FactCheck Social Media

The UK isn’t expecting most COVID-19 vaccine recipients to die in a third wave

2021-05-10 16:17:23

The Statement

An Instagram post claims official UK government modelling predicted up to 70 per cent of people vaccinated against COVID-19 will die during a third wave of the virus.

The April 26 post includes a screenshot of an article, the text of which states: “According to projections by UK’s top modelling agency the thrid (sic) wave of COVID-19 spike will hospitalize and kill 60 to 70% of those people who took both the vaccine doses. The paper suggests that the resurgence in both hospitalisations and deaths will dominated (sic) by those who have received two doses of the vaccine, comprising around 60% and 70% of the wave respectively.”

At the time of writing, the post had over 1500 reactions and 350 comments.

It was posted to the Instagram account of Australian Jamie McIntyre, who has more than 29,900 followers. The account features a range of memes and other content critical of vaccines or detailing various COVID-19 conspiracy theories (for example here and here).

The article is from the Great Game India website, which purports to be a “journal on geopolitics and international relations”. It publishes articles critical of COVID-19 vaccines and has been fact-checked previously for spreading other misinformation, including baseless claims that the coronavirus was a stolen bioweapon.

An Instagram post about UK COVID-19 modelling
 A post suggests the majority of COVID-19 vaccine recipients will die in a third UK coronavirus wave. 

The Analysis

The claim that UK government modelling predicted up to 70 per cent of those vaccinated against COVID-19 would die or be hospitalised during a future outbreak is false and based on a misreading or misrepresentation of an official report.

The March 31 report does not say that a third wave of COVID-19 cases would kill between 60 and 70 per cent of people who were vaccinated, as claimed in the post and article.

It examines what could happen as COVID-19-related restrictions in England are relaxed under the government’s roadmap out of lockdown. It finds, based on modelling, that an increase in COVID-19-related hospitalisations and deaths is likely after restrictions are relaxed.

The report includes an estimate that 60 per cent of those hospitalisations and 70 per cent of deaths would be among people who had received two doses of the vaccine. This was due to the high vaccination rate among the most at-risk age groups, and the fact that for a small proportion of that at-risk contingent the vaccine will not be effective protection against serious illness or death.

The document also clearly states that there would be many more deaths and hospitalisations if fewer people were vaccinated.

The report was produced by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational sub-group (SPI-M-O), which advises the UK government. It was released as the government was preparing to move to step two in the roadmap, involving the reopening of hospitality businesses and non-essential retail. Later stages are scheduled for no earlier than May 17 and June 21.

The document said it was highly likely there will be another resurgence in hospitalisations and deaths after relaxing restrictions, but the scale, shape, and timing of any resurgence is highly uncertain (page 1). This was based on modelling from the University of Warwick, the Imperial College of London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

The central scenario in the modelling was that more than 90 per cent of all adults would be vaccinated by June 21 (page 2).

Under this scenario, receiving two doses of the Pfizer vaccine was estimated to reduce the risk of death or hospitalisation by between 90 and 98 per cent, while two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were expected to reduce the risk of death or hospitalisation by 80 to 90 per cent (page 3).

The report said while modelling predicted the number of COVID-19 cases in the UK was likely to increase as restrictions eased, high vaccination rates and the efficacy of the vaccine meant that moving to step two in the roadmap “leads to only a relatively modest increase in hospital admissions and deaths” (page 8).

It said implementing all four steps of the roadmap at the earliest possible date would result in a third wave of COVID-19 infections, peaking around July/August, but that the wave would be smaller than previous outbreaks (page 9 and Figure 4, page 10).

The report added that this resurgence was “a result of some people (mostly children) being ineligible for vaccination; others choosing not to receive the vaccine; and others being vaccinated but not perfectly protected (including those who have only received one dose, rather than two)”.

The majority of expected hospitalisations and deaths were in those who had been vaccinated, however the document said this was a result of the high vaccination rate among those most at risk from contracting COVID-19 and the fact the vaccines were not 100 per cent effective.

“The resurgence in both hospitalisations and deaths is dominated by those that have received two doses of the vaccine, comprising around 60 per cent and 70 per cent of the wave respectively. This can be attributed to the high levels of uptake in the most at-risk age groups, such that immunisation failures account for more serious illness than unvaccinated individuals,” the report states (page 10).

The report reiterates later that the reason the majority of projected  hospitalisations and deaths occur in those who have been vaccinated is because vaccination rates are predicted to reach 95 per cent in those over 50 – the cohort considered most vulnerable to the virus.

“There are therefore 5% of over 50-year olds who have not been vaccinated, and 95% x 10% = 9.5% of over 50-year olds who are vaccinated but, nevertheless, not protected against death. This is not the result of vaccines being ineffective, merely uptake being so high,” the report states (page 18).

It says the number of deaths and hospitalisations expected in a third wave was lower than in previous models because the uptake of vaccines was assumed to be higher in the most recent models (page 11).

Mr McIntyre, who shared the claim, also runs a website which republishes a range of conspiracy theories and misinformation, including that COVID-19 vaccines are part of a “genocide agenda” and suggestions celebrities take adrenochrome made from terrorised children’s blood, alongside promotions for Bitcoin “sponsorship” opportunities.

In 2016, he was banned from being a company director or offering financial services for a decade for running unregistered investment schemes.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
 The Boris Johnson-led UK government has planned a roadmap out of lockdown as vaccinations continue. 

The Verdict

A UK government model did not predict that up to 70 per cent of those vaccinated against COVID-19 will die in a third wave of the virus. In fact, the modelling showed higher vaccination rates are expected to significantly reduce the number of deaths and hospitalisations in a future outbreak.

Instead, the report predicts 70 per cent of deaths in a third UK coronavirus surge would be among people who have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. This was because the vaccines do not offer perfect protection from serious illness or death for every recipient, and a high proportion of vaccine recipients are in the most vulnerable age group.

False – Content that has no basis in fact.

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