No evidence for MP’s claims ‘tens of thousands of people’ have ‘suffered severe damage’ from vaccines

31 March 2022
What was claimed

Approximately tens of thousands of people have suffered severe damage from Covid-19 vaccines.

Our verdict

There is no evidence for this. This claim is based on Yellow Card reporting, which is not a reliable indicator of proven side effects.

We know that on the figures that at least 2,000 people have died shortly after receiving the vaccine, that's from the Yellow Cards. We know that upwards of half a million Yellow Cards have been issued, so when we talk about probably tens of thousands of people who have suffered severe damage as a result of this [Covid-19 vaccines] I think that's the sort of ballpark figure we're in.

Conservative MP Sir Christopher Chope claimed during a recent interview with GB News that there were “probably tens of thousands of people who have suffered severe damage as a result” of Covid-19 vaccines.

There isn’t any real evidence for Mr Chope’s estimate which relies on figures from the Yellow Card scheme. 

The Yellow Card scheme, run by the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency’s (MHRA), allows individuals and health professionals to report any suspected reactions or side effects of vaccines, even if the reporter isn’t sure that it was caused by the vaccine. 

Although Mr Chope claimed that “upwards of half a million” Yellow Card reports have been issued, as of 9 March 2022 (the most recent statistics available when the interview took place) there had been a total of 449,324 reports, detailing around 1.5 million suspected reactions (as each report can contain details of multiple suspected reactions). 

As of 16 March (the most recent available at the time of writing), the MHRA had received 450,029 reports.

We have fact checked other claims made by Mr Chope on Covid-19 vaccines previously.

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Reports of side effects

When Full Fact contacted Mr Chope about his comments, and particularly his claim that  there are “probably tens of thousands of people who have suffered severe damage as a result” of Covid-19 vaccines, he told us: “There have been more than 450,000 Yellow Card reports of adverse effects and it is surely not unreasonable to work on the basis that some 2.5% of those reports relate to the severe impacts set out above.” 

We asked Mr Chope for more information where the figure of 2.5% came from, but other than saying it was “a calculation” he did not provide an explanation. Furthermore, 2.5% of 450,000 is 11,250—falling short of the “tens of thousands” described by the MP. 

Mr Chope also reiterated that his claim of tens of thousands of people suffering severe damage from Covid-19 vaccine damage was a “ballpark figure”, and pointed to an update published by the MHRA in 2019 which urged people to submit Yellow Card reports if necessary, after a drop in reports in 2018. 

This notice states: “It is estimated that only 10% of serious reactions and between 2 and 4% of non-serious reactions are reported.” Mr Chope told Full Fact that this meant there might be “an underreporting of 90%” in terms of serious adverse reactions to the Covid-19 vaccine, arguing that by the MHRA’s own admission the Yellow Card reports for the Covid-19 vaccines could represent just a fraction of the actual adverse events experienced.

However, the very same notice Mr Chope refers to explicitly states that the statistics on Yellow Card underreporting should not be used for Covid-19, as there was an increased public awareness around the scheme during the rollout of the vaccines.

A spokesperson for the MHRA told Full Fact: “The actual rate [of underreporting] is unknown and likely to be highly variable as it will be influenced by public awareness and seriousness of events as well as publicity around the use of vaccines.”

Mr Chope also told us that he had made the same claim about ‘tens of thousands’ of people suffering severe side effects during an adjournment debate in the House of Commons on 2 March and it had not been contradicted by the minister present at the debate, parliamentary under-secretary for the Department of Health Maria Caulfield. 

Ms Caulfield told us that, due to the fact an adjournment debate only lasts 30 minutes, it’s not possible to respond to every point raised, adding: “Not responding to a point does not mean I endorse it.”

As set out on the Yellow Card site, it is important to note that reported adverse events cannot be used to reliably indicate the rate of occurrence of side effects. As we have written many, many times before, the system is designed to be used by patients and healthcare professionals and there is no requirement to prove that an adverse event was caused by a Covid-19 vaccine. 

This means the raw data can’t be relied on to calculate a fair estimate of the number of genuine severe side effects.

Mr Chope did not expand on what he meant by “severe” Covid-19 vaccine damage, or give any further information about where this figure may have come from beyond the Yellow Card system, which records a vast range of suspected side effects. The lists of adverse events are published online, separated by vaccine (Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and reports where the brand was unspecified). 

The “overwhelming majority” of suspected side effects reported through the Yellow Card scheme are related to pain at the injection site such as a sore arm, or generalised symptoms lasting for a short time after injection such as heachache, fatigue or flu-like symptoms. 

In a statement to Full Fact, Mr Chope said that a number of questions he had asked in Parliament about the Yellow Card system and suspected vaccine side effects had not yet been fully answered. 

The government does not routinely publish information on side effects proven to have been caused by Covid-19 vaccines. 

Reports of deaths

On GB News, Mr Chope also claimed the reports show at least 2,000 people had died shortly after receiving a vaccine, and the data does show that at the time 2,061 deaths had been recorded shortly after vaccination. Recently updated data shows that the figure, as of 16 March, stands at 2,071. 

However, the MHRA site states: “Some events may have happened anyway, regardless of vaccination. This is particularly the case when millions of people are vaccinated, and especially when vaccines are being given to the most elderly people and people who have underlying illness.”

In the clip, Mr Chope references the fact that vaccines have been found to be the likely cause of death at a number of inquests held at Coroners’ Courts, which is correct.

Information about deaths where Covid-19 vaccines are mentioned on the death certificate are included in the monthly mortality statistics for England and Wales, collected by the Office for National Statistics. According to these figures there have been 29 deaths where adverse events related to Covid-19 vaccines are mentioned on the certificate, and 23 where they have been identified as the underlying cause. 

There has also been widespread coverage of some specific rare conditions reported following vaccination, such as blood clots occurring alongside low platelets and myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle), which is often highlighted alongside pericarditis (inflammation of the tissue surrounding the heart). 

There have been 476 reports of major blood clots alongside low platelets following vaccination across all vaccine brands, the majority of them following AstraZeneca vaccinations. There have been 79 reports of deaths with this condition following the AstraZeneca vaccine, and four deaths with this condition following the Pfizer vaccine. 

A scientific review into the reports conducted by the MHRA found evidence of a possible link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clots with low platelets, although the likelihood of it occurring was said to be “very rare”. As a result, it was advised that people under the age of 40 receive a different vaccine where possible

There have been 1,188 reports of myocarditis following vaccination across all vaccine brands, and 856 reports of pericarditis following vaccination. Eight of them have been reported as fatal. 

The MHRA has reviewed reports both in the UK and internationally of suspected myocarditis and pericarditis, identifying it as a very rare condition following vaccination.

Correction 7 April 2022

This article previously quoted data as of 16 March about Yellow Card reports and suspected reactions for the Pfizer vaccine only, not all Covid-19 vaccines as claimed. The data for 9 March reflected the number of reports relating to the Pfizer vaccine and all Covid-19 vaccines, not the number of reports and suspected reactions across all vaccines as claimed. The figures have been corrected to reflect the total number of Yellow Card reports and suspected reactions following all Covid-19 vaccines.

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After we published this fact check, we contacted Sir Christopher Chope and GB News to request a correction regarding this claim.

Sir Christopher disputed our fact check and did not issue a correction.

GB News did not respond. 

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