Emergency sign at a hospital in Sydney.
NSW data has been misinterpreted to claim COVID vaccines don't reduce the risk of severe illness. Image by Paul Braven/AAP IMAGES

NSW hospital data claim ignores vital COVID statistics

AAP FactCheck February 4, 2022
WHAT WAS CLAIMED

COVID-19 vaccines are not reducing hospital admission rates in NSW.

OUR VERDICT

False. The claim misinterprets data from the NSW government.

A social media post claims NSW government figures show vaccines are not reducing hospital admissions and people should “think about it properly before you get you (sic) kids jabbed”.

But the post misinterprets publicly available data. An epidemiologist told AAP FactCheck the same government figures show a ninefold reduction in hospital admissions for the double vaccinated.

With pediatric vaccinations underway and the wait for booster shots reduced to three months, the Instagram post claims COVID vaccines are “not helping to stop the spread, not helping to protect your loved ones, not getting you out of hospital”.

The post shares a screenshot of the NSW government’s COVID-19 Risk Monitoring Dashboard for January 25. It highlights two sets of figures: Public health data showing the percentage of cases hospitalised among the unvaccinated compared to the double-dose vaccinated (as at January 23), and the percentage of cases in ICU who are unvaccinated compared with double-dose vaccinated.

The post’s text highlights data to show 71.8 per cent of people in hospital with COVID-19 were vaccinated and 25.8 per cent unvaccinated. Of those in ICU, 62.7 per cent were vaccinated and 36.3 per cent unvaccinated. 

“Huge clear majority of cases in Hospitals and ICU are double vaxxed If we speak deaths close to 73 per cent of those dying are double vaxxed,” it says.

However, the post ignores that the overwhelming majority of people in NSW are at least double vaccinated. Ninety-four per cent of those aged 16 and over had received two COVID vaccinations on February 2.

NSW Health’s COVID-19 Weekly Surveillance report on January 20 clearly lays out the higher risk of severe illness and death for the unvaccinated. Table 5 (page 7) of the report shows the clinical severity of COVID by vaccination status, including hospitalisations, ICU admissions and deaths. The data is from the beginning of the Omicron wave in NSW in November 2021 to the first week of January 2022.

It shows that of the 379,056 cases over that period, 2,627 people who received two vaccine doses were hospitalised. In comparison, 315 people who had no effective dose were admitted to hospital.

Of the 267,381 double-dose vaccinated who caught the coronavirus, 215 ended up in ICU and 67 died. Among the 3,552 unvaccinated who caught the disease, 55 ended up in ICU and 21 died.

Table 5 from the NSW Health data
 NSW Health data clearly shows the rates for unvaccinated people are disproportionally higher. 

The notes beneath the table point out that “although the number of hospitalisations, admissions to ICU and deaths is greater among those who had received two effective doses than those with no effective dose, the proportion of cases with these outcomes is still much higher among those with no effective dose”.

As the table shows, the percentage of hospitalisations among double-vaccinated people who caught the disease was 1.0 per cent. For the unvaccinated, it was 8.9 per cent. Only 0.1 per cent of vaccinated people ended up in ICU, compared to 1.5 per cent of the unvaccinated group. And less than 0.1 per cent of vaccinated COVID patients died, compared to 0.6 per cent of the unvaccinated.

Bob Cumming, professor emeritus of epidemiology and geriatric medicine at the University of Sydney, told AAP FactCheck that people can misinterpret data by focusing on one figure, rather than taking all the data into account. 

“They’re saying, ‘Gosh, of the 4,100 people in hospital, 2,627 have been vaccinated’,” Prof Cumming said in a phone interview.

“If 100 per cent of the population were vaccinated then 100 per cent of people in hospital would have been vaccinated; and 100 per cent of people who died would have been.”

Prof Cumming confirmed the NSW Health data showed unvaccinated people were nine times more likely to end up in hospital than people who had two vaccine doses. 

He said the rate of death among the double-vaccinated was 0.025 per cent, compared to 0.6 per cent among the unvaccinated.

“That means there’s a 24 times higher risk of dying if you’re not vaccinated,” Prof Cumming said. “The vaccine is reducing your risk of getting sick enough to need to go into hospital. It is dramatically reduced by the vaccine.”

The Verdict

The claim that COVID vaccines are not reducing hospital admissions in NSW is false. NSW Health data shows unvaccinated people are nine times more likely to end up in hospital during the Omicron wave than the double-dose vaccinated. A professor of epidemiology told AAP FactCheck the misinterpretation is due to comparing the number of double-vaccinated in hospital to unvaccinated patients, a comparison skewed by the large percentage of vaccinated people in the state.

False ÔÇô The claim is inaccurate.

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