It is well established that only quoting RRR without quoting the ARR, can inflate or exaggerate an intervention’s effect size and clinical importance, as well as increase people’s willingness to receive the treatment.
It has been referred to as the first “sin” against transparent communication by Gerd Gigerenzer, director of the Harding Centre for Risk Literacy at the Max Planck Institute. He says it can be used as “a deliberate tactic to manipulate or persuade people.”
“Many physicians, patients, health journalists and politicians do not understand health statistics. This collective statistical illiteracy has resulted in serious consequences for health,” Gigerenzer says.
John Ioannidis, Professor at Stanford University and the most cited physician scientist, agrees.
“In my experience, innumeracy is widely prevalent,” says Prof Ioannidis.
“This is not happening just for vaccines. Over many decades, RRR has been the dominant way of communicating results of clinical trials. Almost always, RRR looks nicer than absolute risk reductions.”
When asked if there was any justification for misleading the public about the vaccine’s benefits to encourage uptake, Prof Ioannidis rejected the notion.
“I don’t see how one can increase uptake by using misleading information. I am all in favour of increasing uptake, but this needs to use complete information, otherwise sooner or later incomplete information will lead to misunderstandings and will backfire,” says Ioannidis.
The way authorities have communicated risk to the public, is likely to have misled and distorted the public’s perception of the vaccine’s benefit and underplayed the harms.
This, in essence, is a violation of the ethical and legal obligations of informed consent.