Sensationalising, misrepresenting facts does disservice to people

GERD ALTMANN/PIXABAY

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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Robert
Robert
29 Mar 2021 3.22am

Don’t worry about those people here nitpicking holes in your argument due to you not taking “variability”/variance into effect, and not proving to 3 standard deviations etc. It doesn’t change your main point: compare the rate of adverse reactions in the general, unvaccinated population, to the rate reported amongst those who have been vaccinated. For greater accuracy, ensure that both populations are as similar as possible – which is what they did for the vaccine trials last year! Dr Spiegelhalter has said that we need more experts to be communicating about statistics and science to a general audience, so don’t be discouraged by some opposition. Best regards and thank you for taking the time to write this article for Aliran.

Robert
Robert
29 Mar 2021 3.21am

Dear Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj, you have nothing to apologise for. You might not have a degree in statistics, but what you have said is broadly similar to Dr David Spiegelhalter, who is one of the best statisticians we have communicating about this type of thing.
Perhaps we could say you could have communicated better, but you are basically correct:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/mar/15/evidence-oxford-vaccine-blood-clots-data-causal-links

Dr JH
Dr JH
20 Feb 2021 9.21pm

Just came across this article and was looking at this ‘explosive’ piece of news. Regardless of whether the above article is making use of the right way to compare the statistics. Have any of you actually looked at the UK government report and what it means as well as the source of data is coming form? The UK government report mentioned in the article was the weekly Yellow Card summary report. Anyone from anywhere in the world can report on the UK government website. You can even add someone who just had the injection and then killed in a car accident. There was one case reported as leg fracture caused by Pfizer vaccine. So there you go!

Eugene
Eugene
22 Feb 2021 3.38pm
Reply to  Dr JH

And therefore all reports of vaccine injury from government sources such as the UK Yellow Card and CDC’s VAERS, and all first-hand accounts of injuries and deaths in care homes, injuries and deaths in hospitals, and injuries in deaths within a day of getting stuck are terrible pernicious propaganda intended to bully those poor multi-national pharmaceutical conglomerates that did nothing but accept billions of public dollars to sell an untested product to a world full of guinea pigs, free from liability risk. Thank you for straightening that out.

Eugene
Eugene
22 Feb 2021 3.25pm
Reply to  Jeyakumar

I have listened to many doctors on the subject of “Covid.” I have listened to John Ioannides, Jay Bhattacharya, and Nobel laureate Michael Levitt at Stanford; I have listened to Sunetra Gupta and Lisa White at Oxford; I have listened to Martin Kulldorff, Alexander Walker, Salmaan Keshavjee, and Sylvia Fogel at Harvard; I have listened to David Katz at Yale; I have listened to Dolores Cahill at University College Dublin; I have listened to Cody Meissner at Tufts; I have listened to Angus Dalgleish at University of London; I have listened to Sucharit Bhakdi, emeritus of the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz.

00 owl
00 owl
14 May 2021 1.03pm
Reply to  Eugene

You listen to bunch of quacks, you become a quack. Common sense and facts use if you know how to.

Eugene
Eugene
22 Feb 2021 3.26pm
Reply to  Jeyakumar

I have listened to Mike Yeadon, former chief scientist at Pfizer; I have listened to Wolfgang Wodarg, former chair of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Health Committee; I have listened to Rajiv Bhatia at the US Veterans Administration; I have listened to pediatrician Lawrence Palevsky; I have listened to Heiko Schoening; I have listened to Martin Haditsch; and I have listened to countless others. And now I have listened to you. Shall I share my conclusions?

George Wegner
George Wegner
20 Feb 2021 9.01am
Reply to  Jeyakumar

The site is telling me that my response is too long, so I’ll post it in multiple pieces.

George Wegner
George Wegner
20 Feb 2021 9.02am
Reply to  Jeyakumar

No, it does not suggest that. In order to evaluate if the vaccine is causing harm, you must first know the variability in the baseline data set, and the probability of obtaining a result that departs from the mean by a given amount. Stated another way, you must know how large a departure is required in order for an event to be “significant.”

George Wegner
George Wegner
20 Feb 2021 9.53am
Reply to  Jeyakumar

[continued from my previous comment] This significance is usually expressed in terms of “sigmas” according to the 68%-95%-99.7% rule of thumb; that is, 68% of your data points fall within a 1-sigma distance from mean, etc. So “average” means nothing. If my baseline data set is {0, 25, 50, 75, 100} (average: 50) and I get a new result of 75, then I can tell you that my new result is 50% above average. If my baseline data set is {50, 50, 50, 50, 50} (average: 50) and I again get a new result of 75, I can again say that it’s 50% above average. Do these two examples have the same significance?

