Covid Watch 174: Mortality misinformation in letter in today’s Shropshire Star  

Covid Watch 174: Mortality misinformation in letter in today’s Shropshire Star  

I was surprised to read a letter in today’s Shropshire Star that claims that only 17,000 people have died from Covid-19. This is a complete misinterpretation of information provided by the Office of National Statistics (ONS). It is correct that only 17,371 people had Covid-19 registered as the only cause of death up to September 2021. But the reality is that disease has led to more than 140,000 deaths in the UK.

The letter, which I hope will not be published on the Star website, seems to be from someone opposed to vaccination, including those in health and care settings. It is part of a meme of misinformation from those determined to oppose vaccination with disregard to public health.

I have written a letter to the Star responding to the misinformation. I am really concerned that distortion of statistics in this way will increase vaccine hesitancy.

This pandemic is not over yet and we need to ensure as many people are protected by vaccination as possible.

My letter to the Shropshire Star

In  the Shropshire Star (28 January), Anthony Bennet repeats the myth that only 17,000 people have died from Covid-19. This based on a misunderstanding of a Freedom of Information request to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) last year. As the ONS says on its blog, “to suggest that [the 17,000] figure represents the real extent of deaths from the virus is both factually incorrect and highly misleading.”

Since the start of the pandemic, “around nine in 10 deaths involving Covid-19 have been due to Covid-19.” The ONS makes clear that “Covid-19 initiated the train of events directly leading to death for more than 140,000 people.” That is more than eight times higher than the 17,000 claimed by Mr Bennet and many others.

The 17,000 figure relates to cases where Covid-19 was the only cause of death mentioned on the death certificate. Mr Bennet claims that the other deaths were due to underlying conditions. Many people reading this letter will have health conditions that may eventually lead to their deaths. The danger they face from Covid-19 is that it will weaken them and bring forward their deaths from somewhere in the future to today.

As James Tucker from the ONS has said: “More than 140,000 deaths have been due to Covid-19, meaning that it has been determined as the underlying cause. To exclude individuals with any pre-existing conditions from this figure greatly understates the number of people who died from Covid-19 and who might well still be alive had the pandemic not occurred.”

That’s why vaccination is so important. The vaccines will protect most people from catching Covid-19, especially after two jabs and booster. Some people will still get Covid-19 after vaccination but their symptoms will be milder, they will be less likely to be admitted to hospital, less likely to need intensive care and less likely to die.

We have seen a lot of misinformation during the pandemic. Conspiracy theories. Arguments that vaccines are not safe. That they contain microchips. That they will change your DNA. And of course, people have grabbed the statistics that they believe support their arguments rather than trying to understand the real situation. In a public health emergency, this sort of misinformation can be dangerous for the individual and for the rest of us.

The ONS is one of the most authoritative statistical bodies in the world. I would prefer to trust its judgement than that of people who rush to interpret numbers in a way that suits their argument.

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