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Intensive care unit in Antwerp: The majority of patients are vaccinated? Don’t panic, it’s just statistics

Intensive care unit in Antwerp: The majority of patients are vaccinated? Don’t panic, it’s just statistics

An analysis of the EDMO fact-checking network. Organizations that contributed to this analysis: Correctiv, Knack

This article is the English translation of the original Intensivstation in Antwerpen: Dass die Mehrheit der Patienten geimpft ist, ist ein statistischer Effekti, published on Correctiv the 19th of November 2021.

In a video, a chief doctor of a hospital in Antwerp, Belgium, says that everyone in the intensive care unit there has been vaccinated. The short excerpt was distributed with subtitles on social networks in several countries – for example in Austria by the right-wing populist party FPÖ and the website Unzensuriert. It was also shared thousands of times on Facebook in German-speaking countries (here and here).

With the help of the fact-checking team from the Belgian magazine Knack, we researched the context of the video. The interview came from a news report on the Belgian TV broadcaster ATV, aired on 5 November 2021, about the hospital company GZA in Belgium, which operates hospitals in four locations, one of them being Antwerp. The chief physician there, Kristiaan Deckers, actually said in an interview that in the past it was mainly unvaccinated patients who were treated, while now all people in the intensive care units are vaccinated.

Vaccinated intensive care patients at the Antwerp hospital were on average 55 to 60 years old

However, only the section of the video with the latter information was distributed on social networks. What is missing is the part that follows in the original interview, where it is said that most of these people had previous illnesses and a weakened immune system as a result. They were all, on average, between 55 and 60 years old.

Together with our colleagues from Knack, we asked more information to the Belgian hospital company GZA in Antwerp. Press spokeswoman Astrid Schoenmaeckers emailed us on 18 November stating that the video had “apparently” been taken out of context. “It is true that at the time of the video all patients in our intensive care unit were fully vaccinated, but 80 percent of them also had previous illnesses that impaired their immune system.” Currently, 62 percent of Covid patients are fully vaccinated, most of which presented previous illnesses.

Schoenmaeckers also points to the high vaccination rate in Belgium, which is 75 percent of the total population and 87 percent for those over 18 years of age. “As you know, vaccination effectiveness varies according to age group and the level of immunization, so it is no surprise to see fully vaccinated people from risk groups in our hospitals.” That makes a high vaccination rate and booster vaccinations all the more important.

In the Flanders region, more than 95 percent of older people are vaccinated against Covid-19

The vaccination rates for Belgium can be found on the website of the Sciensano Health Institute. For 55 to 64 year olds the rate is 92 percent, for 65 to 74 year olds it is 93 percent.

In the Flanders region, where the city of Antwerp is located, the rates are even higher: 95 percent of 55 to 64 year olds and 96 percent of 65 to 84 year olds are fully vaccinated.

Image 1. Vaccination rates for all of Belgium according to data from the Sciensano Health Institute (Source: Sciensano / screenshot of 19 November 2021: CORRECTIV.Faktencheck)

It has long been known that the Covid-19 vaccines have a high protective effect against severe disease, but do not prevent them 100 percent. This means that not everyone is protected from severe Covid 19 disease. In addition, according to previous knowledge, the protection can decrease after a few months after the shot.

If the vaccination rate is very high, it can therefore be expected that the majority of patients in the intensive care units are vaccinated. The logic is simple: if 100 percent of the population is vaccinated, 100 percent of intensive care patients would also be vaccinated.

This is a statistical effect and does not mean that the vaccinations do not work.

The science magazine “Quarks” from WDR recently explained this in an infographic: with a Covid-19 vaccination rate of 90 percent, statistically speaking, there are fewer seriously ill people, but a higher proportion of breakthroughs in vaccination.

Image 2. An article in the magazine "Quarks" explains the statistical effect of a high vaccination rate on vaccination breakthroughs (Source: Instagram / / Screenshot: CORRECTIV.Faktencheck)

At our request, Sciensano also sent us a current report, which shows that in Belgium the incidence of hospitalized Covid-19 cases and intensive care patients is many times lower among fully vaccinated people than among unvaccinated people (PDF, pages 11 and 12 / Tables 2 and 3).

Currently in Germany around 68 percent of the entire population and 78.5 percent of the over-18-year-olds are vaccinated against Covid-19 – that is, significantly less than in Belgium. The vaccination rate for people over 60 is also lower than in Belgium, at around 86 percent (as of November 19, 2021).

Alice Echtermann, Correctiv
Editing: Uschi Jonas, Matthias Bau

*Fact-checking organizations that contributed to this analysis: Correctiv, Knack

Photo: Youtube / Screenshot – CORRECTIV.Faktencheck