FULL CLAIM: A Harvard study showed that vaccinated people are “twice as likely to get hospitalized as opposed to if they had a natural exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, then got exposed to a Delta variant”; “Delta Variant Targets Vaxxers”
On 19 July 2021, a video titled “Delta variant targets vaxxers” was published on the Facebook group TLC4Superteams, run by a chiropractic organization. In the video, chiropractor Jen DePice claimed that a Harvard study showed vaccinated people are “twice as likely to get hospitalized as opposed to if they had a natural exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus then got exposed to a Delta variant”. The video received more than 42,000 views on Facebook in less than a day, and drew more than 2,000 engagements from users.
DePice’s source for this claim, provided in a link in the video’s caption, was an interview with William Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The interview was published in a news article by the university.
By reading the interview itself, it’s clear that DePice’s claim is inaccurate. Firstly, an interview isn’t a scientific study. Secondly, what Hanage actually said was:
“Evidence suggests, for example, that an unvaccinated person with Delta infection is roughly twice as likely to require hospital treatment than a person infected with the previously dominant variant.” (emphasis added)
Thus Hanage’s statement means the opposite of DePice’s claim. He was possibly referring to a study conducted in Scotland that was published in mid-June 2021 in The Lancet. It reported that “Risk of COVID-19 hospital admission was approximately doubled in those with the Delta [variant of concern] when compared to the Alpha [variant of concern]”.
Therefore, Hanage was comparing unvaccinated people’s risk of hospitalization from the Delta variant with that from the Alpha variant. This in no way resembles DePice’s claim.
Furthermore, Hanage encouraged vaccination:
“As for my advice: The pandemic is not over. Get vaccinated if you are not already. Pay attention to local conditions. If you don’t want to become part of the spread of Delta when it is surging, remember you can still wear a mask indoors in public places, especially crowded ones, and if Delta is surging in your area you can still avoid contributing to its spread by physical distancing.” (emphasis added)
Indeed, the evidence that we do have on the Delta variant strongly suggests that vaccinated people are less likely to get sick and die from a Delta variant infection. While the COVID-19 vaccines’ efficacy against the Delta variant is slightly lower compared to the wild-type (precursor) virus, they still remain highly effective against illness and hospitalization. This means that a vaccinated person’s risk of becoming sick or severely ill with Delta variant infection is lower than that of an unvaccinated person. The Delta variant is currently the predominant variant in the U.K.
Another example can be seen in the U.S., which also saw the Delta variant become the predominant variant in the country. By analyzing data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Associated Press reported that 99% of deaths from COVID-19 in June 2021 were in unvaccinated people, suggesting that unvaccinated people are more likely to develop severe illness compared to vaccinated people. Experts also told Washington Post in July 2021 that the Delta variant is driving a surge in case numbers and hospitalization among the unvaccinated.
Health Feedback previously covered a related claim regarding the deadliness of the Delta variant depending on vaccination status.
Overall, DePice’s claim misrepresented an interview with an epidemiologist as a study and inaccurately reported his words. Her claim that the Delta variant is more deadly for vaccinated people is unsubstantiated by scientific evidence and contradicts what we do know of the vaccines’ efficacy against the Delta variant.
- 1 – Sheikh et al. (2021) SARS-CoV-2 Delta VOC in Scotland: demographics, risk of hospital admission, and vaccine effectiveness. The Lancet.