People wait in queues at a Covid-19 testing centre in Melbourne on May 26, 2021, as Australia's second biggest city scrambles to contain a growing Covid outbreak. (AFP / William West)

Health authorities refute false claims about Covid-19 death reporting

  • This article is more than one year old.
  • Published on June 8, 2021 at 09:30
  • 2 min read
  • By AFP Australia
Multiple Facebook posts claim that anyone who dies within 20 days of testing positive for Covid-19 -- whatever the actual cause of death -- will be counted as a coronavirus fatality. The posts also claim that if people die within 24 hours of being vaccinated, the vaccine is not listed as a cause of death. Both claims are false: neither US nor Australian Covid-19 fatality reporting guidelines contain any such criteria; US health authorities told AFP Covid-19 is only listed on a death certificate if it "caused or contributed" to the death; deaths occuring within 24 hours of vaccination are not excluded from Covid-19 fatality reporting, Australia's drug regulator said.

The claim was published here by an Australia-based Facebook user on May 6, 2021.

A graphic in the post reads: "Funny isn’t it, if you die within 20 days of testing positive for the Rona (no matter what other factors were involved) You’ll be counted as a COVID death. However, if you drop dead within 24 hours of taking the vaccine it has nothing to do with it.”

A screenshot of the misleading Facebook post as of May 28, 2021.

More than three million people have died from Covid-19 and more than 171 million Covid-19 cases have been recorded worldwide since the beginning of the pandemic, according to an AFP tally on June 4, 2021.

More than 2 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered worldwide as of June 3, 2021, according to official sources by the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford.

Other instances of the claim appear on Facebook here and here.

However, the claim is false.

'Caused or contributed to death'

Robert N. Anderson, chief of the Mortality Statistics Branch at the US National Center for Health Statistics, told AFP: "there are no such criteria for reporting Covid-19 or vaccination on death certificates (on which official statistics are based)."

“Covid-19 is to be reported on the death certificate only if it caused or contributed to death in some way. A positive test for Covid-19 is not sufficient criteria for reporting, nor is the timing of the death post-test. Similarly, if the vaccine is determined to have caused or contributed to death, it should be reported on the death certificate regardless of the timing.”

Anderson added that physicians, medical examiners and coroners are responsible for determining and reporting the cause of death on death certificates.

An Australian Department of Health spokesperson pointed AFP to Covid-19 national guidelines which do not state there is a 20-day criteria as per the misleading claim.

“A Covid-19 death is defined for surveillance purposes as a death in a confirmed Covid-19 case, unless there is a clear alternative cause of death that cannot be related to Covid-19 (e.g. trauma),” reads page 37 of the guidelines.

“Where a Coroner’s report is available, these findings are to be observed.”

'No exclusions'

A spokesperson for Australia’s drug regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), told AFP it “does not exclude deaths that occur within 24 hours of vaccination from its analysis of COVID-19 vaccine safety.”

The TGA said it medical data to identify patterns which indicate a signal for a safety concern.

“Our investigations aim to determine whether vaccination could be the cause of the adverse event or death. Even when the suspected side effect is serious, it is possible that it may not have been caused by the vaccine. The timing may be coincidental,” they added.

A weekly safety report is published here by the TGA. 

“Apart from the single Australian case in which death was linked to [rare blood clots], COVID-19 vaccines have not been found to cause death,” the TGA spokesperson said.

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