A nurse fills a syringe with a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a clinic in Los Angeles, California on August 23, 2021 ( AFP / Robyn Beck)

False testimony at FDA meeting claims Covid-19 shots are dangerous

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Public testimony at a US Food and Drug Administration meeting claimed that more lives are lost to Covid-19 vaccines than are saved by the shots. But the FDA described the statements as "not based in science," and medical experts say the comments are inaccurate.

"The vaccines kill more people than they save," entrepreneur Steve Kirsch says in audio included in a September 18, 2021 Instagram post by The Gateway Pundit, an online publication that has repeatedly spread inaccurate claims.

Screenshot of an Instagram post taken September 21, 2021

The remarks by Kirsch -- who is not a doctor or medical expert -- came during the open comments portion of a September 17 FDA committee meeting on Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine boosters. They spread on Instagram, Facebook and Bitchute, as well as in articles here and here.

Although virtually all recent US deaths from the disease are among the unvaccinated, many Americans are reluctant to receive their shots -- hesitancy that is made worse by a wave of misinformation that has spread about both the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the vaccines.

"The statements made by Mr Kirsch during the open public hearing portion of the meeting were not based in science and go against FDA's public health mission," Abigail Capobianco, an FDA press officer, told AFP.

Government data does not back up Kirsch's claim that the Covid-19 vaccines kill more people than they save.

Several times in his presentation, Kirsch referenced VAERS -- the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System -- a national vaccine safety surveillance database run by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the FDA.

The official description of VAERS says that the system "contains information on unverified reports of adverse events (illnesses, health problems and/or symptoms) following immunization with US-licensed vaccines," and that it accepts reports "from anyone."

Capobianco said that the "FDA requires health care providers to report any death after Covid-19 vaccination to VAERS, even if it's unclear whether the vaccine was the cause."

This means that "reports of adverse events to VAERS following vaccination, including deaths, do not necessarily mean that a vaccine caused a health problem," she said, also emphasizing that deaths following Covid-19 vaccination are rare.

"More than 380 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines were administered in the United States from December 14, 2020, through September 13, 2021. During this time, VAERS received 7,653 reports of death (0.0020%) among people who received a Covid-19 vaccine," Capobianco said.

Even if all deaths following vaccination reported to VAERS were caused by the shots, the data still would not reflect the two to one vaccination deaths to lives saved ratio that Kirsch described, and the methodology used to achieve his findings is unclear.

AFP Fact Check has debunked other inaccurate claims related to VAERS here.

Independent experts also criticized Kirsch's testimony.

Dr Jeffrey Morris, the director of the division of biostatistics at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine, said that Kirsch's "scientific logic is extremely flawed."

Morris, who evaluated Kirsch's recent remarks as well as previous claims he made, said that the testimony misuses VAERS data by treating it as if it "should be 'assumed caused by vaccine unless proven not to be caused.'"

Dr Alison Galvani, the director of the Yale Center for Infectious Disease Modeling and Analysis, described the claims made by Kirsch as "dangerously off-base," saying that they "counter the extensive peer-reviewed literature which demonstrates the efficacy and safety of the Covid-19 vaccines that are currently administered in the US."

"Globally, Covid-19 vaccines are saving thousands of lives every day. Vaccination against Covid-19 is the most powerful tool that we have to curtail the mortality and morbidity of the pandemic," said Galvani.

The CDC and the World Health Organization continue to urge people to receive Covid-19 vaccines and say they are both safe and effective.

September 29, 2021 This article was updated to add a link to an expert's evaluation of claims that Covid-19 vaccines kill more people than they save.