Summary:

  • Much anxiety has been caused by misinformation on vaccines and it seems with my booster – I am not immune from this.
  • The latest is that deaths in the vaccinated are twice as high in unvaccinated 12-60 age group.
  • This is completely wrong.
  • Simpsons paradox, inaccuracies from lumping together data from wide groups of people offers reassurance.
  • Vaccination continues to work well at reducing serious illness and death.

Boosting anxiety!

I recently had my booster Pfizer vaccine. One immediate side effect was tiredness after having to queue for hours to get it – serves me right for having decided to take the bus to Plymouth Argyle’s walk in vaccination centre. Undaunted, I hung on and three hours later got my jab. While walking back to the bus stop, about a mile away, I felt something that I wasn’t expecting. Anxiety.

Queuing at Argyll was something like this, only longer queues; one to get into the stadium, the next to get registered, then to get into the vaccination area, then to see a nurse and the final queue to get the jab.
Oh and no chairs.

I have long been interested in misinformation regarding vaccines, some it obvious nonsense, but much more of it well presented, superficially compelling stuff. At its extreme are claims that all those vaccinated against Covid19 will be dead by 2025, and that the vaccination campaign is a huge Bill Gates driven agenda to de-populate the world. Easy to dismiss.

Yet this is the tip of the iceberg of the on line infodemic which seeks to create fears about every aspect of pandemic management. A few are manifestations of genuine concern, but far more manufactured out of poor science, hearsay and a hefty dose of mischief. But as I reflected on my own anxiety, I had to conclude that clearly some had sunk into even my decidedly skeptical mind. After all, I mused, what if they are right?

The feeling of fear soon passed and I tolerated the known vaccine side effects of tiredness to end up happy with the 95% reduction in the risk of infection it will bestow on me after the next fortnight. While wondering about the side effects of misinformation, I came across the latest dramatic headline, and thought it worth a look. Vaccinations cause death revisited. Call me obsessive if you like, but understanding bad information is as important as understanding bad food. They both have consequences.

Latest misinformation headline

I read that all cause death rates in the vaccinated 15-60 age group are increased to more than double that of the unvaccinated and this has become the latest anxiety provoking headline on the internet. So let’s have a look at that.

At first reading, of course, it seems true. Alex Berenson, an American journo who has found a new career path with his anti-vaccine anti public health measures stance, made much of this in his blog. Once again, it looks very convincing. This is the graph he uses which does indeed show that the overall death rate is over twice as high in the vaccinated 10-60 age group. As they say Stateside; “OMG!”

He claims the reason for this has to be vaccine related mortality. What else could explain it? Double OMG!!

Many, at this point will be convinced, and may hesitate or decide not to get the vaccine on this basis – a big problem in the USA. For me however, something seems plainly wrong – I smell a rat; so let’s have a closer look.

Sure enough there is a problem here. He uses deaths from all causes to make the point, and lumping together death rates across all ages, from 10-60 will lead to some big errors. Why?

Put simply, deaths in the younger half of this age bracket will include a lot of very healthy people who have not been vaccinated and with very low all cause mortality. At the other end of the age group, there are just about as many older people who have a much higher rate of death as they are older, and of course, a much higher rate of vaccination.

Lump the two groups together and indeed you find that more people who are vaccinated are dying, but that is exactly what you would expect, with out without vaccines and indeed, with or without the pandemic.

Of course, when you look at rates of overall deaths for more selected ages, for instance in the older age groups, and for deaths caused by COVID, the huge benefits of vaccination emerge. Vaccination is turning out to be no panacea, but it certainly is a spectacularly good intervention.

Simpsons Paradox.

This is called Simpsons paradox. This is when lumping together disparate chunks of the population and looking at resultant health data produces some unexpected results. It has created problems with interpretation of death stats before.

In Israel, it was claimed that 60% of people on ITU were vaccinated to show how vaccines were failing. Again, in a population where 90% of the elderly and vulnerable were vaccinated, this is what you would expect. Despite the headlines rubbishing vaccine effectiveness, it may have been more accurate to recognise that 40% of those patients in Israeli Intensive Care Units came from the 10% the elderly who had not been vaccinated. In other words, vaccines work. I digress.

What the data, lumped together like this simply shows, it that older people die more than younger people. Berenson, it should be said has a bottom line. He has a subscription only website, has published many novels including on the pandemic and so needs to breath the air of publicity. The graph distributed so widely by Berenson is right – the conclusions he came totally wrong. He is another US celeb cashing in on fear.

You could put this another way – Recent data shows the death rate of 10-59yr olds who have watched the 1984 Ghostbuster Movie is many times higher than those who have watched the 2021 Ghostbuster movie. The 1984 version is either far more dangerous, or older people die more – Simpsons paradox again.

We cannot get away from two home truths. Older people are more vaccinated and die more, and that is about all this adds up to. I hope this post helps dispel yet one more irritating misinformation mind worm which causes so much needless worry about vaccines, some of which wriggled around in my mind when getting my jab.

As I walked home, tired after the long queues, I settled down and has a think about biology, infection, vaccination; a any residual fear faded from my mind. Vaccination does cause problems and so I took a calculated risk, as I do with any medical intervention.

However, these problems fade when compared those caused by the real infection. I am now, according to the best data, 95% protected against the infection which means I have a 95% chance of not passing it on. Well done me, and all those thousands at the Argyll Stadium.

Then I read the news from South Africa and have my fingers firmly crossed that this is another mutation going nowhere in particular. We will soon find out.

Thanks

Thanks for reading this post. If there is anything you would like to day then please use the comment box below and I will get back to you as soon as I can. Good health!!


2 thoughts on “Misinformation 7 – Vaccination – life and death

  1. Colin, the misinformation on this epidemic is everywhere and from all sides. I seem to recall a few months ago that a figure of 99% of the deaths from coronavirus in the first half of the year in the unvaccinated. Of course this covered the post Christmas surge in which the bulk of the fatalities occurred, at a period when hardly anyone had been vaccinated. Upon this news I heard from some of the vaccinated who thought that they were virtually invulnerable from the virus. ps I’m fully vaccinated and regard it as only one of the many things that I need to do to keep safe , and is below the priority of catching it in the first place.

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