In Britain, as in the rest of Europe, 80-90% of those hospitalised with covid are unvaccinated.
On 16 October, the Economist published an article claiming that most Covid-19 patients in British and European hospitals are unvaccinated.
We’ve not checked the European data, but this is no longer true in Britain, where the proportion of unvaccinated Covid patients admitted to hospital has been falling over time.
The latest data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) suggests that the proportion of unvaccinated Covid-19 cases being admitted after presenting to emergency care within 28 days of a positive test in England is now about 35%. When the Economist article was published, this figure was similar at about 36%.
The Economist has confirmed to Full Fact that the number it used was out of date.
Research shows that the vaccines remain highly effective in preventing hospitalisation with Covid. At the end of August 2021, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) gave a consensus view on the effectiveness of the Covid vaccines against severe disease, saying: “For hospitalisation, with both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines, protection is ~80% after one dose and ~95% after the second dose.”
What is happening in hospitals?
Earlier in the year, unvaccinated people did make up the majority of Covid cases in hospitals.
At the time, the data only covered confirmed cases of the Delta variant in England, and included several different definitions of a hospital admission. However it showed that around 70% of hospital patients with the Delta variant of Covid were unvaccinated up to the end of May, or around 65% up to late June.
We wrote a fact check about this in July.
However, over time, a larger share of the population has been fully vaccinated.
The vaccines substantially, but not perfectly, protect these people from severe illness. As a result, some still become ill enough to need treatment in hospital. And this small share of a large population is now enough to make up a majority of hospital admissions.
Full Fact got in touch with the Economist, which agreed that its figures were an error, and told us that the source was a report presented to SAGE on 9 September.
The report did say that 83.7% of Covid patients admitted to hospital were unvaccinated—but this covered the period between 8 December 2020, when vaccination started, and 28 July 2021. This includes a time of very high hospital admissions around the new year, when few people had been vaccinated.
After discussing the error with us, the Economist also drew our attention to the notes on the meeting when this research was discussed, in which SAGE says: “For patients admitted after 16 June 2021 (by which time vaccination rates in adults were high) the majority of patients had received two doses. This is to be expected, as SAGE has noted previously.”