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VAERS data… take it with a grain of salt.
Recently, there’s concern bubbling up because of (…what else…) a viral video. In this video someone is scrolling through a VAERS dataset showing a long list of all the people who have died from COVID19 vaccines. There are thousands of deaths listed in the video. The author of the video then proceeds to say: “The vaccine itself will kill you.”
It IS true that there are thousands of deaths listed on VAERS. BUT it’s essential that we recognize what VAERS is and is not.
What is VAERS?
In the United States, we have something called the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS). It’s a website and data hub run by the CDC. Basically, anyone can report an adverse event to any vaccine here. It’s mainly for healthcare providers (who are required by law to report certain adverse events to the CDC). But your average Joe can also report here too (and your average Joe SHOULD report if they have a severe or abnormal reaction to a vaccine). However, these cases are not necessarily validated.
In epidemiology, this type of data collection is called “passive surveillance”. Passive surveillance is a great tool in public health because it’s inexpensive, can cover large areas, and can provide critical information regarding community health.
VAERS is run on an honor system. This honor system is dependent on people providing accurate data, which people knowingly (or unknowingly) sometimes don’t do. VAERS data is also available to the public. You can go here and download all the data yourself. Which can be amazing! But can also do a lot of harm if used in the wrong way, like not understanding the nuances of data biases.
Because of this, the CDC has several disclaimers plastered throughout their site:
“The reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable” HERE
“Reports of death to VAERS following vaccination do not necessarily mean the vaccine caused the death.” HERE
“The inclusion of events in VAERS data does not imply causality” HERE
Nonetheless, we have VAERS data. And, from our last CDC data update, there were 104,763 reports to VAERS, 6% were classified as serious.
We also have “active surveillance”…
Called V-safe. This is also run by the CDC and people also report their symptoms to this site (if you haven’t already, SIGN UP here. Everyone giving a vaccine should be telling you about this, but this is not happening).
After people report concerning and severe side effects, we have an army of public health workers that physically call those people to gather more contextual information. You also probably got a call from them if you indicated you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, as they are particularly interested in learning from this group.
Here’s how V-safe system works in a nutshell…
From the latest CDC data update, 3.897 million people were registered with V-safe, of which 30,494 were pregnant.
From this data, we can confirm the safety of COVID-19 vaccines are reassuring and consistent with clinical trials. We are also able to find interesting patterns. For example, it’s starting to look like Pfizer has less side effects than Moderna (but not by much).
AND we have more!
We also have a large network of health records linked across the United States to also find safety signals.
With this extensive infrastructure, we can get a more accurate account of the “real life” safety of vaccines. And, when we do find a legitimate safety signal, like J&J, we are able to be proactive and act fast.
Bottom line: Don’t believe a YouTube video. Thousands of people are dedicated to keeping you safe and finding legitimate safety signals from vaccines.