Why you shouldn’t be concerned when more vaccinated people are getting infected than unvaccinated


CoronaCheck is RMIT ABC Fact Check’s weekly email newsletter dedicated to fighting the misinformation infodemic surrounding the coronavirus outbreak.

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CoronaCheck #77

In today’s CoronaCheck, we explain how statistics concerning COVID-19 cases among vaccinated people can mislead.

We also check in with Sky News Australia, which copped a seven-day ban from YouTube, and analyse Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s comments about the vaccine rollout.

Clearing up confusion around COVID-19 cases and vaccinated people

Confusion has spread online as countries report increasing numbers of new COVID-19 cases among people who have been vaccinated.

Recent reports from Israel show that a large portion of cases there have been among individuals who were fully vaccinated.

And last week, the US Centers of Disease Control (CDC) reported that “approximately three-quarters of cases [in a recent outbreak in Massachusetts had] occurred in fully vaccinated persons”.

The reports have led to suggestions that people who are fully vaccinated appear more likely to catch COVID-19 than those who aren’t.

In an interview with US network Fox News, Republican senator Ron Johnson questioned whether the Pfizer vaccine was effective against the highly contagious Delta strain of the virus saying that “84 per cent” of cases in Israel were among vaccinated individuals.

Others, meanwhile, took to social media, with one Twitter user responding to the Massachusetts outbreak by asking: “How the f*** are vaccinated people the majority of the infected?”

But those comments ignore the fact that regions such as Israel and Massachusetts have vaccinated the majority of their populations — 62 per cent and 64 per cent respectively. It stands to reason, therefore, that new cases are more likely to occur in vaccinated communities as they make up more of the population.

As the Washington Post pointed out: “The latest numbers show that 85 per cent of Israeli adults are vaccinated, meaning there are more than five times as many of them as unvaccinated people.”

According to Lucy D’Agostino McGowan, an assistant professor of statistics at Wake Forest University, expressing vaccinated people as a percentage of COVID-19 cases means that “the better the vaccine uptake the scarier this number will seem”.

18 green vaccinated men and women effigies. Two have been infected. Two blue unvaccinated effigies are also infected.
In this example, the same number of vaccinated people have been infected as unvaccinated people. But it’s clear the proportions are different.(

Lucy D’Agostino McGowan

)

“This is the wrong metric to look at,” she wrote in a blog post, explaining that it excludes the wider population and, therefore, represents the “probability of being vaccinated given you are sick” rather than “the probability of being sick given you are vaccinated”.

In her blog post Professor McGowan outlined a situation in which 90 per cent of a group of 20 people were vaccinated. Four people in the group contracted COVID-19, including two who were unvaccinated and two who were, which means that 50 per cent of the infections were among vaccinated people.

By another measure, however, the same scenario showed that 100 per cent of unvaccinated people got sick, compared to just 11 per cent of vaccinated people.

In this case, the vaccine would be seen to be 89 per cent effective.

It is also worth noting that so-called “breakthrough” cases (infections in people previously vaccinated) are likely to be less severe. In the recent Massachusetts outbreak, as reported by the CDC, five COVID-19 patients were hospitalised: four had been fully vaccinated, and no deaths were reported.

Similarly, while daily cases continue to rise in Israel, the percentage of COVID-19 patients who become critically ill has fallen to 1.6 per cent compared with 4 per cent during a similar spike prior to vaccines becoming available.

CNN broke down the CDC’s statistics which included 6,587 breakthrough cases as of July 26. Dividing these by the vaccinated population — 163 million at the time — the broadcaster concluded that less than 0.004 per cent of fully vaccinated people experienced a breakthrough case that led to hospitalisation, with less than 0.001 per cent dying from COVID-19.

Sky News Australia banned from YouTube

Sky News Australia, News Corp’s sole television news outlet, was this week served with a one-week ban by YouTube in accordance with the tech giant’s COVID-19 medical misinformation policies.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.

Play Video. Duration: 4 minutes 59 seconds

Sky News banned from posting on YouTube for a week(Andy Park)

According to YouTube’s COVID-19 misinformation policy, the site does not allow content that contradicts local health authority information or World Health Organisation advice on matters such as treatment, prevention, diagnosis, transmission or the existence of COVID-19.

A spokesperson for YouTube, which is owned by Google, told the ABC that Sky News had received a “strike” and that if two more strikes were incurred within 90 days the network’s account would be deleted permanently.

“We have clear and established COVID-19 medical misinformation policies, based on local and global health authority guidance, to prevent the spread of COVID-19 misinformation,” the spokesperson said.

In a statement posted online, a spokesperson for Sky News said that the organisation supported “broad discussion and debate on a wide range of topics and perspectives which is vital to any democracy” and that it took its commitment to “meeting editorial and community expectations seriously”.

“Sky News Australia expressly rejects that any host has ever denied the existence of COVID-19 as was implied, and no such videos were ever published or removed,” the statement read.

The Guardian has reported that at least six videos from the Sky News Australia channel, featuring hosts Alan Jones, Rowan Dean and Rita Panahi, had been deleted from YouTube for violating the platform’s policies.

As Fact Check found earlier this year, while Sky News Australia’s broadcast offering attracted a significantly smaller audience than ABC News, Australia’s only other 24-hour news channel, it had an outsized presence on social media.

In the second half of 2020, Sky News’ Facebook posts were shared more often than any of the 65 media accounts analysed by Fact Check, while its YouTube subscriber base far exceeded that of Channels 7 and 9, and had overtaken the ABC by March 2021.

