Did the government lie about the proportion of patients in ICU with COVID-19 that were unvaccinated?

Updated: May 22

A variety of claims were made towards the end of 2021 and beginning of 2022 regarding the proportion of COVID-19 patients in hospital, including those in intensive care units (ICU), that were vaccinated:

- 23rd Nov: Oxford vaccine professor Andrew Pollard claimed that almost all COVID-19 patients in ICU were unvaccinated.

- 6th Dec: Dr Hilary Jones claimed on ITV that 90% of COVID-19 patients in hospital had not had their vaccine.

- 29th Dec: Boris Johnson claimed that 90% of COVID-19 patients in ICU were not ‘boosted’.

- 10th Jan: Boris Johnson claimed that 90% of COVID-19 patients in ICU were unvaccinated.

Here, with the use of hospital data, we examine if they were telling the truth.

COVID-19 vaccine weekly surveillance reports

Since week 19 of 2021, the government have been publishing weekly COVID-19 vaccine surveillance reports. These reports detail the volume of COVID-19 cases, admissions and deaths by vaccination status. Up until week 42 of 2021 these reports included charts like the one below. Subsequently these charts were excluded from reporting. One reason for ceasing the inclusion of these charts was because they were claimed to be “providing material for conspiracy theorists”. Fortunately, the figures were still being published so we have been able to reproduce these graphs for subsequent weeks. The chart below covers the period across late November into December 2021. It shows that less than half of hospital admissions (43%) with COVID-19 were classed as unvaccinated. A figure wildly different from that claimed by Dr Hilary Jones on ITV during this period.

ICNARC (Intensive Care National Audit & Research Centre) reports on COVID-19 in critical care

ICNARC receives and analyses hospital data on patients critically ill (ie. in ICU) with confirmed COVID-19. This data covers England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Their latest report showed that as the rate of vaccination increased so did the proportion of patients in ICU with COVID-19 that were vaccinated:

“The percentage of patients admitted to critical care with confirmed COVID-19 that were unvaccinated decreased from 74% in May 2021 to 27% in February 2022”

The completeness of the data received from hospitals is unknown – more on that below. From the data they did receive and analyse it is apparent that in November 2021, almost half of patients are classified as vaccinated. Therefore, the claim of Professor Pollard that almost all COVID -19 patients in ICU were unvaccinated is patently false.

From the same dataset, in December 2021, 88.7% of patients of patients in ICU with COVID-19 were ‘unboosted’ (ie. not having had three doses of the COVID-19 vaccine). Therefore, Boris Johnson’s claims in December were near accurate in respect of this report. However, in January he claimed that 90% of patients in ICU with COVID-19 were ‘unvaccinated’, whereas the data indicates otherwise (ie. 40%).

Freedom of Information (FOI) Requests

These questionable claims in the media demanded further investigation. We wrote to all NHS trusts in England to ask them the following questions in relation to the 6th January 2022 (which we deemed to be the height of the Omicron wave):

1. In terms of the total number of beds, what was the overall ICU capacity?

2. How many beds were occupied?

3. How many beds were occupied by covid patients?

4. Expressed as a percentage, how many of those covid patients had received 1, 2, 3 and no doses of the covid vaccines?

There are at least 138 NHS trusts to which these questions would apply, of which we received responses from 75. Of those who responded only 23 provided any meaningful information on the vaccination status of COVID-19 patients in their ICU. Reasons for not supplying this data ranged from not holding that information to the numbers being too low to disclose, sometimes quoting GDPR rules. This does raise the question of how complete the data is that gets submitted to ICNARC.

Data on the number of COVID-19 patients in ICU (adult and paediatric critical care) beds is published by NHS Statistics. On the date in question, 78% of the 4,152 adult critical care beds were occupied, and of those occupied beds, 22% were taken by patients that had tested positive for COVID-19 (18% of all open beds). It is interesting to note that some of the figures received in the FOI responses differed to and were lower than those published. From the responses we received, COVID-19 patients comprised 17% (n=430) of all open critical care beds. Of the trusts who provided data on vaccination status, it tallied that 54 out of 127 patients were classified as vaccinated for COVID-19. Responses ranged from all COVID-19 patients having been vaccinated to none being defined as having received a COVID-19 vaccination. Of the responses, the mean (average) percentage of patients having been vaccinated was 43% (which is close to the 41% reported by ICNARC for January 2022), the median (middle) range was 50% and the mode (most frequent) response was 100%.

Definition of a vaccinated COVID-19 patient:

One key piece of information missing from the alarmist mainstream reporting around COVID-19 patients in ICU is the definition underpinning vaccination status. It should be straightforward – either the patient has received the COVID-19 vaccine or has not – but unfortunately that is not the case.

The figures from the ICNARC report are based on the “Percentage of admissions to critical care with confirmed COVID-19 by vaccination status, assessed at 14 days prior to the positive COVID-19 test, and month of admission”. Therefore, anyone testing positive and being admitted within the first two weeks of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine will be classified as unvaccinated. Similarly, one of the trusts responding to our FOI request admitted the following:

This two-week period could extend to four weeks between vaccination and admission to hospital since patients testing positive up to 14 days prior to admission can be classified as a COVID-19 admission (see below excerpt from the Acute Trust COVID-19 SitRep Guidance). Therefore, a patient could receive a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, test positive 14 days later and then be admitted to hospital two weeks after that and still be classified as an unvaccinated COVID-19 inpatient.

There are, of course, many questions around the accuracy of COVID-19 testing and indeed whether the virus being tested for has been isolated and purified – controversial topics which we have explored elsewhere.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

From reviewing the data published and received, the Oxford professor and ‘celebrity’ doctor both lied to the public about the rate of vaccination for COVID-19 patients in ICU. In relation to ICNARC’s figures, Boris Johnson was accurate in his claim in December 2021 that 90% of COVID-19 patients in ICU were ‘unboosted’. Though factually correct, when we consider the definition a vaccinated patient these, and many other related, claims could be deemed as misleading. Johnson’s later claim that 90% of COVID-19 patients in ICU were unvaccinated was much further from the truth. In this instance, the prime minister lied to the British public.

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