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This Oxford study does not say that fully vaccinated healthcare workers carry 251 times viral load compared to the unvaccinated

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A post is being widely shared on social media claiming that an oxford study found that fully vaccinated healthcare workers carry 251 times the viral load compared to the unvaccinated, proving that the COVID-19 vaccines make you worse. Let us fact-check the claim made in the post.

Claim: An Oxford University study finds fully vaccinated healthcare workers carry 251 times viral load compared to the unvaccinated proving that COVID-19 vaccines make you worse.

Fact: The study is about the Delta variant and explaining ‘breakthrough cases’ among vaccinated healthcare workers because of the Delta variant. There is no focus on unvaccinated versus the vaccinated cases. According to the study, ‘Viral loads of breakthrough Delta variant infection cases were 251 times higher than those of cases infected with old strains detected between March-April 2020’. According to CDC and another recent Oxford University study, infected people who are doubly vaccinated carry the same amount of viral load (for Delta variant) as the unvaccinated people. Obtaining two vaccine doses remains the most effective way to ensure protection against COVID-19 Delta variant. Hence the claim made in the post is FALSE.

When we searched on google about such an Oxford University study, with the same claim made in the post, two articles (here and here) were found. The articles make the same claim (as made in the post) and cite a preprint paper by the Oxford University Clinical Research Group, published on 10 August 2021 in ‘The Lancet’.

However, according to the findings of the paper, ‘Viral loads of breakthrough Delta variant infection cases were 251 times higher than those of cases infected with old strains detected between March-April 2020’. The paper does not say that there was a difference between viral loads in vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

According to the paper, the authors are investigating breakthrough SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant infections among double-vaccinated healthcare workers of a major infectious diseases hospital in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Vietnam. This is a Preprint paper that is not yet peer-reviewed (generally, a peer-reviewed paper is more credible). According to this Lancet page, Preprints “should not be used for clinical decision making or reporting of research to a lay audience without indicating that it is preliminary research that has not been peer-reviewed”.

Reuters had written a fact-check article on a similar claim and approached Chi Ngo, senior communications officer for the Centre for Tropical Medicine at the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit for comment. According to Ngo in the article, “This study is about the Delta variant and explaining ‘breakthrough cases’ among vaccinated healthcare workers because of the Delta variant, there is no focus on unvaccinated versus the vaccinated cases.”

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Delta variant is highly contagious and more than twice as contagious as previous variants. ‘For people infected with the Delta variant, similar amounts of viral genetic material have been found among both unvaccinated and fully vaccinated people. However, like prior variants, the amount of viral genetic material may go down faster in fully vaccinated people when compared to unvaccinated people.’

According to a recent Oxford University – Office for National Statistics (ONS) study, infected people who are doubly vaccinated carry the same amount of viral load (for Delta variant) as the unvaccinated people. However, the COVID-19 vaccines offer protection against symptomatic infection, and fully vaccinated people are less likely to contract COVID-19 in the first place.

To sum it up, this Oxford study does not say that fully vaccinated healthcare workers carry 251 times viral load compared to the unvaccinated.

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