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Right-wing news outlet “True North” posts misleading vaccination statistics

True North, a conservative-leaning news site, has published a highly misleading article that seems to attempt to undermine vaccine effectiveness. It’s actually kind of shocking how bad it is. Here I will use their own numbers to show how misleading their article is.

First, a few words about the right-wing news outlet to give some context.

True North isn’t exactly well-known for its journalistic integrity. The (very) conservative-leaning news site was founded by Candace Malcolm, who previously worked for the Fraser Institute and other Koch-funded organizations. She also regularly appears on the far-right propaganda site, Rebel News.

Recently, they were criticized for publishing an interview with Tom Flanagan who claimed that the discovery of unmarked graves in residential schools across Canada was “fake news.” Yikes.

True North’s website shows a consistent pattern of articles with headlines that seem to attempt to induce anti-vaccine hysteria among anti-vaxxers. The common theme on their “news” site is one of showing much more concern for vaccines and vaccine-related policy such as mandates than concerns around the potential harm of the virus itself.

There are countless examples, but here are three:

  • Alberta boots show the human toll of compulsory vaccine mandate – 2021/12/22. This article highlights an anti-vaccine-mandate protest in Calgary
  • EVIL: Ronald McDonald House evicts family of 4-year-old battling Leukemia over vaccine status – 2022/01/13. This video interview showcased a family “evicted” from Ronald McDonald House. In reality, the family was given alternate accommodations for violating many of Ronald McDonald House’s Covid policies, such as vaccination and mask policies.
  • Majority of Canadians currently hospitalized are fully vaccinated, government data shows – 2022/01/18. An article that undermines the effectiveness of vaccines by excluding critical information

It is the last article by Cosmin Dzsurdzsa that I would like to offer a counterpoint.

Half-truth headlines

When you read the headline, Majority of Canadians currently hospitalized are fully vaccinated, government data shows, what is impression invoked in your head of vaccines? Does it sound like the vaccines are failing? Why doesn’t the government and media report these statistics?

That is the point: to imply these questions without actually stating them, thereby undermining the vast consensus among scientists. Scientists who conclude that the vaccine is highly effective at preventing hospitalization.

The fallacy here is that True North reported only the absolute numbers, not the relative numbers for each group. With 78% of Canadians fully vaccinated and 16% with no vaccination, the fact that hospitalizations are split 50/50 is a huge counterpoint against anti-vaccine propagandists. 

The article consists of the number of hospitalizations and ICU beds taken of Covid-19 patients in each province, broken down by vaccine status where available. Not all provinces made vaccine status public.

Dzsurdzsa did add a small caveat to the article: “It is also to be noted that, due to being a smaller share of the population, unvaccinated Canadians will make up a smaller statistical portion of hospitalization numbers.” However, this was buried in the middle of the article and should have been explained in further detail and emphasized much more.

Using the same numbers at True North, I will mirror the same format as True North’s article, only with hospitalizations and ICU shown as rates per 100,000 persons. The reason why rates per 100k are important is that they show how the choices of anti-vaxxers impact Canada’s healthcare system. See full data here.

Simply put, if most people in Canada chose not to get vaccinated – even with Omicron – we would be fucked.

Vaccines keep people out of the hospital very well, government data shows

Note: Some provinces don’t make this data available. Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut were excluded for this reason.

Ontario

  • Unvaccinated in hospital: 32.5/100k
  • Vaccinated in hospital: 17.7/100k
  • Unvaccinated in ICU: 8.5/100k
  • Vaccinated in ICU: 1.6/100k

Quebec

  • Unvaccinated in hospital: 7.6/100k
  • Vaccinated in hospital: 2.9/100k
  • Unvaccinated in ICU: 1.35/100k
  • Vaccinated in ICU: 0.16/100k

British Columbia

  • Unvaccinated in hospital: 36.3/100k
  • Vaccinated in hospital: 12.9/100k

Manitoba

  • Unvaccinated in hospital: 82.9/100k
  • Vaccinated in hospital: 34.6/100k
  • Unvaccinated in ICU: 29.8/100k
  • Vaccinated in ICU: 2.6/100k

Alberta (past 120 days)

  • Unvaccinated in hospital: 473/100k
  • Vaccinated in hospital: 58.2/100k
  • Unvaccinated in ICU: 107.1/100k
  • Vaccinated in ICU: 8.6/100k

Nova Scotia

  • Unvaccinated in hospital: 16.6/100k
  • Vaccinated in hospital: 6.6/100k

Prince Edward Island

  • Unvaccinated in hospital: 36.9/100k
  • Vaccinated in hospital: 8.9/100k

Canada Total

  • Unvaccinated in hospital: 102.4/100k
  • Vaccinated in hospital: 18.4/100k
  • Unvaccinated in ICU: 23/100k
  • Vaccinated in ICU: 1.9/100k

The numbers tell a different story

As we can see, putting True North’s own numbers into context tells an entirely different story than the story its readers have heard. If you read the hundreds of comments and shares on its Facebook and Twitter page, it becomes increasingly obvious that its followers are hearing a narrative that vaccines don’t work to prevent hospitalizations and ICU visits.

According to government data, the rates of hospitalizations and ICU visits are dramatically lower for fully vaccinated individuals. On average, unvaccinated individuals are going to the hospital 5.5 times more than vaccinated individuals. They are also going to the ICU 12 times more than vaccinated individuals. The Public Health Agency of Canada’s weekly epidemiology update found that the rate of COVID-19 hospitalized cases among unvaccinated individuals was 9 times higher than in fully vaccinated individuals. (p. 13)

Don’t tell Candace Malcolm or Cosmin Dzsurdzsa this critical information though, it goes against their clear anti-science agenda. 

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