The Johnson government’s vaccine triumphalism masks the true coronavirus death rate in the UK

Coronavirus Boris Johnson
Tom Coburg

This week, the Boris Johnson government’s PR machine went into hyperdrive to announce the UK regulatory approval of a vaccine to combat coronavirus (Covid-19). Meanwhile, government figures revealed there have been more than 60,000 coronavirus deaths in the UK. The only problem there is that the statistical agencies, including the Office for National Statistics, have produced a completely different set of figures – shockingly different.

The true death figures

The “official” government figure for coronavirus deaths across the UK, as reported on 3 December, was 60,113.

But professor Gabriel Scally, president of epidemiology and public health at the Royal Society of Medicine and a member of the Independent Sage group of scientists, explained:

If you want to know the actual number of deaths, well then you have to go to death certification, which is really the best data.

Indeed, the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the National Records of Scotland (NRS), and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) provide a figure in excess of 76,000. And that figure includes deaths where coronavirus is given on the death certificate.

Vaccine announcement

Only the day before on 2 December, the Johnson government announced with great excitement that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) had approved the use of a vaccine, produced by Pfizer/BioNTech, to combat coronavirus.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) released a statement on this:

The vaccine appears to be safe and well-tolerated, and there were no clinically concerning safety observations. The data indicates high efficacy in all age groups (16 years and over), including encouraging results in older adults. The committee advises that this vaccine be used in the first phase of the programme, according to the priority order set out below.

It was very welcome news.

Triumphalism

Following the government’s announcement, The Canary reported that a number of high profile Tories had made comments about the vaccine – comments that can only be described as triumphal, if not jingoistic.

For example, UK business secretary Alok Sharma commented:

In years to come, we will remember this moment as the day the UK led humanity’s charge against this disease.

The Guardian reported how health secretary Matt Hancock even claimed it was Brexit that led to the breakthrough:

In a series of media appearances on Wednesday morning, the UK health secretary, Matt Hancock, erroneously claimed that emergency authorisation had been possible “because of Brexit”, contrasting the UK approach with the “pace of the Europeans, who are moving a little bit more slowly”.

However, MHRA head Dr June Raine went on to explain that EU law allows for regulators in member states – including the UK, currently in transition – to apply their own approval mechanisms:

And there was this gem from UK education minister Gavin Williamson:

Facts

But neither Hancock, Sharma or Williamson remembered to mention that the vaccine is produced by the US company Pfizer in collaboration with German company BioNTech. Or that the latter organisation’s coronavirus vaccine programme is funded by the EU via the European Investment Bank.

As to whether Brexit had a role in the vaccine’s approval, Channel 4’s FactCheck quoted the government on this matter:

if a suitable COVID-19 vaccine candidate, […] becomes available before the end of the transition period, EU legislation which we have implemented via Regulation 174 of the Human Medicines Regulations allows the MHRA to temporarily authorise the supply of a medicine or vaccine, based on public health need.

FactCheck added:

So even if we were still a member of the EU, the UK regulator would have been able to take this decision on its own because EU law already allows it. Incidentally, that legislation took effect in the UK in 2012, long before Brexit was on the cards.

It further added:

even if Brexit hadn’t happened, we’d still have been entitled, under EU law, to opt out of the joint system and “go it alone” with the Covid vaccine.

Political capital

Assuming all goes well with the newly approved vaccine, that’s something to celebrate.

But any attempt by politicians, or their supporters, to generate political capital from the pandemic should be condemned. For the Johnson government’s record on coronavirus deaths – even using the government’s questionable figure – when compared to other European countries, is nothing short of appalling.

As to those government ministers who are triumphal about the vaccine, they should at least admit to the real number of coronavirus-related deaths. But that might be too much an expectation.

Featured image via Pixabay / Youtube

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  • Show Comments
    1. Vaccine issued until the 01/01/21 as we are still in the EU. Then what? Pay through the nose for it of course. Hands up who would not mind my ITU colleagues using untested and unregulated drugs on their relatives? How many of you would gladly give up their relatives as guinea pigs for the good of society? That Bojo has issued an indemnity against prosecution for Pfizer must at the very least ring a bell or two in the back of your head. If not, feel free to guinea pig away…

    2. Tory triumphalism using the meme of British (they really mean ‘English’) exceptionalism is not only nothing new, it is also not exclusive to them – Blue Labour reek of it as well. It’s all part of the pantomime. As to the accuracy of the current mortality rate data, and the use of it for ‘political’ purposes, one has to bare in mind that
      a) ONS figures are currently PROVISIONAL for week 47 (the most recent figures), b) the most recent figures are for “the week ending 20 November 2020”,
      c) ONS provisional figures began to rise significantly in week 43 when they began to include an ESTIMATED FIGURE to their PROVISIONAL figures. The ‘estimate’ was derived from “… a statistical model that allows for the time taken for deaths to be registered, we estimate that the number of deaths actually occurring (rather than registered) in Week 43 in England and Wales was between 9,750 and 12,097.” (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/deathsregisteredweeklyinenglandandwalesprovisional/weekending30october2020)
      d) In 2018 and 2019, 600,000 people died, which would have been larger than the average of five years. That means just under 11,500 people died each week during those years.
      e)As mentioned in their weekly ‘Deaths Registered ..’ bulletin (released 1/12/20)
      “We use the term “involving COVID-19” or “involving Influenza and Pneumonia” when referring to deaths that had that illness mentioned anywhere on the death certificate, whether as an underlying cause or not.”
      “The number of death registrations in England and Wales involving the coronavirus (COVID-19) increased, from 2,466 in Week 46 to 2,697 in Week 47 – a 9.4% increase. Of all deaths registered in Week 47, 21.5% mentioned COVID-19.”

      There’s lots of ‘involving’ and some ‘mention’ in those provisional statements that only began to include ‘estimations’ in the 23/10/20 bulletin.

      540,230. That is the average number of people who would have died in ‘normal’ circumstances by week 47 in both 2018 and 2019 in the whole of the UK. In ‘normal circumstances’ that figure is virtually invisible to non-family members and friends, other than passing funeral cars.

      Personally, I have no interest in ‘the vaccine’ and if offered one I would donate it to anyone who wants it. My condolences go out to everyone who has lost someone who was important to them and I understand the need to shield those truly vulnerable to a SARS virus. However beyond that I think we all need to address the fear that seems to be fermented in the general population since the end of March 2020.
      Finally, I made this note in my recording of ONS bulletins this year:
      “I think it’s worth noting that The Guardian (online) publishes ‘Covid’ figures every day, which includes deaths. Given that the ONS figures available to me today (25/10/20) were only available from 20th October 2020 and refer to provisional figures for the W/E 9th October 2020, I do wonder where they are getting their information?”

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