In Australia, the vaccination status of hospitalized COVID-19 patients doesn’t tell the whole story – PolitiFact

PolitiFact | In Australia, the vaccination status of hospitalized COVID-19 patients doesn’t tell the whole story

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“Fully vaccinated Australians in hospital for COVID-19 surpass unvaccinated”

half-true

half-true

In Australia, the vaccination status of hospitalized COVID-19 patients doesn’t tell the whole story

If Your Time is short

  • The article cites data primarily about one Australian state, New South Wales.
     
  • The vast majority of the vaccine-eligible population in New South Wales is vaccinated against COVID-19, reaching 93%.
     
  • Coupled with the fact that more than 50% of those in the ICU with COVID-19 were unvaccinated, experts say, the figures demonstrate the vaccines’ effectiveness in preventing severe illness.

Australia faces a surge of COVID-19 cases as the highly contagious omicron COVID-19 variant continues to spread across the continent. 

Throughout the pandemic, each spike in cases has taken its toll on hospital systems, and the omicron surge has been no different

But one media outlet claims there is something different about the latest wave of COVID-19.

“Fully Vaccinated Australians In Hospital For COVID-19 Surpass Unvaccinated,” reads the headline of a Jan. 12 article from the Epoch Times, a conservative media site with a history of publishing misinformation.

Similar to the headline, the beginning of the article implies that the vaccinated are more susceptible during the omicron surge.

“For the first time, New South Wales (NSW) has seen more fully vaccinated patients hospitalised with COVID-19 compared to the number of unvaccinated patients as the Omicron outbreak continues to edge toward its peak,” the article says.

Beyond that sentence, the article is behind a paywall — keeping many readers from seeing context that explains the situation more fully.

The article was shared in social media posts, which were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The headline is misleading; it refers to “Australians,” but the complete article focuses only on data from New South Wales, a state in the southeast region of the country.

The data from the New South Wales government was current through Jan. 9. 

According to that data, 2,030 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in New South Wales. Of those patients, 28.8% were unvaccinated and 68.9% were fully vaccinated. (The data does not include information about whether the patients had received vaccine boosters.)

The same data reported 159 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units. Of those patients, 49.1% were unvaccinated and 50.3% were vaccinated.

Based on those New South Wales statistics, it was accurate to say that the number of vaccinated people in hospitals in New South Wales exceeded the number of unvaccinated people.

Even so, the Epoch Times article itself acknowledged the apparent increased risk for the unvaccinated. 

“Based on the data presented, unvaccinated individuals appear to be six times more likely to be hospitalised and nearly 13 times more likely to be sent to ICU than those who are fully vaccinated,” said the Epoch Times. “This is considering that the number of unvaccinated patients appears to be over-represented in the figures — 7.3 percent of the NSW population aged 12 and over at the time were unvaccinated, but they made up half of the COVID-19 ICU patients in the NSW Health system.”

The article no longer references the most current data.

Currently, there are more people hospitalized in New South Wales and Victoria — Australia’s hardest-hit states — than at any earlier point of the pandemic, Reuters reported.

On Jan. 12, New South Wales officials reported 2,242 COVID-19 patients in hospitals throughout the state. Premier Dominic Perrottet reported 175 patients in ICUs. 

“More than 50% of those people are unvaccinated,” Perrottet said of the ICU patients. “Vaccination has been key over this period of time in keeping you and your friends and your family safe. It is very clear on those numbers. They do not lie.”

In New South Wales, 92.5% of the eligible population (those age 12 and older) were fully vaccinated as of Jan. 9, according to the state’s most recent COVID-19 data. That represents 78.3% of the state’s total population. 

Perrottet emphasized that because New South Wales has such high vaccination rates, the fact that more than 50% of those in the ICU with COVID-19 were unvaccinated demonstrates the effectiveness of the vaccines.

“Around 93% of adults in NSW have now been fully vaccinated, leaving around 7% of the population not entirely protected,” the New Zealand Herald reported on Jan. 12. “Despite making up a small proportion of the wider community, these 7% now account for more than half of all ICU admissions.” 

Catherine Bennett, an epidemiology professor at Deakin University, told the Herald that if the vaccines weren’t protecting people from severe COVID-19 illness and hospitalization, vaccinated people would make up a larger portion of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units. 

“People making up a very small proportion of the at-risk population, are making up a large proportion of those in ICU,” Bennett said.

Our ruling

An Epoch Times headline shared on social media said “Fully vaccinated Australians in hospital for COVID-19 surpass unvaccinated.” 

The headline suggests that vaccinated people are more susceptible to severe illness from the virus than unvaccinated people. But the headline misrepresents the data cited in the article, parts of which are accessible only to paying subscribers.

The article is about data from one Australian state — not the whole country — where there were more vaccinated people in the hospital than unvaccinated people. 

But nearly 93% of eligible people in the state are vaccinated. Coupled with the fact that more than 50% of those in the ICU with COVID-19 were unvaccinated, experts say, the figures demonstrate the vaccines’ effectiveness in preventing severe illness.

The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context. We rate this claim Half True.

Epoch Times blog, “Fully Vaccinated Australians In Hospital For COVID-19 Surpass Unvaccinated,” Jan. 12, 2022

The New Zealand Herald, “Covid 19 Australia: Why half of people in NSW intensive care are vaccinated,” Jan. 12, 2022

Bloomberg, “Omicron Now 90% of Cases in Australian State, Says Health Chief,” Jan. 11, 2022

Reuters, “Australia swamped by Omicron surge as pressure grows on hospitals,” Jan. 11, 2022

NDTV, “Close To A Million Cases In 2 Weeks In Australia Amid Omicron Surge,” Jan. 13, 2022

CNN, “The highly contagious Omicron variant will ‘find just about everybody,’ Fauci says, but vaccinated people will still fare better,” Jan. 12, 2022

NewsGuard, “The Epoch Times,” accessed Jan. 13, 2022

NSW Health tweet, Jan. 11, 2022

New South Wales Health, “Press Conference 12 January 2022.mp4,” Jan. 12, 2022 

New South Wales Health, “NSW Health COVID-19 Critical Intelligence Unit: COVID-19 Monitor, 13 January 2022,” Jan. 13, 2022

Deakin University, “Prof Catherine Bennett,” accessed Jan. 13, 2022

ABC News, “Victorian hospitals already under strain ahead of expected COVID surge, government data shows,” Nov. 4, 2021

ABC News, “Delta variant creates new COVID danger in Australia, as early data suggests it is more severe and more transmissible,” Aug. 2, 2021

Cosmos, “Why are there so many vaccinated people in hospital?” Sept. 20, 2021

The New York Times, “How The Epoch Times Created a Giant Influence Machine,” Oct. 24, 2020

The Atlantic, “Maga-Land’s Favorite Newspaper,” Jan. 13, 2021

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