Deaths from vaccines have not overtaken Covid-19 deaths

2 September 2021
What was claimed

Deaths after Covid-19 vaccines have overtaken the number of Covid-19 deaths in “healthy” people that occurred in 2020.

Our verdict

This claim is based on mismatched sets of data, which are misleadingly presented to draw false conclusions. The two figures used do not cover the same time period or same UK nations.

What was claimed

An increasing proportion of people will die as the Covid-19 vaccines are rolled out to younger people

Our verdict

It is not clear what data the article draws on to reach this conclusion. However, it appears to use information from the Yellow Card scheme, which cannot provide a definitive link between vaccines and reported side effects, and misleadingly extrapolates this to the younger population.

An article on the website TCW, formerly known as Conservative Woman, warns against teenagers receiving the Covid-19 vaccine, citing claims that vaccine deaths have overtaken the number of Covid-19 deaths in “healthy” people during the whole of 2020. 

The conclusions drawn in the article make false comparisons between different sets of data, at points directly against the advice of health authorities, and follow a number of articles that make similarly false claims, which we have fact checked before

The article also falsely claims that an increasing proportion of people will die as the Covid-19 vaccines are rolled out to younger people. 

Vaccine deaths have not overtaken Covid-19 deaths 

As we have written many times before, deaths after vaccination reported through the Yellow Card scheme are not proven to have been caused by the vaccine. 

The Conservative Woman article bases its claim that vaccine deaths have overtaken Covid-19 deaths on two mismatched sets of data—the total number of deaths reported after vaccination through the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency’s (MHRA) Yellow Card scheme, and the number of fatalities ‘due to’ or ‘involving’ Covid in people aged under 65 with no underlying health conditions for the whole of 2020.

The article doesn’t link to the source of this second figure, but Full Fact found the figure it cites in a Freedom of Information request published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS)

It’s impossible to accurately compare the number of Covid-19 deaths and deaths reported after a dose of a Covid-19 vaccine as they are counted completely differently. 

The Yellow Card scheme relies on voluntary reporting from medics and members of the public, and is intended to provide an early warning of any previously unknown risks from medicines or medical devices. However, it is important to note that side effects reported as occurring after the vaccine were not necessarily caused by the vaccine. In its analysis of deaths reported after the vaccine, the MHRA states: “Vaccination and surveillance of large populations means that, by chance, some people will experience and report a new illness or events in the days and weeks after vaccination. 

“A high proportion of people vaccinated early in the vaccination campaign were very elderly, and/or had pre-existing medical conditions. Older age and chronic underlying illnesses make it more likely that coincidental adverse events will occur, especially given the millions of people vaccinated.

“It is therefore important that we carefully review these reports to distinguish possible side effects from illness that would have occurred irrespective of vaccination.” 

There is a possible link between the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine and a rare form of blood clot with low platelet count, which can be fatal. On 7 April 2021, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advised that, for adults aged under 30 without underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of severe Covid-19, an alternative vaccine such as Pfixer/BioNTech or Moderna should be given where available.

Even if these figures were possible to compare, such a comparison would be misleading because they do not cover the same time period. The Yellow Card data covers the entire vaccination rollout in the UK, from 9 December 2020 to present (with a slight lag) and is updated weekly. Meanwhile, the deaths data the article uses only covers 2020, missing the tens-of-thousands of deaths that have occurred so far during 2021.

The figures are also geographically mismatched. The ONS only covers England and Wales in its numbers, while the Yellow Card data covers the entire UK. 

It’s also important to point out that the article is focused on Covid-19 deaths where the people who died had no underlying conditions. As we have written before, this is a misleading way of interpreting the data. “Underlying conditions” covers a broad range of health conditions, such as asthma, kidney disease and dementia, and doesn’t indicate whether or not Covid-19 was the leading cause of death. 

No evidence more young people will die from the Covid-19 vaccine than the virus itself 

Central to the article is the claim that an increasing proportion of people will die from the vaccine rather than Covid-19, as the rollout reaches younger members of the population. 

TCW claims that up to 21 March 2021, there were 36 Covid deaths in the whole of the UK in the 0-19 age group, it then says 91.1% of these had at least one known comorbidity—meaning they had at least one other underlying medical condition. The article does not link to the source of this information. Of these deaths, it says 20 were of young people in England and Wales.

This does not align with data we have from NHS England, which states that up to 24 March 2021, 39 people aged 0-19 died of Covid-19 in hospitals in England alone. Nine of these people did not have any pre-existing conditions. 

It’s not clear how the TCW article calculates another claim it makes: that there is a “one in 46,911 [chance] of dying ‘shortly after vaccination’ following the AstraZeneca jab” or a “one in 73,045 chance of dying following the Pfizer jab”. 

The closest to this number we could calculate is by looking at the approximate number of vaccines, by brand, administered in the UK, which is outlined in the weekly Yellow Card reports. For example, if you simply divide the 21.3 million first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by the 508 UK reports of suspected adverse reactions to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in which the patient died shortly after vaccination, you reach 41,929. However, as explained above, this totally ignores the fact that there is no proven link between these deaths and the vaccine. 

As we stated earlier, the vaccine rollout was first concentrated in the oldest and most vulnerable members of society, a proportion of whom were sadly more likely to die irrespective of receiving the vaccine. It’s impossible to extrapolate this number to younger, healthier members of the population, as the TCW article attempts to do, simply because they can be expected to live far longer. 

As the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication set out in April, when the possible connection between the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines and rare blood clots was announced, there are some scenarios in which the immediate potential harms of the AstraZeneca vaccine could outweigh the benefits in people who were at a low risk of exposure to the virus, particularly in younger age groups. 

However, this communication of risk did not look at the potential benefits and harms for teenagers, nor the long term benefits of vaccination and only reflects the situation for one vaccine in April 2021. 

The end of the TCW article points parents who are considering whether or not to consent to their children being vaccinated to the Oxford University vaccination risk calculator. The tool gives users a risk score produced by an evidence-based model which uses a range of factors such as age, sex, ethnicity and existing medical conditions to predict risk of death or hospitalisation from Covid-19.

The online tool, however, explicitly warns against the calculator being used “for supporting or informing clinical decision-making”, stating that “it is ONLY to be used for academic research, peer review and validation purposes, and it must NOT be used with data or information relating to any individual”. 

It is also only designed to be used for people aged between 19 and 100, excluding most teenagers. 

We took a stand for good information.

After we published this fact check, we contacted the MHRA to suggest that their warning, that a report of suspected adverse drug reaction does not necessarily mean the vaccine caused that effect, needed to be more prominent on their website.

In response, the MHRA took action by including a warning about what a Yellow Card report means at the top of each analysis print, as well as putting it higher up in their weekly report.

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This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as false because the figures used in the article are presented in a misleading way to draw false conclusions. Deaths after Covid-19 vaccines and Covid-19 deaths are tracked in completely different ways, and cannot be straightforwardly compared.

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