An article appeared in the Guardian this week written by an anonymous NHS respiratory consultant claiming that “in hospital, COVID-19 has largely become a disease of the unvaccinated”.
Of course, there are people who have their vaccinations but still get sick. These people may be elderly or frail, or have underlying health problems. Those with illnesses affecting the immune system, particularly patients who have had chemotherapy for blood cancers, are especially vulnerable. Some unlucky healthy people will also end up on our general wards with Covid after being vaccinated, usually needing a modest amount of oxygen for a few days.
But the story is different on our intensive care unit. Here, the patient population consists of a few vulnerable people with severe underlying health problems and a majority of fit, healthy, younger people unvaccinated by choice. … If everyone got vaccinated, hospitals would be under much less pressure; this is beyond debate. Your wait for your clinic appointment/operation/diagnostic test/A&E department would be shorter. Your ambulance would arrive sooner. Reports of the pressure on the NHS are not exaggerated, I promise you. … Most of the resources that we are devoting to Covid in hospital are now being spent on the unvaccinated.
This reads to me like a blatant attempt to stigmatise the unvaccinated as selfish, a burden on society and a threat to the vaccinated. (The clue is in the headline: “ICU is full of the unvaccinated – my patience with them is wearing thin.”) Given the polling (which may not be very reliable of course) showing that 45% of U.K. adults would support an indefinite lockdown of the unvaccinated, this is all starting to look and sound rather ugly.
The most frustrating thing about this anonymously written article is it doesn’t cite any data even though its arguments are based on claims which only data can validate. It consists instead only of a single medic’s subjective impressions, with no sources provided to see if his claims holds water.
Are the hospitalised mostly unvaccinated? Not according to Government data from the UKHSA. Here is the breakdown of hospitalisations by vaccination status in England for the four weeks up to November 14th from the latest Vaccine Surveillance report.
Adding these figures up we find that 3,200 of 9,831 or 33% of Covid hospitalisations are of unvaccinated people, leaving 67% of Covid hospital patients in the vaccinated category, most of them with two doses. Focusing just on adults, we find 2,692 of 9,278 or 29% of Covid hospitalisations are unvaccinated, leaving 71% vaccinated. Seeing as just 68% of the U.K. population is double vaccinated, 67% of Covid hospital patients having received at least one dose hardly seems like a strong result. Indeed, it suggests the unvaccinated are barely over-represented in hospitals at all.
What about Covid deaths – are the unvaccinated over-represented there? Here’s the table from the same report.
Adding them up we find that 675 of 3,676 or 18% of Covid deaths in the month up to November 14th are in unvaccinated people, leaving 82% in the vaccinated, most with two doses. Only in the under-40s do deaths in the unvaccinated outnumber those in the vaccinated.
It’s hard to square this data with the picture painted by the anonymous medic. Far from COVID-19 having “largely become a disease of the unvaccinated”, with most Covid hospital resources “now being spent on the unvaccinated”, a large majority of hospitalisations and deaths are occurring in the vaccinated, not the unvaccinated.
But what about ICU admissions? And is it true that the vaccinated-sick all have underlying health issues whereas the unvaccinated-sick are all healthy?
The problem with addressing these claims is that we don’t have the data to check them out. The data on ICU admissions by vaccination status has not been updated since July as far as I can see (if you are aware of a more recent update do let me know), and I am not aware of any data on co-morbidities (again, if you are aware of any please drop me a line).
The anonymous writer states: “I can’t think of a single case offhand of a person who was previously fit and healthy who has ended up needing intensive care after being fully vaccinated. It may not stop you from catching Covid. But it can save your life when you do.” But again, this is anecdotal and therefore not terribly helpful.
It’s fair to note that much data does appear to show that the vaccines protect people well against severe disease and death, at least for several months, though some recent analysis has questioned whether such efficacy has been overestimated.
But however well the vaccines protect against severe disease, that is no excuse for turning the unvaccinated into pariahs or scapegoats and blaming them for the strains on the health service. Such moralised blaming of a minority for supposedly disadvantaging the majority (‘Can’t get a doctor’s appointment? Surgery been cancelled again? The unvaccinated are to blame!’) has a very ugly history and rarely ends well. It’s particularly odd to see this scapegoating in a supposedly liberal newspaper. It needs to stop now.
Stop Press: Jamie Jenkins, known as @statsjamie on Twitter, has done a fact check on this article and come to broadly the same conclusion.
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