You’ve probably heard of VAERS, especially if you’ve been looking for more information on the safety of vaccines in general, or the COVID-19 vaccines in particular lately. The Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System has come up in certain news/opinion shows, and tends to appear in comment sections on vaccine-related news stories. However, if you’re taking what you read or hear at face value, you’re missing something important.
Tucker Carlson, for instance, shared views in May on Fox News claiming that VAERS showed that over 3,000 people have died after getting the COVID-19 vaccine, and asserting that less than 1% of vaccine-related deaths and injuries are reported — hinting that perhaps numbers nearing half a million have died of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Between late December of 2020, and last month [April], a total of 3,362 people apparently died after getting the COVID vaccines in the United States. Three thousand, three hundred and sixty-two — that’s an average of 30 people every day…A report submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services in 2010 concluded that “fewer than one percent of vaccine adverse events are reported” by the VARES system. Fewer than one percent. So what is the real number of people who apparently have been killed or injured by the vaccine?”
If you choose to accept Carlson’s claims at face value and seek no further, that sounds pretty scary. However, one thing that’s rarely wise to do is take Tucker Carlson’s claims at face value, so let’s look at the VAERS record itself.
In fact,before one can view VAERS data, one must read and acknowledge a series of disclaimers. You can read those in full here, but two sentences that are perhaps the most relevant, in this situation, are reproduced below.
The reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable. In large part, reports to VAERS are voluntary, which means they are subject to biases.
Anyone can submit a report to VAERS. There is no requirement to submit proof. You can see the entire form here. There’s a warning that deliberately submitting false information is a violation of Federal law, but there’s nothing to upload to prove that information is true.
So, having passed that hurdle, what exactly are the adverse outcomes associated with COVID-19 vaccines, according to this crowdsourced database?
Well, there are a lot of headaches reported, along with fatigue, and injection site pain — pretty typical side effects that are warned about in advance of the shot. There are reports of death, of course. (4,901 at the time of this reporting.) An important thing to remember here is that the first rounds of vaccination were for the elderly and at-risk patients, and VAERS doesn’t claim that there is any causal link between the vaccine and the adverse event, so in addition to there being no documentation that all of these deaths happened, there’s no evidence to determine how many, if any, were actually linked to the vaccine.
Also, other adverse events reported include the death of a relative, and death of a pet, as well as “organ donor,” “device failure,” “drowning,” and “tattoo” — all of which helps to show why a crowdsourced database isn’t really a good measure of the actual outcome of a vaccine. (Five reports suggest that someone drowned following the COVID-19 vaccine, and two people apparently blame their vaccination for tattoos they’re considering to be an ‘adverse effect’ — since there are no photos of the tattoos in question, this is also difficult to judge.)
Forbes followed up on claims, reporting that the CDC had investigated each of the reports of death, and could find no causal link to the vaccines.
The publication spoke to Dr. William Moss, executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who explained that that about 8k people die in the U.S. daily, and some of these individuals, especially during a period of time when a vaccine distribution program is underway, will be recently vaccinated, just as a matter of statistics.
He also addressed the fact that the vaccine was first rolled out to those at higher risk.
“Deaths are not unexpected in the weeks following Covid-19 vaccination when these vaccines are specifically administered to elderly adults, nursing home residents and people with underlying medical conditions.”
Health Feedback addresses another factor:
“VAERS reports for COVID-19 vaccines aren’t comparable to reports for other vaccines. Because the COVID-19 vaccines received emergency use authorization rather than approval, healthcare providers are obligated to report any deaths occurring among people who received the COVID-19 vaccine, even if there is no indication that the vaccine could be involved in the death. Therefore, deaths among COVID-19 vaccine recipients would be reported more frequently than deaths among recipients of other vaccines which received FDA approval as opposed to emergency use authorization.”
VAERS was never intended to be used for pushing an anti-vax narrative, and is not designed to weed out fake or agenda-dirven reports. When you see someone using it to claim evidence that a vaccine — especially one that currently is eliciting a very partisan response — it’s probably a good idea to investigate further, and question the source.
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Steph Bazzle reports on social issues and religion for Hill Reporter. She focuses on stories that speak to everyone's right to practice what they believe in and receive the support of their communities and government officials. You can reach her at Steph@HillReporter.com