Are COVID vaccines killing thousands of people?

By Kristen Panthagani, PhD

Rumors have been circulating claiming that the COVID vaccines have killed thousands of people.  These claims are often based on reports to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS), a system designed to track ongoing safety of all vaccines and assess for side effects that were too rare to be detected in clinical trials. Anyone can file a report to VAERS: any person who experiences any negative health event after receiving a vaccine can report it, whether or not they know if the vaccine truly caused it. And this system works — it has caught rare side effects for other vaccines, which in turn were used to refine vaccine recommendations. 

Correlation ≠ Causation

Deaths after COVID vaccination have been reported to VAERS (the reports are freely available, you can download them and see for yourself). Does this mean that the COVID vaccines caused all these deaths?

No. VAERS reports can be made regardless of whether or not the vaccine had anything to do with the negative health event. Someone could die in a car accident after getting the vaccine, and that could be reported to VAERS. That does not mean that a vaccine caused a car accident. Someone could also die of a heart attack shortly after getting vaccinated, but this wouldn’t necessarily mean the vaccine caused the heart attack, as heart attacks happen frequently, independently of vaccines. 

Then how do we tell if VAERS reports are actually connected to the vaccine? By analyzing the reports (and getting more information as needed, as the VAERS reports provided pretty limited information), and then comparing the rate of the reported health event to background levels in the population. Let’s look at miscarriages as an example. Miscarriage is quite common: an estimated 1 in 8 pregnancies ends in miscarriage. If you tracked 80 different pregnant women, about 10 of them would report miscarriages due to natural causes. Now let’s say all of those 80 woman got vaccinated. You would still expect about 10 of them to have miscarriages for reasons unrelated to the vaccine. But to each individual, the reason for miscarriage is often unknown, so those women might report their miscarriages to VAERS, uncertain if the vaccine caused it or not. Because millions of people are getting vaccinated right now, we expect that some negative health events will happen near the time of vaccination, just due to chance. (It would be a statistical anomaly if this didn’t happen.) But we also want to be on the look out for true vaccine side effects. The way we tell the difference is by looking at the VAERS reports and seeing if the rate of reported health events is higher than normally expected. If it is, then that tells us the negative health event might be connected to the vaccine. If it’s not, then that tells us that these VAERS reports are likely capturing background levels of that health event, unrelated to the vaccine. And so far, that is what we see for miscarriages: rates of miscarriage after vaccination are not above expected background rates in the population.

What does analysis of the VAERS data say about deaths?

So what does analysis of the VAERS data show about deaths after vaccination? Is there any indication in the data that these deaths might be truly linked to the vaccine? Here’s what the data shows:

More than 302 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered in the United States from December 14, 2020, through June 7, 2021. During this time, VAERS received 5,208 reports of death (0.0017%) among people who received a COVID-19 vaccine. FDA requires healthcare providers to report any death after COVID-19 vaccination to VAERS, even if it’s unclear whether the vaccine was the cause. A review of available clinical information, including death certificates, autopsy, and medical records, has not established a causal link to COVID-19 vaccines. However, recent reports indicate a plausible causal relationship between the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine and TTS, a rare and serious adverse event—blood clots with low platelets—which has caused deaths.” (Source: CDC)

Doctors are required to report

Finally, it is important to note that health care professionals are required to report any death that occurs after vaccination to VAERS, whether or not the death could be plausibly connected to the vaccine. This has led to VAERS “death reports” like this one (an actual VAERS report):

Jan 2021, Female, age 90:

“At the time of vaccination, there was an outbreak of residents who had already tested positive for COVID 19 at the nursing home where patient was a resident. About a week later, patient tested positive for COVID 19. She had a number of chronic, underlying health conditions. The vaccine did not have enough time to prevent COVID 19. There is no evidence that the vaccination caused patient’s death. It simply didn’t have time to save her life.”

Clearly, this death was not caused by the vaccine; her death was caused by a COVID outbreak in her nursing home during the surge in January. But because the death occurred shortly after vaccination, the doctor was required to report it to VAERS. This is one of the ‘VAERS death reports’ being used as evidence that the vaccines have caused thousands of deaths. 

Do you remember several months ago when many were claiming that COVID deaths were over-counted? They argued that elderly patients who were already sick and about to die just happened to test positive for COVID, and then they were counted as a COVID death, but COVID wasn’t truly the cause. (This wasn’t true, by the way.) This argument has now flipped a complete 180 with the vaccines, as people are now assuming that anybody who has had a vaccine and then died, the vaccine must be the cause, regardless of their other medical problems or circumstances of death. Both of these are overly simplistic thinking, and both ignore how cause of death is determined.

In summary, when people are saying that there have been “thousands of deaths from the vaccine,” they are logging onto VAERS and counting up the “deaths”, and assuming that they were all caused by the vaccine, without actually analyzing the data (or in the case above, even reading what the report says.) This is not how the reporting system works, and it is not good science.

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