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Andy Nguyen
By Andy Nguyen April 6, 2021

COVID-19 vaccines have not led to 6,000% increase in patient deaths, as post suggests

If Your Time is short

  • These figures are based on a federally maintained database on adverse reactions to vaccinations that collects information from almost anyone who wants to report it. But the database keepers have stressed the numbers alone are unverified and require case by case study to be interpreted.
     
  • There is no evidence linking these deaths to vaccines. The CDC says the database “has not detected patterns in cause of death that would indicate a safety problem with COVID-19 vaccines.”
     
  • PolitiFact has previously debunked similar misinterpretations of reported vaccination reactions data.

An Instagram post shares a startling headline on the reportedly sharp increase in the number of vaccine-related deaths during the coronavirus pandemic.

"6000% Increase in Reported Vaccine Deaths 1st Quarter 2021 Compared to 1st Quarter 2020," reads the screenshot of an article published on April 1 from a website called Truth Unmuted.

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.)

The post includes as its caption a copy-and-paste of the full article, which appears to have originated from another site called Health Impact News. It asserts that the data show a link between the increase in reported deaths and the recent introduction of COVID-19 vaccines.

It claims all vaccine-related deaths reported since January to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System, a federally maintained database that records health issues that occur after vaccinations, dramatically rose by more than 6,000% compared to the same time frame in 2021.

Between Jan. 1 and March 19, 2020, 36 people were reported to have died in connection to a vaccination, according to the article. During that period in 2021, 2,213 people were reported to have died.

"The increase in deaths reported is most certainly related to the new experimental COVID injections, and yet the CDC and FDA’s position is that NOT ONE of these deaths are related to the COVID injections," according to the article.

It’s a frightening statistic — but the article’s findings are a misrepresentation and misunderstanding of the numbers reported by VAERS.

What is VAERS?

Maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, the VAERS database contains what it describes as "unverified" reports of adverse events that follow vaccines. The system allows almost anyone — from a doctor to a nurse to a pharmacist to a patient or parent — to enter in any information about illnesses or medical issues that follow someone receiving a vaccine. The information is collected so that officials can spot possible trends or side effects related to particular vaccines.

The CDC has a lengthy disclaimer on its database landing page that says, in part: "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. The reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable. Most reports to VAERS are voluntary, which means they are subject to biases. This creates specific limitations on how the data can be used scientifically."

Before clicking on the database, one must acknowledge having read this disclaimer.

Claim distorts figures’ meaning

Our attempt to recreate the figures reported in the article yielded slightly different results as VAERS is constantly updating and numbers can "change from week to week," according to the database. But when we searched on April 5, we found data that was pretty close to what the claim suggests: there were 30 reported deaths following vaccinations in the period between January 2020 and March 2020 compared to 1,813 during that same period in 2021. That’s an increase of just under 6,000%.

Featured Fact-check

And of those deaths, VAERS reports that 1,770 followed COVID-19 vaccinations.  

But it’s inaccurate and misleading to say these deaths were caused by COVID-19 vaccines. 

While federal public health officials, including the CDC and the FDA, are monitoring the safety of COVID-19 vaccines, there is no evidence linking these deaths to vaccines — and officials follow up on every report of death to learn more.

"A review of available clinical information including death certificates, autopsy, and medical records revealed no evidence that vaccination contributed to patient deaths," the CDC says.

"To date, VAERS has not detected patterns in cause of death that would indicate a safety problem with COVID-19 vaccines."

The majority of people who received the COVID-19 vaccines during this period were older adults, many in nursing homes, said Susan S. Ellenberg, a professor of biostatistics, medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine.

"If you take a group of 10 million people over the age of 65, how many would be expected to die in a period of two months? That number is not trivial," she said. "And because of all the publicity about the vaccines, any death following the vaccine is likely to raise suspicion, even if the person who died was 88 years old and was diabetic, a smoker, and already had had a couple of heart attacks."

Ellenberg said comparing the two years is also meaningless as the vaccines that were administered in 2020 would have been around for a long time and without the same level of attention that has been given to COVID-19 vaccines administered during an historic pandemic. Most vaccines in 2020 were also given to infants and toddlers.

Despite these warnings, anti-vaccination groups and skeptics frequently cite these figures from VAERS, as well as a similar database maintained by the European Union, stripped of their context and proof of a vaccine’s lethality. This has frequently become a common occurrence for the COVID-19 vaccines. PolitiFact has previously debunked a number of such claims.

The CDC has maintained the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness as more than 167 million doses have been administered to people in the United States.

Our ruling

An Instagram post shared an article claiming "6000% Increase in Reported Vaccine Deaths 1st Quarter 2021 Compared to 1st Quarter 2020."

The article is based on a misrepresentation of information from a federally maintained database of suspected adverse reactions to vaccinations, including the COVID-19 vaccines. The database cautions users the numbers reported should not be taken as fact since they have not been verified through independent scientific study.

Millions of people across the United States have been given a COVID-19 vaccination and not enough research has been done to show a definitive link between the vaccines and any of the reported adverse reactions.

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

Instagram post, April 1, 2021

Truth Umuted, "6000% Increase in Reported Vaccine Deaths 1st Quarter 2021 Compared to 1st Quarter 2020," April 1, 2021

Health Impact News, ""6000% Increase in Reported Vaccine Deaths 1st Quarter 2021 Compared to 1st Quarter 2020," April 1, 2021

CDC WONDER, Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System Request, accessed April 5, 2021

VAERS, Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, accessed April 5, 2021

VAERS, VAERS Data, accessed April 5, 2021

Email interview with Susan S. Ellenberg, professor of biostatistics, medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine, April 5, 2021

EudraVigilance, European database of suspected adverse drug reactions reports, accessed April 5, 2021

The New York Times, "Far-Right Extremists Move From ‘Stop the Steal’ to Stop the Vaccine," March 26, 2021

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

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

PolitiFact, "No, the COVID-19 vaccines are not weapons of mass destruction," March 31, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Selected Adverse Events Reported after COVID-19 Vaccination, accessed April 5, 2021

CNN, "Tracking Covid-19 vaccines in the US," April 5, 2021

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COVID-19 vaccines have not led to 6,000% increase in patient deaths, as post suggests

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