Claims 18 million Americans ‘seriously injured’ by Covid-19 vaccines are misleading

1 February 2023
What was claimed

18 million Americans have been left seriously injured by Covid-19 vaccinations.

Our verdict

An estimated 18 million Americans vaccinated against Covid-19 sought medical attention at some point after being vaccinated. That estimate is itself uncertain, and even if accurate, would not show that all those cases were caused by the vaccine.

A post on Facebook which claims that 18 million Americans have been “seriously injured” as a result of being vaccinated against Covid-19, according to data obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is misleading. 

A caption on the post says: “After the first Moderna shot 18 Million seriously injured!”. The post includes a screen grab of an article published on the American Liberty Report blog with the headline: “Court orders CDC to release data showing 18 million vaccine injuries in America”.

The “injuries” in question are conditions requiring medical attention being reported at some point after being vaccinated. These cannot be called “vaccine injuries” as there is no evidence that these conditions were caused by vaccination.

Also, the data covers conditions reported after vaccination with the Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines, and not limited to just the first dose. But the Facebook post describes these as “injuries” incurred after a first dose of the Moderna vaccine only. 

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Safety monitoring

The data referred to in the post comes from a CDC safety monitoring system, called v-safe.

V-safe uses a smartphone-based app which allows members of the public to provide personalised feedback on their experience including whether they suffered any health issues after being vaccinated. 

Participants who enrol with v-safe are asked to reply to text messages or complete online surveys every day for a week after each dose of vaccine, every week for the six weeks following vaccination, and then at three, six and 12 months

They are asked how they feel that day and to report certain symptoms from a pre-populated list, including chills, headache and nausea, or something not listed; and about any health impacts, such as being unable to work, unable to do daily activities, or having to get medical attention. 

This is just one of the tools the CDC uses to monitor vaccine safety, alongside for example the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) which allows anyone to report suspected reactions and for which the data is publicly accessible.

What the v-safe data shows

The data was obtained by the Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN), a Texas-based nonprofit which is sceptical of Covid-19 vaccines.

According to its review of this data from the CDC: “Out of the approximate 10 million individuals that registered and submitted data to v-safe, 782,913 individuals, or over 7.7% of v-safe users, had a health event requiring medical attention, emergency room intervention, and/or hospitalization.”

The American Liberty Report website rounded up this figure to 8% and applied it to the entire vaccinated population of the United States saying: “It means that as many as 18 million of the 230 million people who received at least one shot may have been hospitalized with an adverse reaction.”

However, extrapolating the figures in this way is misleading for a few reasons.

Firstly. the data did not say that every health event requiring medical attention led to hospitalisation. In fact only around 10% of them did, or around 0.7% of all respondents. 

As mentioned, the data doesn’t distinguish between incidents related to the vaccine and those completely unconnected to the vaccine. It included all reports of people seeking medical attention up to a year after being vaccinated. The data does not specify how much time passed between vaccination and seeking care nor did it provide the reason why medical care was sought. 

Also, we don’t know for sure whether the people using v-safe were representative of vaccinated people in general, and so whether their rate of hospitalisation or conditions which required medical attention can be applied to all vaccinated people.

Finally, the 230 million figure appears to refer to the number of Americans who have completed an initial vaccination protocol, which usually involves two doses. But the CDC says: “You can enroll in v-safe after any dose of COVID-19 vaccine”.

We contacted the CDC but did not receive a response. The agency previously told Reuters that it "cannot comment on analyses conducted outside of the agency that we have not seen," but added that v-safe data "have shown low rates of medical care after vaccination, particularly hospitalization."

In the US, almost 270 million people have received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine. If the data from v-safe is representative of all vaccine recipients, then the total number of people who experienced an adverse event needing medical attention in the year following vaccination would be higher than 18 million (although we still wouldn’t be able to say how many of these were caused by vaccination).     

It’s common for people to experience mild side effects to the Covid vaccines including headaches, sore arms or fatigue. 

But severe reactions that require medical attention are rare. 

Image courtesy of Brano

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