Social media posts misleadingly link Covid-19 vaccination with excess mortality in Australia
Social media users have been sharing a draft study as justification for an unsubstantiated claim that excess deaths in Australia during the coronavirus pandemic were caused by vaccination. However, there is no evidence the paper has been peer-reviewed or published in an academic journal, and a wealth of experts and data have concluded that Covid-19 vaccines are safe.
"This is bombshell and I quote...'There was no Covid Pandemic Pre Vax, Significant excess mortality was strongly correlated (+74%) with COVID-19 mass injections five months earlier,'" Rise Melbourne, an account that has previously shared coronavirus misinformation, tweeted on February 17.
The post links to a study uploaded in February to ResearchGate, a social networking site for scientists and researchers. The paper was submitted by an author named Wilson Sy of Investment Analytics.
One line of the study says "the Australian COVID-19 pandemic did not begin until the advent of mass mRNA injections in 2021" and "the harm or risk realised has far outweighed any benefit from COVID injections".
The paper has been shared more than 1,500 times on social media in Australia (including here and here) and Britain (here, here and here).
But the claim that vaccines are linked to excess mortality is unsubstantiated. ResearchGate writes on its website that "preprints and early-stage research may not have been peer-reviewed yet".
There is no evidence that immunisation programmes led to a higher death rate in Australia, according to both official and independent data sources.
Health authorities in Britain, the United States and Australia say the benefits of vaccination outweigh the known or potential risks.
Similar false claims that the pandemic was a hoax and vaccines caused excess deaths around the world have been shared by conspiracy theorists during the last three years.
Vaccine deaths rare
Australia began a phased rollout of Covid-19 vaccines in February 2021, with priority given to those in high-risk professions such as health care.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics recorded 15 deaths linked to Covid vaccination that year in a report published in October 2022. The number was compiled using certified doctors' reports and pathology reports from coroners.
Independent analysis by Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration has identified 14 vaccine-linked fatalities since February 2021, according to its latest safety report.
The slight discrepancy with the number from the statistics bureau is due to differences in how vaccine-linked deaths are categorised by these two agencies, the bureau said.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration says on its website that vaccine-incurred deaths are extremely rare.
"Most deaths that occur after vaccination are not caused by the vaccine," it says. "In large populations in which a new vaccine is given, there are people with underlying diseases who may die from these diseases. When a vaccine is given in that same population, the link between the vaccine and death is usually coincidental."
The World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a pandemic in March 2020. The virus has since spread globally and killed around 6.87 million people, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Australia pursued a "zero-Covid" strategy until late 2021, meaning case numbers were kept relatively low until that point.
"Statistically significant excess mortality was seen" in Australia towards the end of 2021, a spokesman for the statistics bureau told AFP.
"Around this time was when the Omicron variant was circulating widely in the community and deaths started to increase," he said.
In 2022 the overall death rate in Australia was 15.1 percent higher than the historical average, data from the statistics bureau shows.
University of South Australia biostatistics professor Adrian Esterman told AFP that the study shared on social media relies entirely on correlations, “which are notorious for being the basis of making misleading claims”.
“Unfortunately, these claims about deaths from vaccines have a veneer of science about them and are widely believed,” Esterman said.
For the small number of Covid deaths that occurred across Australia in 2020, the study on ResearchGate says a "seasonality analysis" suggests they were "likely misclassifications of influenza and pneumonia deaths".
The statistics bureau said this claim was also "not true".
"All Covid testing was done by PCR, while influenza testing was different. This means that misclassification in Australia was highly unlikely," the spokesman said.
Monash University biostatistics professor James Trauer also told AFP it was false to claim that deaths had been misclassified because PCR tests were "highly accurate".
A number of experts referred AFP to reports by Australia's Actuaries Institute that examined excess deaths based on provisional mortality data from the statistics bureau.
According to the institute's latest report published on March 6, just over half of the 10,300 excess deaths across Australia in 2022 were due to Covid.
The other causes of excess deaths in this period were ischaemic heart diseases (2,020 deaths); diabetes (570 deaths); and some unspecified diseases (4,160 deaths).