Case Number: 3164

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2021

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy


The Story

1. On October 5, 2021 Stuff published a story Golden Bay Cafe hiring only unvaccinated workers, makes unvaccinated customers sit outside.

2. The story says a cafe owner who is refusing to hire vaccinated workers to staff his Golden Bay business could be a danger to the small community, according to an expert.

3. The owner says he based his decision on “health reasons” and did not want to hire staff that may turn into “zombies”.

4. Helen Petousis-Harris​, a vaccinologist at the University of Auckland, says the vaccine did not have anything in it that can turn people into zombies.

5. She says a pocket of people entrenched against vaccination could be a danger for a small community such as Golden Bay.

6. A brief part of the story says the Pfizer vaccine has been proven to work against Covid-19, and against the Delta strain.

7. Based on evidence from clinical trials in people 16 years and older, Pfizer’s vaccine was 95 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic laboratory-confirmed infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus that causes Covid-19).

8. The trials revealed this was a 95 per cent reduction in risk compared to the baseline risk of an unvaccinated person.

9. However, observational data suggests the vaccines are not as good at preventing infections of the Delta variant. But the Pfizer vaccine has been found to still prevent severe disease in more than nine out of 10 vaccinated people.

10. The story contains a footnote which says – This story has been clarified to also state that while the Pfizer vaccine is not as effective against the Delta variant, it still prevents severe disease in more than nine out of 10 vaccinated people. Amended: 11.08am October 6, 2021

The Complaint

11. Ross Mathews has complained  the online story contains ‘misrepresentations’ and ‘serious misinformation’ about Pfizer Clinical Trial Data.

12.  Mr Mathews says the article wrongly reports the Pfizer vaccine’s Reduction in Infection Risk (RIR) as 95 percent. He says the reporter has confused RIR with Vaccine Efficacy (VE), which was 95 per cent effective, but only in the 7 days after the second vaccine.

13. Mr Mathews says the error is significant as it seriously misrepresents the findings of the Pfizer testing.

The Response

14. Chief news director (business) Roeland van den Bergh says early data from Israel showed that the Pfizer vaccine was 95 per cent effective at preventing laboratory-confirmed infection with SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid 19

15. It is therefore correct to say that the vaccine was 95 per cent effective at preventing Covid 19.

16. Mr Mathews’ Pfizer data supplied to Stuff confirms this on p36, Mr van den Bergh says.

17. Mr van den Bergh says a Reuters fact check article, using commentary from medical journal The Lancet,  gives an overview of Relative Risk Reducation (RRR) and Absolute Risk Reducation (ARR).

18. Social media users have claimed that efficacy rates for Covid 19 vaccines are ‘deceiving’ and the real rate of protection is much lower.

19. This stems from a misinterpretation of two different measurements – the RRR and ARR.

20. Mr van den Bergh says Mr Mathews refers to ‘relative risk reduction’ (RRR) as ‘reduction in risk’ (RIR), and ‘absolute risk reduction’ (ARR) as ‘vaccine efficacy’ (VE).

21. Critics of the RRR and ARR reporting have said ‘“@TheLancet peer reviewed study confirms vaccine efficacy, not as 95% stated by the vaccine companies, but as: AstraZeneca 1.3%, Moderna 1.2%, J&J 1.2% and Pfizer 0.84%. They deceived everyone by reporting Relative Risk Reduction (RRR) rather than Absolute Risk Reduction (ARR).”

22. Mr van den Bergh says ‘This is the same argument Mr Mathews appears to advance.’

23. Mr van den Bergh says RRR is the “usual scale” considered by the medical community when talking about vaccine efficacy.

Mr Mathews’ Response

24. Mr Mathews advanced his argument in his response, regarding RIR.He quotes multiple passages from several documents, and also states “I’ve never referred to RRR or ARR as claimed in the Stuff response. My data comes directly from the clinical trials results’’.

25. “My claim is the actual observance RIR (reduction is risk) ... was .862%”

26. He also includes an OIA response that he says confirms that reducing transmission was not an outcome measured in Pfizer vaccine trials.

The Discussion

27. The Media Council’s view is that the Stuff article is accurate, based on the data and analysis it refers to, and that the clarification addresses the confusion that Stuff identified in the original story.

28. Mr Mathews and Stuff are referring to different sets of data and efficacy analysis, in relation to what forms a relatively small, albeit important, part of the story.

29. Mr Mathews complaint related to a small section halfway through a lengthy story, stating that the vaccine had been proven to work.

30. Pfizer trials reported the vaccine has 95 per cent efficacy in preventing serious illness and hospitalisations. That was what Stuff was reporting, with links to other material to support its position.

31. The Media Council sees the debate about RRR and ARR, and RIR and VE, as not going to the heart of the issue.  We have not been shown that there was any inccurracy in what Stuff published

32. he Media Council finds no breach of breaches of Principle 1 (accuracy and balance) and Principle 4 (comment and fact) 

33. The complaint is not upheld. 

Media Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Rosemary Barraclough, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson, Sandy Gill, Jonathan MacKenzie, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff and Tim Watkin.


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