comments.

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