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Sensationalising, misrepresenting facts does disservice to people

GERD ALTMANN/PIXABAY

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Yesterday morning, I came across an article titled “UK Government releases shocking report on Covid vaccine side effects” in one of the WhatsApp groups I am in.

This article by dailyexpose.co.uk, dated 9 February 2021, states that 70,500 adverse reactions were reported in the 6.9 million people vaccinated in the UK between 8 December 2020 and 24 January 2021.

The article says five people went blind, 21 suffered strokes, 69 developed facial nerve weakness (Bell’s Palsy) and 107 died because of the Covid vaccine they received.

This is a terribly unscientific way of looking at the data. People get sick, suffer various maladies and die even when not vaccinated. So, we need to check whether the incidence of each of these adverse events is actually higher in the vaccinated cohort when compared to the baseline figures for that population. If it is, then it could be possible that the vaccine predisposes to these conditions, and we would have to look more closely.

Let’s take the deaths first. According to the UK Office for National Registration, in 2019 there were 1,079.4 deaths per 100,000 males and 798.9 deaths per 100,000 females – over the whole year.

The 107 deaths observed in the 6.9 million vaccinated individuals gives a mortality rate of 1.6 per 100,000 – over seven weeks. If we annualise it by multiplying 1.6 by 52 and dividing it by 7, we arrive at a figure of 11.5 per 100,000 – much lower than the UK Crude Death Rate (CDR) for 2019 (CDR = overall death rate without breaking it down into death rates for each age group). These figures indicate that it would be difficult to sustain an argument that the Covid vaccine increases the risk of dying in the UK population.

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The above is only a rough analysis, for it might be that a large number of those being vaccinated are frontline personnel in the 20-55-year-old age group – a group with lower mortality rates, whereas the 1,079 deaths per 100,000 males in 2019 is for the entire population including the elderly who have a higher mortality rate.

To look more closely at the mortality data, we would need to find out the age distribution of the vaccine recipients and the death rate per age band, and then compare it with the age-specific death rates of the UK population in 2019 (before the advent of Covid) to see if there is any significant difference.       

Let’s now look at another adverse event – Bell’s Palsy. According to a UK government website, the incidence of Bell’s Palsy in the UK was 20.2 persons per 100,000 population in 2019. The 69 cases reported among the 6.9 million persons vaccinated gives an incidence of one case per 100,000 for the seven weeks observed.

An annual incidence of Bell’s Palsy of 20.2 persons per 100,000 population over a year translates to 2.72 per 100,000 over a seven-week period (20.2 divided by 52 and multiplied by 7). Again, the incidence in the vaccinated cohort seems to be much lower than in the general population. Similar analyses can be done for each of the other adverse events mentioned.

As the vaccine is rolled out in more and more countries, there will be many more sensational articles like this one by dailyexpose.co.uk. It is important that we look at the data objectively and do the necessary calculations to evaluate whether there are valid grounds to suspect that the vaccine actually causes the adverse events observed.

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There still are many who are unsure about the Covid vaccine, and there is much anxiety. We need to be open, objective and honest in discussing vaccine safety.

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Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj, a long-time Aliran member and contributor, served as Member of Parliament for Sungai Siput from 2008 to 2018. A respiratory physician who was awarded a gold medal for community service, he is also a secretariat member of the Coalition Against Health Care Privatisation and chairperson of the Socialist Party of Malaysia.
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