George Wegner
George Wegner
20 Feb 2021 9.58am
Reply to  Jeyakumar

[continued from my previous (continued) comment] As another commenter pointed out, even if you did the analysis correctly (and were scrupulously correct in selecting data points), you would find that you need a very large departure from mean to get a statistically significant (3-sigma plus) result. This is because the baseline data is so dirty and so variable. In short, you will not find vaccine reactions this way. I am willing to accept that your article is an honest error, but this sort of talk is all over the media and it’s hurting people.

George Wegner
George Wegner
21 Feb 2021 3.54pm
Reply to  Jeyakumar

Credit to you for having an open mind (a rare quality these days). In answer to your question, you would have to perform a normal statistical analysis. This entails finding several values, including one called the “standard error.” This value represents an estimate of how much error is likely to be present across your data samples (for example, one sample per year). So if you obtain a result that is below the standard-error threshold, that result is considered to be insignificant.

George Wegner
George Wegner
21 Feb 2021 3.55pm
Reply to  Jeyakumar

[continued] You can, of course, analyze a data set of any size, but a set with few elements will have a high standard error value (strictly speaking, standard error is inversely proportional to the square root of the sample size). If you do obtain a significant result, then your study would further have to prove that it is free of sampling bias. But this is another subject entirely.

George Wegner
George Wegner
19 Feb 2021 3.58pm

Wow, this is bad. I see that other commenters have already pointed out the math errors. If this is the kind of math education they’re giving to doctors these days, then … that explains a lot.

Ephebe Barratry
Ephebe Barratry
18 Feb 2021 12.08pm

It’s so cute when doctors try to do math. I’m afraid that what you have here is completely meaningless. If you want to conduct this type of analysis, you’ll have to compute a distribution across your data set then calculate the standard deviation, etc. As much as I love teaching high-school statistics to MDs, I’ll refrain because I can tell you right now that the number of vaccine casualties required to produce a 3-sigma result is staggeringly high–higher even than this experimental mRNA thing can turn out (especially with half of the corpses getting blamed on the magic virus). So I’ll thank you for the entertainment, and politely request: in future, please leave the math to real scientists.

Eugene
Eugene
19 Feb 2021 6.05am

The title of the article says, “misrepresenting facts does disservice to people.” The author should take his own advice.

George Wegner
George Wegner
19 Feb 2021 5.36pm
Reply to  Eugene

If he meant what he said, then he would retract this article. So this is a test: if it’s a big mistake by a math-ignorant doctor, then it will be retracted; if it’s vaccine-industry propaganda, then it will stay. Bets, anyone?

Gursharan Singh
Gursharan Singh
18 Feb 2021 10.48am

Based on the Q&A results in respect on benefits of the vaccine and regular media reports, some for and some against and most claim to be experts. The Q&A results were…

Does not provide immunity
Does not eliminate the virus
Does not prevent death
Does not guarantee you won’t get it
Does not stop you from passing it on to others
Does not eliminate the need for travel bans
Does not eliminate the need for business closures
Does not eliminate the need for lockdowns
Does not eliminate the need for masking

VACCINES ARE BIG BUSINESS WHOSE MAIN OBJECTIVE IS TO GET HIGH RETURNS FOR OWNERS costing the taxpayers’ billions of $/RM worldwide.

Bless all

Diodotus
Diodotus
18 Feb 2021 9.11am

You propose in your article to “see if there is any significant difference.” As I’m sure you know, the word “significant” in this context has a precise mathematical meaning that must be defined in terms of standard deviations and standard error. The fact that you have not done so leads the reader to wonder whether this is a result of ignorance or deliberate deceit.

Maurice Fisher barham
Maurice Fisher barham
15 Feb 2021 4.20pm

If bell s palsy was just a statistical figure,why did they get it during the Pfizer trial?there s a saying ” lies,damn lies and statistics”and you convenaient ignore the 7 who died immediately alternative thé injection.

Rower
Rower
16 Feb 2021 10.20pm

Maurice: You have to look at what the purpose is of this article. If the article is to be unbiased, then you are right. But this article, as many others, is to convince people that it works, and that its safe. Whole purpose.