This article was published before the MHRA announced a possible link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and a very rare type of blood clot, which can be fatal. It was correct at the time of writing. Our latest fact checks about Covid-19 and the pandemic can be found here.
We’ve seen several posts on Facebook using the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) in the US to claim that Covid-19 vaccines have caused many deaths.
This is not what the VAERS data means. It is a list of reported incidents that took place after vaccination, not necessarily because of it.
At the moment, thousands of people around the world are being given Covid vaccines every day. If someone gets ill or dies shortly after being vaccinated, this does not mean the vaccine caused it. We have written about this issue before.
The UK has so far received 143 reports of death following vaccination—none of which were caused by it. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) says: “The majority of these reports were in elderly people or people with underlying illness. Review of individual reports and patterns of reporting does not suggest the vaccine played a role in the death.”
What is VAERS?
VAERS was established in 1990 by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the US. It collects reports of problems after vaccination, to act as an early-warning system in case some of those problems are being caused by vaccines. The UK has a similar system called the Yellow Card Scheme.
Anyone can report an event on VAERS, and these are subsequently published on its database.
As the website explains, “VAERS is a passive reporting system, meaning it relies on individuals to send in reports of their experiences to CDC and [the Food and Drug Administration]. VAERS is not designed to determine if a vaccine caused a health problem, but is especially useful for detecting unusual or unexpected patterns of adverse event reporting that might indicate a possible safety problem with a vaccine.”
It also says, “The report of an adverse event to VAERS is not documentation that a vaccine caused the event.”
The Facebook posts we’ve seen show people using the VAERS database to find a list of deaths that took place after a Covid vaccination, then falsely suggesting that the vaccine caused them. This is wrong.
Covid-19 vaccines have been tested for safety
Vaccines sometimes cause side effects, but all Covid vaccines being used in the UK have been tested in thousands of patients and approved by the MHRA as safe and effective.
The UK’s follow-up monitoring of the Covid vaccines has found that “the vast majority of reported side effects are mild and all are in line with most types of vaccine, including the seasonal flu vaccine”. These include things like a sore arm and fatigue.