Fact check: Reports of adverse effects in US database aren’t confirmed to be linked to vaccination – Reuters

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A video is being shared on social media that sees a presenter examining data from a US system that collects reports of adverse health events that follow the administration of a vaccine.
The video (here) features data collected by the US Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), which is freely available to download (list of files here: here, an updated version of the dataset shown in the video can be downloaded here: here).
Anyone can report events to VAERS (vaers.hhs.gov/reportevent.html) and a disclaimer on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says: “The reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable” (here). When downloading the data, users are presented with a further disclaimer that the data does not include information from investigations into reported cases. The disclaimer also says “the inclusion of events in VAERS data does not imply causality” (here).
The presenter says she is looking at adverse reactions and deaths in people who have received the COVID-19 vaccine (timestamp 0.10) and then filters this data to show people who are reported to have died. She says this now shows only people who have died within seven days of receiving a vaccine. This is incorrect, there is no limit on reporting deaths related to adverse effects following a vaccine (here). The data includes deaths reported more than seven days after receiving a vaccine ( see VAERS ID 916890). As she scrolls through this filtered list, the presenter says: “These people did not survive the vaccine”.
However, on its website, the CDC says the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires vaccination providers to report any death after COVID-19 vaccination to VAERS.
“Reports of death to VAERS following vaccination do not necessarily mean the vaccine caused the death,” it says.
“CDC follows up on any report of death to request additional information and learn more about what occurred and to determine whether the death was a result of the vaccine or unrelated.”
“To date, VAERS has not detected patterns in cause of death that would indicate a safety problem with COVID-19 vaccines.”
The CDC estimates that about 1.3 million COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered to residents in long-term care facilities as of Jan. 18, 2021. Given this, the CDC expected to see a background mortality of 11,440 deaths (slide 36 here), which is multiple times higher than the number of VAERS reports in the dataset.
Further to this, the VAERS dataset presented in the video did not just include events reported after COVID-19 vaccines. On-screen text in the video says a one-year-old died from the COVID-19 vaccine, but children younger than 16 years of age are not authorized to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines in the United States (here). The VAERS report in question says that the vaccine the one-year-old had received was a flu shot (VAERS ID number 942246, vaccine data downloadable here: here).
Throughout the video, the woman says that about 1% of vaccine injuries and deaths are reported. (Timestamps 0.03, 2.20 and 3.20).
A spokesperson for the CDC told Reuters by email that reporting rates for adverse events vary. She said: “Mild events, like a rash, tend to be reported less frequently than severe events (like a seizure). We have data to show that serious adverse events that occur after vaccination are more likely to be reported than non-serious adverse events. Events such as a sore arm at the injection site might not get reported since they are expected and therefore people don’t feel the need to report them.”
Studies have found reporting rates on VAERS of 47% for cases of intussusception cases after the rotavirus vaccine and 68% for paralytic polio after the oral polio vaccine, while rates ranged from 13 to 76% for anaphylaxis (here).
Partly false. In the US, the VAERS collects reports of adverse effects in patients following vaccination but it does not show whether those adverse effects were caused by a vaccine. The death of a one-year-old included in the data could not have been caused by a vaccine for COVID-19, as the child had not received one.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work  here .
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
All quotes delayed a minimum of 15 minutes. See here for a complete list of exchanges and delays.

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