BBC Radio 4’s More or Less claims to establish irrefutable truth through rigorous statistical analysis. The current edition attempts to address the risks associated with taking the Astra Zeneca vaccine.
The programme asked statistician Professor David Spiegelhalter to calculate the risks of developing the serious blood clotting disorder thrombocytopenia, which was hitherto only associated with the use of the drug heparin.
He established that if a healthy 25-year-old woman took the vaccine, she would have an 11 in a million chance of developing these clots and that three of these cases would prove fatal.
Classic statistical cost-benefit analysis now begs the question: What is the chance of such a woman dying from Covid?
Applying the Oxford University Covid death algorithm, we find coincidentally that a healthy 25-year-old woman has a three in one million chance of dying from Covid. In other words, the risk of death from having the vaccine to prevent Covid is equal to the risk of death from Covid itself.
But the vaccine carries not only the additional risk of serious, if non-fatal, blood clotting but – since it is an unlicensed experimental gene therapy with an incomplete Phase 3 trial – an unknown number of other side-effects are likely to appear within the next two years.
This is just the kind of truth the programme claims to reveal. But, of course, in this case it is highly inconvenient for the BBC, since this is the sort of revelation it will go to great lengths not to disclose.
So it embarked on a convoluted and intellectually dishonest process of obfuscation. Instead of just revealing the actual risk of taking the vaccine, More or Less decided to make a risk comparison with doing something else.
This is common method of disinformation. Simply put: The risk involved in doing A is established. The risk involved in doing B is established. If risk B is greater than risk A, then doing A is OK – an entirely spurious argument.
In this case, the programme set out to suggest that taking the combined birth control pill entailed greater risks than having the vaccine, so therefore it would be OK to have the vaccine.
This proved rather difficult, however. The pill has been around for 50 years and 3.5million women in the UK take it. Around ten per year die from side-effects – that’s again around three in a million, so no luck there.
Then More or Less seized on blood clotting. And, lo and behold, a 25-year-old woman on the pill would have a 400 in a million chance of experiencing a non-fatal common blood clot.
The programme makers did not mention that a common blood clot bears no resemblance whatsoever to thrombocytopenia, hoping people would just assume that a blood clot is a blood clot.
And this was all they could come up with!
Incidentally, this woman would have a 100 in a million chance of experiencing such a common clot even if she wasn’t on the pill.
So just to clarify matters out of a miasma of statistical sleight of hand: For a healthy 25-year-old woman, the risk of dying from Covid is three in a million. The risk of dying from having the Astra Zeneca vaccine is also three in a million, so in these circumstances there’s absolutely no justification for having it, bearing in mind the known side-effects and experimental nature of the vaccine.
But you certainly would not arrive at that conclusion by listening to the BBC.