Are thousands dying from COVID vaccines?

April 21, 2021

Categories: Skepticism , Tags: Conspiracy, COVID

There’s been a lot of talk recently in “alternative” circles about vaccine deaths. This has been prompted by the massive global rollout of several different types of COVID vaccines - mRNA (Pfizer, Moderna), Viral Vector (AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson), Inactivated (CoronaVac, Covaxin), and others (opens new window).

There is understandable fear about some of these vaccines, and the phrase vaccine hesitancy is being used these days by the media to describe those who are unsure about the newer technology vaccines, as opposed to anti-vaxxers - vaccine deniers who are outright against the use of any vaccine.

Recently I’ve seen Billy TK talk in front of Parliament with “Dr” Rashid Buttar, who claims that there are many reports in VAERS of vaccine injuries and death, and that he expects underreporting in the region of 90%. I’ve heard Sue Grey talk about reports of people being killed by the vaccine. And I’ve read the Informed Consent Matters (opens new window) 100 page document (named Frontline Workers Testimonies & VAERs Reports), which states on its front page that:

“IT IS EVERYONE’S RIGHT TO REVIEW THE FIRST-HAND TESTIMONIES OF THE COVID VACCINE ADVERSE REACTIONS WITHOUT CENSORSHIP BY THE NEWS MEDIA (OR SOCIAL MEDIA).

WITH ACCESS TO THIS DATA, YOU CAN PERFORM A RISK/BENEFIT ANALYSIS FOR YOURSELF.”

What follows inside the professionally produced document is weirdly not actually a set of VAERS reports (even though the data is publicly available (opens new window)), but instead it’s a series of screenshots of news articles, tweets and Facebook posts which mention incidences where someone died within a month or so of receiving the COVID vaccine.

So, what is VAERS, and are thousands of people dying? VAERS is the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (opens new window), and is a reporting system in the US for vaccine injuries. In many ways it’s just like the long list of articles in the 100 page document - cases of people dying or having adverse effects after receiving a vaccine. Remember that anyone can fill in the VAERS form and report an incident of vaccine injury, just like any reporter can print a story suggesting a causal link between a vaccine and subsequent medical issue. As of last Friday there are 772,661 cases related to COVID in the database, listing conditions from Fever (~120,000), Pain (~69,000), Screaming (~7,000) and Sneezing (~1,200) to Female Orgasmic Disorder (1), Gulf War Syndrome (2), Early Sexual Debut (1), Fractured Coccyx (1) and Circumcision (1).

And this is where the skepticism comes in. There’s a commonly used phrase in skepticism: “correlation is not causation”. In this instance the two events that are correlated are people being given the COVID vaccine and then subsequently getting sick or even dying. From here, for many people, it’s a short, and understandable, leap of logic to connect the two events - a causative link. We even have a fancy Greek phrase for this fallacy, when people jump to the conclusion of assuming that because one event happens after another event, it therefore happened because of it - “post hoc, ergo propter hoc”, literally translated as “after this, therefore because of this”.

Now, this is not to say that all correlations are not causation - we jump to this conclusion because very often events that follow each other do have a causative link. But the trap here is to jump to that conclusion prematurely. In the case of vaccines, a very contentious issue, we have to look at the background rates of death and injury in the absence of being given a vaccine - a control group. Time and again for vaccines, when we look at this incidence of issues in the control group, we see similar rates of death and injury - meaning that the vaccine is not responsible for the issues.

People get sick, pre-existing conditions flare up, new conditions emerge, and sometimes people die - even when they’re young, fit and healthy. Vaccines aren’t to blame for these issues, they just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is not to say that vaccines are blameless - sometimes there are real issues caused by vaccines, such as allergic reactions to an ingredient, or a complication such as infection from being injected. But the dangers of these rare events are much lower than that of the disease the vaccine is protecting against.

The CDC are well aware of the issue of spurious correlations, and are likely also aware of the zealous nature of vaccine deniers, and the risk of outright false reports. As such, they have warnings before you can see the data, and you have to click to confirm you understand that the data is not proof of vaccine injuries. The CDC have posted this on their VAERS front page:

“VAERS is not designed to determine if a vaccine caused or contributed to an adverse event. A report to VAERS does not mean the vaccine caused the event.”

https://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/ensuringsafety/monitoring/vaers/index.html (opens new window)

This is why we need scientists as a layer between us and raw data - they have methods of sifting through the reports to uncover actual risks. An uninformed person reading through headlines or looking at the VAERS database entries for COVID could come away thinking that the COVID vaccines are dangerous. But when this raw data is filtered properly by experts, it turns out that so far the side effects we have seen are much less of a problem than the damage that would have been caused in the same population by COVID-19.