Posts about ‘Japan vaccine deaths’ misrepresent study

  • Published on December 31, 2023 at 05:22
  • Updated on March 11, 2024 at 09:55
  • 4 min read
  • By Tommy WANG, AFP Hong Kong
Billions of Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered worldwide –  and serious side effects are rare – yet posts shared repeatedly online have baselessly claimed more than two-thirds of people who received the Pfizer jab in Japan died within ten days of vaccination. Scientists told AFP the posts misrepresented a study that reported no such findings.

"Around 70 percent of people who died in Japan after receiving a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine lost their lives in the first 10 days following the jab, according to a recent study," reads a post written in simplified Chinese that was shared on X, formerly Twitter, on December 15, 2023.

"The peer-reviewed Japanese study, published in the Cureus journal on Dec. 7, looked at the association between Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination and deaths within 10 days of vaccination."

The post includes a screenshot of a report by Epoch Health -- part of the US-based newspaper The Epoch Times -- which has previously spread misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines.

Screenshot of the misleading post, taken on December 21, 2023

Similar misleading claims were also published by Zerohedge and Natural News, websites which AFP has previously fact-checked for spreading misinformation.

The misleading claim also circulated in English, French, Spanish, Korean and Japanese.

Misrepresented paper

Keyword searches found the paper referenced in the misleading posts was published on on December 7, 2023.

According to the study, it used data on deaths reported in a "risk period" of 10 days after vaccination with the jab produced by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

While it found that reported deaths were concentrated during the risk period for both men and women, it concluded the findings “do not contradict” the results of another study in Japan that found no significant increase in all-cause mortality due to vaccination.

Yasusi Suzumura, the study's author, told AFP: "I am not claiming that this study may provide conclusive evidence of an association between vaccination and deaths."

According to Raina MacIntyre, professor of global biosecurity at the University of New South Wales in Australia, the study looked at all-cause deaths -- mortality due to any cause including "disease, complication, or hazardous exposure" -- and not vaccine associated deaths (archived links here and here).

"Most of the deaths [in the study] were related to cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death and illness in the world and occurs at a higher rate in men than women, particularly under the age of 65," MacIntyre said on December 21, 2023.

MacIntyre added people who were prioritised for vaccination against Covid-19 in early 2021 -- the study period -- were older or had multiple chronic conditions, putting them at higher risk of dying regardless of their vaccination status.

Physician Takahiro Kinoshita, a member of Cov-Navi, a Japanese project aiming to provide accurate vaccine information which is now disbanded, separately said the social media posts were misleading (archived links here and here).

He explained the number of deaths used in the study could not be taken as a comprehensive source due to Japan having a passive reporting system where clinicians are only required to report adverse events only when they suspected a link to vaccination.

"Clinicians are more likely to report sudden deaths occurring soon after vaccination -- within 10 days," Kinoshita told AFP on December 21, 2023. "Therefore, this study does not suggest that the occurrence of deaths after vaccination is higher in the early period compared to the later period."

MacIntyre and Kinoshita both said multiple studies on vaccine safety found no increase in the risk of all-cause death.

Safe vaccines

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approved jabs are “safe” (archived link).

“Since 2021, more than 13 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered globally,” the global health agency said in an advisory as of December 5, 2023.

“Serious reactions to Covid-19 vaccines are extremely rare.”

In 2021 alone, the jabs helped save 14.4 million lives worldwide, it added.

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, the WHO separately said here (archived link).

"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."

AFP has debunked hundreds of false and misleading claims about Covid-19 and its vaccines.

This story was updated to clarify that the study's author did not claim it found there was a direct link between Covid-19 vaccination and deaths in Japan.
March 11, 2024 This story was updated to clarify that the study's author did not claim it found there was a direct link between Covid-19 vaccination and deaths in Japan.

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