No proof 'ill-defined' Alberta deaths related to Covid shots

A video spreading across social media links the high rate of deaths reported with unknown causes in Alberta in 2021 to Covid-19 vaccines. There is no evidence for this; no deaths attributed to the jabs were reported in the Canadian province that year.

"'Cause unknown' is a crime and a cover-up," says text over a November 7, 2023 video that accumulated more than 16,000 likes on X, formerly known as Twitter.

In the video, physician William Makis claims there is a conspiracy among medical professionals to avoid investigating deaths that could be related to adverse responses to Covid-19 vaccination. He points to Alberta recording thousands of deaths as "unknown or ill-defined causes" in 2021 as evidence.

The same video jumped from The Vigilant Fox, an X account that AFP has previously fact-checked for spreading unsubstantiated claims about vaccination, to Facebook and Instagram.

Screenshot of a post on X taken November 22, 2023
Screenshot of an Instagram post taken November 22, 2023



Makis, whose medical license is inactive, has also promoted misinformation in the past.

Publicly available data from Service Alberta (archived here) do show the leading cause of death among Albertans in 2021 was "other unknown or ill-defined causes of mortality."

But according to Statistics Canada, the federal government's data aggregation agency, there is no evidence linking these deaths to Covid-19 vaccination.

"Based on the 2021 data, in Alberta there are no cases reported where adverse effects due to vaccine is the underlying cause of death," spokeswoman Melissa Gammage said in a November 16 email.

Alberta's provincial government has also said vaccines are not causing unexplained deaths.

AFP has previously debunked posts blaming sudden or excess deaths on Covid-19 vaccines.

Recording cause of death

Gammage said that in Canada, provincial and territorial professionals certify cause of death using the World Health Organization's (WHO) International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD).

An autopsy is required by law when a death is sudden or unexpected, according to the Alberta Health Services website (archived here).

Since 2000, Canada has assigned deaths an "unknown or ill-defined cause" when examiners cannot conclusively determine one or while investigations are pending, according to Gammage.

Provincial data show deaths with "unknown or ill-defined causes" were not only the leading cause of mortality in Alberta in 2021 with 3,362 cases, but have also been among the top 10 causes of death in the province since 2019 -- prior to the pandemic.

"Deaths investigated by coroners or medical examiners, such as accidents, suicides, and homicides, often require lengthy investigation," she said. "Consequently, information on the cause of death typically requires more time before it is reported to Statistics Canada."

Gammage said ill-defined causes of death are normally recorded as being higher in recent years since data is amended as causes are determined.

Data released in September 2023 (archived here) show more than 500 deaths in Alberta have been recorded with "unknown or ill-defined causes" each year between 2019 and 2022. Tallies for deaths from unknown causes between 2001 and 2018 range from 20 to 104 cases per year.

According to Statistics Canada data, the top cause of death nationally between 2017 and 2021 was malignant neoplasms, or cancer -- not "unknown or ill-defined causes" (archived here).

Vaccine safety reviewed

Physicians have consistently told AFP that while Covid-19 vaccination has some side effects, the shots are effective at preventing severe illness -- with benefits far outweighing the risks.

Canada tracks adverse events in the Canadian Adverse Events Following Immunization Surveillance System (CAEFISS). As of September 15, 2023, the system indicated that of 455 deaths reported after vaccination, only four had been found to have a causal association with immunization (archived here).

Read more of AFP's reporting on misinformation about Covid-19 here.

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