No evidence for drop in US sudden infant death syndrome cases

25 February 2021
What was claimed

There was a decrease in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in the USA in 2020 as a result of scheduled vaccinations being cancelled.

Our verdict

There was a decrease in reports of SIDS to the US Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System but these represent a tiny proportion of SIDS cases. There’s no evidence childhood vaccinations are linked to SIDS.

A Facebook post claims that there was a decrease in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in 2020 due to scheduled vaccinations being cancelled.

A link in the post to an article clarifies that the data shown actually represents the number of SIDS reports to the US Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), when a SIDS case has occurred after vaccination.However, this represents a tiny proportion of all SIDS cases and does not show that vaccines are linked to SIDS.

VAERS is a system in the US which allows people to report side effects which may be related to vaccinations, for the purposes of safety investigations, similar to the Yellow Card scheme here in the UK.

SIDS is the sudden death of an infant under the age of one which cannot be explained even after medical investigation.

Data on the total number of SIDS cases in the United States in 2020 has not yet been published. Data on all deaths among under ones in the US does not show significant changes during 2020. It is incorrect for the Facebook post to present data on the number of SIDS cases reported to VAERS as the total number of SIDS cases.

The number of SIDS cases reported to VAERS following a child being vaccinated fell in 2020 from around 20 in each of the previous ten years, to five.

By way of context that there are around 1,300 cases of SIDS each year in the United States.

But reports of events (including deaths) to VAERS are not proof they were caused by the vaccination, just that they happened some time afterwards. Similarly, a fall in reports after a fall in vaccination rates is not evidence that vaccines cause SIDS. There is plenty of evidence showing that SIDS is not associated with childhood vaccinations, and that in fact, being up to date on vaccinations is associated with a lower risk of SIDS.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which manage VAERS says: “While very important in monitoring vaccine safety, VAERS reports alone cannot be used to determine if a vaccine caused or contributed to an adverse event or illness.” 

As well as wrongly suggesting that VAERS reports are unequivocal evidence of side effects caused by vaccines, the “explanation” given for what is observed doesn’t really make sense.

If you have fewer children being vaccinated, then you’re going to see fewer cases of SIDS following vaccinations, whether or not you believe that vaccines were the cause or not.

Another point is that the step change in SIDS reports in 2020 was only observed if you look at all reports to VAERS, including those that came from outside the United States.

While VAERS is managed by agencies in the US, it does include some reports from outside the country. 

If you exclude foreign reports, there were three SIDS reports to VAERS in 2020, compared to four in 2019.

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 while there was a fall in SIDS reports to VAERS, this does not mean SIDS cases overall fell. There is no evidence for this, nor evidence that SIDS cases were caused by vaccinations as claimed.

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