The way in which the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) in Ireland presents the data around who, exactly, is dying of Covid occasionally leaves something to be desired. The way in which it presents the data around the vaccination status of those who are losing their lives is straightforwardly misleading.
Take for example this tweet, showing the number of Covid deaths by vaccination status between April and September:
— HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) (@hpscireland) September 17, 2021
Now look at these updated figures, provided in October:
— HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) (@hpscireland) October 15, 2021
You will see that between September and October, the percentage of deaths which were in unvaccinated persons fell dramatically: From 59.4% in early September to 45.8% in early October.
The problem is that both sets of figures take April as their start date, and this dramatically obscures a shift in the proportion of deaths amongst the unvaccinated and the vaccinated that appears to have taken place in September and early October.
If you subtract the deaths in the September report from the deaths in the October report, you are left with the deaths that occurred between the two reports.
And we get these figures:
118 additional deaths took place between the two reports.
20 of these deaths were in unvaccinated persons.
98 of these deaths were in people with at least one dose of a vaccine. Note that “at least one” dose also includes people with two doses.
94 of these deaths were in people who were fully vaccinated.
The actual proportion of deaths in vaccinated persons versus unvaccinated persons for the period between the two reports, then, was 83% vaccinated, and 17% unvaccinated. That is dramatically different from the topline figure presented in the HPSC report, because that report takes a much longer time period into consideration.
This is significant information, whatever one’s position on the vaccine is, because it suggests that the effectiveness of the vaccine at preventing deaths is wearing off over time. If you are pro-vaccine, then it makes the case for booster jabs very urgent. If you are anti-vaccine, it confirms your suspicions that the vaccine is not all it is made out to be.
What’s also telling is that these figures have been released, but in such a way as it requires the public to read two separate reports and do mathematical calculations themselves to get at the actual situation as it is today. One would have to be quite naïve to believe that this obfuscation of the data is entirely accidental. The Government, rightly or wrongly, is terrified of undermining confidence in the vaccine. But by not presenting the figures – and the risks – as they are, it also risks vaccinated people believing that they have much more, and more enduring, protection than they actually have.
For most of this year, there has been a big “proportion” gap between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. In other words, with 90% of the adult population vaccinated, vaccinated people were making up only about 40% of the deaths, while the 10% of the population who were unvaccinated were making up about 60% of the deaths. Between September and October, that “proportion gap” almost entirely disappeared.
Of course, my experience of writing about these issues tells me that for most of the year, when that gap existed, unvaccinated people simply denied its existence and would not believe reports that it did exist. Similarly, lots of people will be invested in denying that (at least for a four week period in September and October) the gap disappeared.
Experts worldwide disagree about the extent to which vaccine immunity wanes, or is waning. For example, the UK’s most recent Vaccine Surveillance Report insists that the vaccines are still holding up well as a defence against serious infection and death, though it remarks that “Relatively limited waning of protection
against mortality is seen over a period of at least 5 months.”
Again, it is very important to be cautious in interpreting any numbers, and to remember that almost all experts worldwide remain convinced that while vaccine immunity is waning, it is still, on balance, much safer to have been vaccinated than unvaccinated.
But these numbers have big implications for Ireland in the winter ahead, and should be made more widely known, for the benefit of those who have taken a jab, and may believe that it is more effective than it is. Every data point in the western world is basically pointing in the same direction: After 6 months, or so, immunity to Covid from the vaccine is declining, in some cases sharply. That’s a bad place to be, heading into winter.