Global safety data shows vaccines are safe, not 'more dangerous than Covid'

Safety data gathered from global inoculation programmes show serious side effects from Covid-19 vaccines are rare, but social media posts are falsely claiming the jabs are "more dangerous" than the coronavirus that has actually killed millions. These posts cite a paper about the purported risks and benefits of booster jabs for healthy young adults but its findings have been disputed by other scientists.

"Harvard, Johns Hopkins conclude 'Covid-19 vaccines nearly 100 times more dangerous than the coronavirus,'" reads a Korean-language post shared on Facebook on October 25, 2023.

The post features a screenshot of an article from khTV, a South Korean online news outlet, that goes on to say some 2,600 people in the country have died from "vaccine side effects".

"It usually takes about 10 years for a vaccine to go through various clinical trials to be released into the world. However, the coronavirus vaccine came out to the world in just 10 months," the article adds.

Screenshots of the false Facebook post (left) and web article (right). Taken November 22, 2023.

Similar posts citing khTV have been shared repeatedly on Facebook here, here and here, and on popular South Korean websites Naver Blog and Brunch.

The claim that a study purportedly found vaccines are more harmful than the coronavirus had previously surfaced as early as 2022 on websites such as The Epoch Times and The Gateway Pundit whose posts had been repeatedly debunked by AFP.

But while serious side effects from Covid-19 vaccines are possible, these cases are "extremely rare" according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Mild side effects

"Vaccines are continually monitored for as long as they are in use to detect and respond to rare adverse events," the global health agency says here (archived link).

The latest vaccine safety data published by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) on October 26 indicates over 95 percent of side effects reported after vaccination are classified as "general adverse events" (archived link).

These include mild symptoms such as fever, headaches, and redness or swelling at the injection site.

Reports of deaths following vaccination "do not necessarily have a causal relationship with the vaccine", the agency said.

A "very small number of cases" of myocarditis and pericarditis, inflammation of the heart lining have been linked to the Moderna and Pfizer mRNA vaccines and the protein-based Novavax vaccine, according to the WHO.

"Myocarditis is usually mild, responsive to treatment and much less serious than myocarditis associated with Covid-19 disease, or myocarditis from non-Covid causes," it added.

"The benefits of these vaccines greatly outweigh the risk of myocarditis and pericarditis by preventing hospitalizations and deaths due to Covid-19."

According to the European Medicines Agency, almost one billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines had been administered to people in the EU and European Economic Area, making it the largest vaccination programme in history (archived link).

Serious side effects are "very rare" and fatal outcomes have been reported in "very few of these rare cases."

In Australia, the drugs regulator Therapeutic Goods Administration has identified 14 deaths that were likely linked to the shots out of almost 69 million doses administered as of November 2 (archived here).

In South Africa, three cases of death were investigated and causality was linked to the use of the vaccine out of over 38 million doses administered as of June 30 (archived link).

Covid-19 has killed over 6.9 million people globally as of November 16, according to the WHO (archived link).

Vaccines against the disease had passed very stringent safety and efficacy trials before they were approved to enter the market.

Booster shots

A Google search using keywords used in the false posts found they cite an article titled "Covid-19 vaccine boosters for young adults: a risk benefit assessment and ethical analysis of mandate policies at universities".

A preprint of the article was posted online on September 12, 2022. It was later published as an "extended essay" in the Journal of Medical Ethics in December that year.

The authors say their analysis found "booster mandates in young adults are expected to cause a net harm".

In the preprint, they write that for every hospitalisation prevented by boosters in uninfected young adults, from "18 to 98 serious adverse events" could be expected.

In the published version of the article, they estimate "approximately 18.5" serious adverse events for each hospitalisation averted.

Allison Krug, one of the article's authors whose listed affiliation is Artemis Biomedical Communications LLC, told AFP the posts had misrepresented the paper's assessment.

"The article focuses on the net benefit, if any, of boosting a young adult cohort, not vaccination in general," she said on November 13.

However, experts not involved in the writing of the article have argued against its analysis of boosters for young adults.

"It is true that boosting low-risk people is not very impactful when it comes to reducing hospitalisations, because hospitalisations are rare in that age group," Amesh Adalja, adjunct assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told AFP on November 17.

"But it is not dangerous," he said. "It is a low-risk, low-reward situation".

"The issue is that they are thinking about hospitalisation as the only benefit of a vaccine, rather than thinking about all of the other benefits, in terms of decreasing severity of illness being back to baseline health quicker."

Katrine Wallace, adjunct assistant professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, agreed with Adalja.

"I vaccinate my son who is 17 not because I think he will die or be severely ill with Covid, but because it will shift his case toward the more mild end of the spectrum."

AFP has repeatedly debunked misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines here.

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