UK Statistics Regulator Says ONS Deaths Data Not Suitable for Estimating COVID-19 Vaccine Effectiveness


The statistics on deaths by vaccination status published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) are not appropriate for understanding the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines, the UK’s statistics regulator has said.

The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) on Monday published its response to four researchers, acknowledging their concerns that the unvaccinated population was likely undercounted in the sample used by the ONS dataset.

It means the calculated mortality rate of the unvaccinated could be higher than it actually was, giving the illusion that the vaccines saved more lives than it may have done.

The ONS used the number of deaths in England—involving and not involving COVID-19—and a large population sample to work out mortality rates.

The population sample included around 79 percent of the population who were in the 2011 census and are currently registered with a GP.

Younger people are less likely to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and the ORS said it’s harder for those not registered with a GP to get vaccinated.

“We consider that it is therefore likely that the sample used in the Deaths by Vaccination Status publication is not representative of the general population. Those who are missing are, we think, more likely to be younger and unvaccinated,” OSR Director General for Regulation Ed Humpherson wrote, adding that the ONS has acknowledged the limitation in the publication.

The regulator said the ONS is working to address some of the sampling issues in its previous publications and has delayed its next publication to wait for the 2021 census data in order to “substantially increase the sample size.”

Writing in the Daily Sceptic, mathematician Norman Fenton and statistics professor Martin Neil, two of the researchers who made the complaint to the OSR, called on those who cited the ONS figures to publicly withdraw their material, while naming the BBC, accusing the broadcaster of deliberately misrepresenting the COVID-19 vaccination rate.

“We therefore call on all of those—including especially the BBC—who have used the ludicrously low estimates from the ONS to publicly withdraw all material based on these estimates, as they have been deliberately used to represent the unvaccinated as a tiny fringe minority,” they wrote.

Fenton has strongly opposed the BBC documentary film “unvaccinated” which said there were around four million people in the UK who were unvaccinated against COVID-19.

The documentary was aired on July 20, 2022. Its promotion material also included a claim, which was later deleted, that said the unvaccinated consisted of eight percent of the population, based on a survey the broadcaster had commissioned.

The survey, which polled 2,570 UK residents, found that 26 percent of the respondents were unvaccinated. But after weighing the outcome against ONS census data, the unvaccinated rate became eight percent.

The BBC didn’t respond to a request for comment by The Epoch Times.

In a letter (pdf) emailed to Fenton in response to one of his complaints, Jeremy Hayes, the BBC’s complaints director in November said the margin of error didn’t risk misleading the viewers.

He cited the UK government’s estimate at the time, which he said suggested only two million adults were unvaccinated.

“It was open to the programme makers to adjust the estimate at the time of broadcast but I do not think it was intended to represent an exact figure, and in any case the margin was not sufficient, in my judgment, to risk materially misleading a viewer,” he wrote.

Other Concerns

The OSR did not agree with other concerns raised by Fenton, Neil, and the other co-authors of their preprint paper, diagnostic pathologist Clare Craig and digital technologies for health lecturer Scott McLachlan.

Comparing the rate of deaths from causes other than COVID-19, the authors found that the data showed those who had taken at least one dose of the COVID vaccines were dying at a much lower rate than the unvaccinated and a much lower rate compared to historical data.

They also highlighted peaks in non-COVID-19 deaths among the unvaccinated in different age groups that corresponded to vaccine rollouts in those age groups and suggested the anomalies could have been a result of misclassifying deaths shortly after vaccination as unvaccinated deaths.

Humpherson said the OSR believes the pattern is “attributable to the ‘healthy vaccinee’ effect.”

“This happens when people who are ill (either due to COVID-19 or another relevant illness) are likely to delay vaccination. The result of this effect is a lower-than-average mortality rate within the first 21 days of receiving a vaccination. This effect is described by ONS in their Deaths by Vaccination Status publication,” the letter reads.

In an interview with YouTuber Dr. John Campbell, Fenton said he is not convinced by the explanation partly because the infirm were prioritised during the COVID-19 vaccination campaign and because their deaths, regardless of the age group, typically peaked at around the same time in previous years instead of in waves.

Lily Zhou is an Irish-based reporter focusing on UK news. Lily first joined the Chinese edition of The Epoch Times before turning her focus on the UK in 2020. Contact Lily at lily.zhou@epochtimes.com



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