Students receive their first dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine in Sydney on August 9, 2021, as Year 12 students in their final year of secondary school are inoculated ahead of their Higher School Certificate (HSC) examinations. ( POOL / DEAN LEWINS)

Posts warning of 'poisoned' Covid jabs in Australia share unverified reports of side effects in children

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Social media posts pushed by a politician and an anti-vaccine group in Australia claim that thousands of reports of adverse reactions to Covid-19 vaccines in children is evidence that the jabs are not safe. However, they base the claim on unverified, self-reported cases of adverse events which were not necessarily caused by the vaccine. Health authorities say the benefits of Covid-19 vaccination far outweigh the risks.

"Not sure how many more children need to be injured by the Covid vaccine before the rollout is stopped. When is enough enough!" reads a Facebook post shared on August 26 by Queensland Senator Gerard Rennick.

Rennick shared the message to his 162,000 Facebook followers along with figures showing 5,586 adverse events reported in children in Australia following Covid-19 vaccination, including 10 deaths.

The statistics are attributed to Australia's medical regulator the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), for the period up to August 5, 2022.

Screenshot of the misleading post, taken September 1, 2022

Similar figures were shared by Meryl Dorey, the founder of anti-vaccine pressure group Australian Vaccination-risks Network (AVN), in an article warning parents against the "poisoned jabs".

The figures in Dorey's article purportedly showed 5,610 Covid-19 vaccine adverse events in children for the period up to August 12, 2022.

Australia expanded its Covid-19 vaccination scheme to include children aged five to 11 in January 2022, following similar decisions in the European Union, United States, Israel and Canada.

Various Facebook and Twitter posts shared the figures in posts warning of a "crisis" and "jab carnage" around children's Covid-19 vaccination in Australia.

However, the posts are misleading.

Self-reported data

Anyone can submit reports on "adverse events" to the TGA, which are available to the public even though it has not yet been established if a vaccine was responsible for the problem.

Covid-19 vaccine critics regularly exploit reports to the TGA -- and to similar organisations in countries like the United States -- and misleadingly present them as proof that a vaccine caused harm.

The TGA's Database of Adverse Event Notifications (DAEN), which compiles reports of "adverse events", notes that a report "does not mean that the details of the event have been confirmed, or that the event has been determined to be related to a medicine or a vaccine".

A representative for Australia's health department, which governs the TGA, said that using the data to determine a vaccine's safety was "false and misleading".

"Anyone, including consumers and health professionals, can make a report," the spokesperson told AFP. "An assessment of the safety of a particular vaccine cannot be made on DAEN data alone."

The spokesperson added that the TGA did not produce the table shared on social media.

Nicholas Wood, a senior staff specialist at Australia's National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance refuted the claim that the number of "adverse events" constituted a "crisis".

Labelling the mostly temporary adverse events as "injuries" was "emotional and evocative", he told AFP.

"I would not call these adverse events 'injuries', as most them are short-lived and children make a complete recovery," Wood said.

No confirmed jab deaths in children

The TGA received 5,875 reports of adverse events in children from around six million Covid-19 vaccine doses administered up to August 21, according to its Covid-19 vaccine safety report published on August 25, 2022.

That figure includes 1,620 reports in children aged five to 11 and 4,255 reports in those aged 12-17.

The most common adverse events reported were chest pain, headache, dizziness, nausea, fever, vomiting, fever and abdominal pain.

There were no deaths in children, adolescents or younger adults determined to be linked to Covid-19 vaccination, the report said.

All the TGA's Covid-19 vaccine safety reports are available on its website.

Meanwhile, the Australian government recommends that everyone aged five and over receive a Covid-19 vaccine.

"The proven benefits of COVID-19 vaccination continue to far outweigh the potential risks," the health department spokesperson said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends Covid-19 vaccination as "one of the most important things" people can do to protect themselves against the disease and to stop new variants from emerging.

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