“Importantly, it is likely that a significant chunk of Sky’s YouTube traffic comes from overseas, given reports that nearly a third of its website traffic comes from outside Australia,” Fact Check reported in April.

This week’s ban came after Sky News host Alan Jones was forced to make an on-air correction over a segment in which he and federal MP Craig Kelly referenced a Public Health England report without providing proper context.

During his program on July 19, Jones said he had “been told” a segment from the week before “failed to fully include further context” from the Public Health England technical briefing.

“Sky News Australia would like to correct the statements in the broadcast, which has been removed from all platforms.”

Would meeting the government’s original vaccine timetable have put Australia in a different position?

Having last year promised to put Australia at the front of the global coronavirus vaccination queue, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has found himself under intensifying pressure over the pace of the rollout.

In his defence, he argues that even had his Government met its original vaccination targets, Australia would still be relying on lockdowns, testing and contact tracing to quash COVID-19.

“The national vaccination plan that was adopted last year and all of the targets, even on their most optimistic scenarios, which haven’t been realised, none of them put Australia in a position where a suppression strategy could have been lifted at any time, at least by the end of October,” Mr Morrison said during a July 8 media conference.

“So, the suggestion that somehow there was a vaccination rate that would have put us in a different position right now to what was planned last year is simply not true.”

Fact Check this week found Mr Morrison did have a point.

If the Government had been on track to vaccinate everyone by October, as it originally planned, about half the population would have been vaccinated by July.

According to disease modelling experts consulted by Fact Check, Australia would have still been reliant on measures to suppress the virus, particularly with the more infectious Delta variant running rampant.

However, they said it was likely that much shorter lockdowns and less draconian measures would now be needed to quash an outbreak of the virus.

According to one virus modeller, every 5 per cent increase in vaccination coverage leads to a 0.05 point reduction in the virus’s “reproduction rate” — that is, the average number of people to whom an infected person passes the virus.

This, in turn, would shorten the length of a lockdown required to suppress the virus by seven to 10 days.

From Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron wears a dark suit and gestures.
French President Emmanuel Macron has had a quote regarding vaccination misattributed to him in a widely-shared meme.(

Reuters: Philippe Desmazes

)

A powerful quote attributed to French President Emmanuel Macron admonishing people who refused to get a COVID-19 vaccine has gone viral in recent weeks, despite one small problem: Mr Macron never said the words.

“I no longer have any intention of sacrificing my life, my time, my freedom and the adolescence of my daughters, as well as their right to study properly, for those who refuse to be vaccinated,” Mr Macron is said to have declared. “This time you stay at home, not us.”

In fact, the quote appears to have originated from a Facebook post by Italian journalist Selvaggia Lucarelli though her original statement referred to a son rather than daughters.

In the post, alongside her commentary, Lucarelli included a photo of Mr Macron as well as genuine quotes from a speech given by the French president.

As other fact checkers have pointed out, Mr Macron does not have any biological children, while his stepchildren are aged in their 30s and 40s.

In other news: Was UNESCO listing of Great Barrier Reef a ‘deviation from normal process’?

Late last month, Australia managed to ward off a bid by UNESCO to add the Great Barrier Reef to its World Heritage “in danger” list. The proposal was voted down by 19 votes to two by the organisation’s 21-country World Heritage committee, which has agreed to delay a decision pending further inquiries.

The reprieve came after a “diplomatic blitz” by Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley. Instead, UNESCO representatives will visit the reef for reactive monitoring, before reconsidering the listing next year.

Sussan Ley and shark
Environment Minister Sussan Ley says UNESCO’s recommendation to list the reef among the world’s endangered sites was “a deviation from normal process”, but experts disagree.(

ABC/AAP

)

Before last week’s vote, Ms Ley said UNESCO’s recommendation to list the reef among the world’s endangered sites was “a deviation from normal process in assessing World Heritage property conservation status”.

She added: “[T]his draft recommendation has been made without examining the reef first-hand, and without the latest information.”

After the vote, Ms Ley doubled down on her request that UNESCO examine the reef first-hand, telling RN Breakfast on July 26 that she welcomed reactive monitoring visits.

But did UNESCO deviate from its normal process when it moved to list the reef, and did it lack current first-hand information about the reef? Here’s what two experts thought:.

Fanny Douvere, the head of the World Heritage Centre Natural Heritage Unit’s marine program, denied there had been any deviation.

“All actions taken by UNESCO in this dossier are in accordance with the operational guidelines of the World Heritage Convention”, Dr Douvere said.

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies distinguished professor Terry Hughes agreed.

“The deviation to the process lies with Australia, and its decision to contest the scientific evidence that the reef is endangered,” Professor Hughes said.

And while UNESCO representatives did not visit the reef in person, this was not a requirement under the guidelines.

Dr Douvere said missions ahead of “in-danger” recommendations were not mandatory under operational guidelines.

Professor Hughes added: “Visits are most useful for countries with limited capacity for site reporting, monitoring and management. But Australia has meticulously reported on the condition of the [Great Barrier Reef] each year since inscription in 1981. UNESCO had all the information it needed.”

Further, Dr Douvere said UNESCO’s information was current.

“As detailed in the draft decision, the last information provided by the government of Australia to UNESCO dates from 1 February 2021, which is the formal statutory date under the Convention for receipt of documents ahead of the forthcoming World Heritage Committee session.”

Edited by Ellen McCutchan, with thanks to Eiddwen Jeffrey and Jude Ellison

Got a fact that needs checking? Tweet us @ABCFactCheck or send us an email at [email protected]

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