Ed Humpherson, Director of U.K. Statistics Authority the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR), has written to Emma Rourke, Director of Health Analysis at the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to criticise the agency for a report it put out in October claiming that: “Between January 2nd and September 24th 2021, the age-adjusted risk of deaths involving coronavirus (COVID-19) was 32 times greater in unvaccinated people than in fully vaccinated individuals.”
As James Wells, a statistician who served as head of the ONS UK trade team until 2019, pointed out when he wrote to the OSR to complain about the report earlier this month, this statistic uses data from January 2nd to September 24th 2021, which includes the bulk of the winter deaths at a time when almost no one was vaccinated. This skews the implied vaccine effectiveness, as a fair comparison would only include periods when a significant proportion of the country was vaccinated.
In Mr Humpherson’s letter to Ms Rourke he wrote:
The headline in the publication is the age adjusted risk of deaths involving COVID-19 for vaccinated and unvaccinated groups for the period January 2nd to September 24th. This was also the key message in the main tweet associated with the publication. Focusing on the headline figure has been unhelpful and has undermined the more helpful analysis provided later in the report. The headline figure is based on a time period driven by data availability. While the age-standardised mortality rates for deaths involving COVID-19 are consistently lower for people who have received two vaccinations, the size of the difference varies enormously depending on the time frame chosen. The data cover a period when very few people had two doses of vaccination, to a period when the majority of the adult population had two doses (data taken from gov.uk on 24 November 2021 show second dose uptake for age 12 and over in England was 0.8% on January 10th 2021 and 77.4% by September 24th 2021). It also covers a period when case rates varied significantly as well as the levels of natural immunity in the population…
Given the analysis carried out, more should have been done to highlight the uncertainty associated with the headline figure… I would urge you to take the focus off the headline figure in any future publications.
The truth is that statistics are being spun like this all the time by Government and others during the pandemic to bolster the preferred narrative. It’s just on this occasion the effort was so egregious and prominent that it couldn’t be ignored.