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People are administered COVID-19 vaccine on Feb. 11, 2021, at a vaccination center, at Gillette Stadium, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP) People are administered COVID-19 vaccine on Feb. 11, 2021, at a vaccination center, at Gillette Stadium, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP)

People are administered COVID-19 vaccine on Feb. 11, 2021, at a vaccination center, at Gillette Stadium, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher April 6, 2021

No, reports to the CDC’s vaccine early warning system are not ‘vaccine deaths’

If Your Time is short

  • The federal Centers for Disease Control Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration maintain a Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS).

  • Anyone can report “adverse events” to a vaccine — as in possible side effects — to VAERS. The reports are not verified and do not indicate whether an adverse event is linked to or caused by a vaccine.

  • Regarding COVID-19, vaccines have been administered to millions of people across Europe and the United States. There hasn’t been any definitive proof that a COVID-19 vaccination led to someone’s death.

Without mentioning COVID-19, a headline widely shared on Facebook raises an alarm about vaccines while referencing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading federal agency fighting the coronavirus.

The headline is on an article from the Gateway Pundit, a conservative website. It states:

"Per the CDC, there are nearly twice as many vaccine related deaths SO FAR in 2021 (1,755) than all the vaccine deaths this past decade (994)."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

These are not counts of "vaccine deaths" — they are unverified reports of deaths that occur after a vaccination. There is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines have caused any deaths. And there have not been more vaccine-related deaths in 2021 than in the previous decade.

Claim manipulates unvetted data

The headline cites figures from the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System, which is maintained by the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The agencies warn that reports of adverse events — in other words, possible side effects — made to the VAERS database do not indicate whether an adverse event is linked to or caused by a vaccine; the reports, which can be made by anyone and are not verified, are intended as an early warning system to detect possible safety problems. 

As Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center and a physician in the infectious-disease division at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, told PolitiFact: "The VAERS system is very noisy, so it's hard to compare." Offit said the system identifies "a lot of temporal associations that are not necessarily causal."

Moreover, the database does not compare death rates associated with vaccinations to see whether they are higher or lower than death rates among people who were not vaccinated, said Dr. Walter Orenstein, associate director of the Emory Vaccine Center at Emory University.

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Orenstein also said that given the national focus on COVID-19, people are more likely to report deaths following a COVID-19 vaccination; and given the focus on vaccinating the elderly for the coronavirus in care facilities, it’s likely there will be more reports of death because those older people tend to have other health problems.

Here’s what the CDC told us on the numbers

  • Number of all vaccine-related deaths over the past decade: 2,928

  • Number of all deaths after vaccination in 2021: 1,934

  • Number of deaths after COVID-19 vaccination in 2021: 1,911

That means almost 99% of reports in 2021 followed COVID-19 vaccines.

More than 145 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered in the U.S. from Dec. 14, 2020, through March 29, according to the CDC. Reviews by physicians from the CDC and the FDA "revealed no evidence that vaccination contributed to patient deaths," the CDC said.

The Gateway Pundit recently made another False claim about fatal side effects, this time taking European data out of context to exaggerate the risk of vaccines. The claim shared information from a European database that stresses its information is preliminary and requires additional research before making conclusions. 

The claim that there were nearly twice as many vaccine-related deaths so far in 2021 as the past 10 years is not accurate. We rate it False.

Our Sources

Gateway Pundit, "EXCLUSIVE: Per the CDC There Are Nearly Twice As Many Vaccine Related Deaths SO FAR in 2021 (1,755) Than All the Vaccine Deaths this Past Decade (994)," March 29, 2021 

PolitiFact, "Deaths after vaccination don’t prove that COVID-19 vaccine is lethal," Feb. 16, 2021

PolitiFact, "A claim comparing adverse events for COVID-19, flu vaccines exaggerates raw data," Jan. 15, 2021

PolitiFact, "European database does not prove the COVID-19 vaccines are lethal," March 31, 2021

Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System, "About VAERS," accessed April 1, 2021

Email, Dr. Walter Orenstein, associate director of the Emory Vaccine Center at Emory University, April 1, 2021

Email, Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, April 1, 2021

FactCheck.org, "Viral Posts Misuse VAERS Data to Make False Claims About COVID-19 Vaccines," March 31, 2021

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Selected Adverse Events Reported after COVID-19 Vaccination," March 30, 2021

Interview, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund, April 5, 2021

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More by Tom Kertscher

No, reports to the CDC’s vaccine early warning system are not ‘vaccine deaths’

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