Syringes filled with the single-dose Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine in Los Angeles, California on March 25, 2021 (AFP / Frederic J Brown)

Article misrepresents US data on deaths after vaccinations

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An article claims the number of “vaccine related deaths” in the United States in 2021 surpasses that of the past decade, as a national Covid-19 inoculation campaign accelerates. But the government reporting system cited in the piece makes clear that the deaths have not been definitively linked to immunization, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the data generally cannot be used to determine if a vaccine caused a fatality.

“EXCLUSIVE: Per the CDC There Are Nearly Twice As Many Vaccine Related Deaths SO FAR in 2021 (1,755) Than All the Vaccine Deaths this Past Decade (994),” says the headline of the March 29, 2021 article by The Gateway Pundit.

A screenshot of an article taken on April 1, 2021

The article has also been shared as a screenshot on Instagram here, while the same claim appears in a post here.

The claim is part of a flood of inaccurate information about vaccines that is spreading online as nations seek to immunize people against Covid-19.

The disease -- which has killed more than 2.8 million worldwide -- sparked a major vaccination campaign in the United States, with more than 153 million Covid-19 shots administered so far.

The figures cited by The Gateway Pundit -- which has made other claims that have been fact-checked by AFP -- come from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).

But it is inaccurate to say the deaths are definitely “vaccine related.”

A description of the program’s database says it “contains information on unverified reports of adverse events (illnesses, health problems and/or symptoms) following immunization with US-licensed vaccines,” and accepts reports from health care providers, vaccine manufacturers, and the general public.

While the article quotes that description, it only does so after alleging that the deaths were related to vaccination in the headline and first paragraph.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which runs the VAERS program with the Food and Drug Administration, said in an email to AFP that the system “accepts all reports of adverse events after vaccination, without regard to whether or not the vaccine caused the event.”

“Because of this and other limitations, data in VAERS generally can’t be used to determine if a vaccine caused the adverse event (including deaths),” the CDC said.

The article also says that “the two primary vaccine manufacturers who have the most deaths related to their vaccines are Moderna and Pfizer/Biontech” -- makers of Covid-19 shots.

But the CDC said there is a requirement that deaths following Covid-19 vaccinations be reported -- something that does not exist for other immunizations.

“These reports of death are partly explained by the requirement that health care providers report all deaths that occur after Covid-19 vaccination (required by the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), regardless of whether the health care provider believes the vaccine was the cause,” the CDC said, referring to the authorizations allowing the shots to be administered.

“This reporting requirement does not apply to other vaccines.”

The CDC says on its website that Covid-19 vaccines are “safe and effective,” and recommends that people get them.

“A review of available clinical information including death certificates, autopsy, and medical records revealed no evidence that (Covid-19) vaccination contributed to patient deaths,” the site says.

AFP Fact Check has debunked other inaccurate claims related to VAERS here.

EDIT: This article was updated on April 20, 2021 to fix a typo.