A mobile health care doctor for homebound seniors prepares doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to take to patients in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on January 21, 2022 ( AFP / Cole Burston)

Article misleads on Covid-19 vaccine efficacy in Canada

Copyright AFP 2017-2022. All rights reserved.

An online article claims more vaccinated than unvaccinated people are hospitalized with Covid-19 in Canada. But the piece relies on figures that do not match long-term nationwide and provincial data, which Health Canada says indicate the shots are effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death.

"Study Prepared for the Liberal Party of Canada Finds Covid-19 Vaccines Not 100% Effective; 6 Times More Vaccinated People are in ICU and 5 Times More are Hospitalized," says the headline of a September 19, 2022 article from the Gateway Pundit, a website that has previously spread health misinformation.

The article was republished on multiple websites and shared on Instagram, Twitter and Gab. It circulated amid debate over Ottawa's Covid-19 vaccine requirement for people entering Canada, a policy that will be dropped on October 1.

Screenshot of a Gateway Pundit article taken September 22, 2022

The piece bases its claims on a document published online by Steve Kirsch, a US entrepreneur who has pushed unproven drugs to treat Covid-19. Kirsch claims the document was prepared for the Liberal Party of Canada but has redacted the identity of the researcher who prepared the report and anonymized the identity of the editors said to have reviewed the data.

Asked about the report, the Liberal Party of Canada told AFP it is not associated with the document.

"This was not commissioned by the Liberal Party of Canada, and we have no knowledge of the study," said Parker Lund, the party's director of communication.

Additionally, data highlighted by the Gateway Pundit do not match what public health officials in Canada have reported.

Unvaccinated more at risk of hospitalization

The claim that Canada is seeing more vaccinated patients in hospitals and intensive care units is based on a chart purported to show data from a single week, updated June 3, 2022 in the province of Ontario.

Public Health Ontario (PHO) said in a September 21 email: "The report circulating online is not aligned with PHO's reporting and surveillance data."

The agency pointed to the province's most recent report on confirmed cases of Covid-19 following vaccination, which covers the period of December 14, 2020 to September 11, 2022.

"The rate of Covid-19-related hospitalizations was higher among unvaccinated individuals compared to those who have completed their primary vaccine series, as well as those that have completed their primary vaccine series and received their first booster dose or second booster dose," the report says.

Both PHO and Health Canada said looking at long-term data is necessary to understand vaccine effectiveness on severe illness and death.

In a statement emailed September 26, Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said nationwide data from June 2021 to June 2022 showed "the risk of ICU admission among unvaccinated individuals across all age groups ranged from 3 to 67 times higher than those vaccinated with a completed primary series, and 4 to 21 times higher than those vaccinated with a primary series and one or more additional dose(s)."

During the same period, PHAC found "the risk of death among unvaccinated individuals across all age groups ranged from 3 to 24 times higher than those vaccinated with a completed primary series, and 6 to 14 times higher than those vaccinated with a primary series and one or more additional dose(s)."

Vaccines effective for all ages

Like Health Canada, the World Health Organization (WHO) says the Covid-19 vaccines are "highly effective against serious illness, hospitalization and death," while noting that "no vaccine is 100 percent effective."

Some people who are vaccinated will get infected and may fall ill. Given that 82 percent of Canadians have received a primary vaccine series, it is misleading to directly compare the total number of severe Covid-19 cases in vaccinated people to the total number of cases in unvaccinated people.

The Gateway Pundit article claims Covid-19 vaccines have done little to change outcomes for individuals under the age of 60. But PHAC refuted this, pointing to data from May 9 and June 5, 2022.

"Among those aged 12-59 years, unvaccinated individuals who got Covid-19 were two times more likely to die from their illness than individuals vaccinated with a primary series, and three times more likely to die from their illness than those who received one or more additional doses after their primary series," the agency said.

PHAC added that Canadian epidemiological data "show that individuals of all ages who were fully vaccinated and fully vaccinated with an additional dose, and who were diagnosed with Covid-19 were significantly protected from severe outcomes."

Health Canada is monitoring the Covid-19 vaccine for rare serious adverse events but continues to recommend the jab to all eligible Canadians.

"The benefits of all Covid-19 vaccines continue to outweigh the risks of the disease," the department says.

AFP has fact-checked other inaccurate claims about vaccines here.

September 29, 2022 This article was updated in paragraph three to say the Covid-19 vaccine requirement for people entering Canada will be dropped October 1, 2022.
September 29, 2022 Paragraph four of this article was corrected to say Kirsch claimed the Liberal Party had commissioned the study on vaccine efficacy.
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