A boy in the US gets a COVID-19 vaccination (file image)
COVID-19 vaccinations have been made available to children under the age of five in the US. Image by AP PHOTO

Data misused to claim COVID vaccines are killing US kids

David Williams July 6, 2022
WHAT WAS CLAIMED

COVID-19 vaccinations in the US have killed at least 125 children and injured 50,000.

OUR VERDICT

False. The data used to support the claim has been misused and is unreliable. There is no evidence the vaccine has seriously harmed or killed any children.

The US Food and Drug Administration has authorised that children as young as six months can receive COVID-19 vaccines, amid social media claims the jabs have killed 125 American kids and injured 50,000.

Health experts say the claim is false, with no supporting evidence. They say the claim misuses data that is not intended to show a causal link between vaccines and a wide range of unverified adverse medical reactions.

The data is from VAERS, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System, established in 1990 as a way for people to report post-vaccination health issues that may be related to a vaccine.

The claim is made by anti-vaccination website The Expose in an article headlined: “UNFORGIVABLE ÔÇö 125 Children Dead, 1k Disabled & 50K injured due to Covid-19 Vaccination in the USA.”

It is being widely shared on Facebook and Twitter, notably in Papua New Guinea, where only about three per cent of the population is fully vaccinated

The article supports its claim with data tables produced by the VAERS system. AAP FactCheck replicated those data results by entering search parameters in the boxes provided by the system, but the figures The Expose used represent international reports of adverse events, not just the US. Selecting “US only” results in a significantly lower number of reports.

However, experts say the claim’s main problem is the VAERS system does not demonstrate a causal link between the vaccines and the reports it collects, Therefore it is wrong to claim children have died as a result of the vaccines.

An article on the academic website The Conversation in August 2021 highlighted how anti-vaccination groups can misuse the data.

“VAERS is ripe for exploitation because it relies on unverified self-reports of side effects. Anyone who received a vaccine can submit a report. And because this information is publicly available, misinterpretations of its data has been used to amplify COVID-19 misinformation through dubious social media channels and mass media,” the authors wrote.

US health experts have told AAP FactCheck this is the case with this latest claim.

Mark Schleiss, professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School, said VAERS does not report certified adverse reactions to a vaccine.

“Indeed, although VAERS accepts and analyses reports of adverse events, it is not intended to prove a cause and effect relationship between a vaccine and an adverse reaction, but rather to detect potential early ‘warning signals’ of possible safety concerns,” Prof Schleiss said in an email.

“The anti-vaccine movement takes VAERS reports and provides intentionally misleading analyses which are not motivated by public health or concern for children but rather are driven by their political and financial agendas.”

Susan Ellenberg, emerita professor of biostatistics, medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, told AAP FactCheck VAERS data show only a temporal relationship between the vaccine and the event in question.

“Most reports to VAERS describe non-serious events, many of which likely are associated with the vaccine – fever, swelling at injection site, fatigue – these are known side effects of the vaccines but may still be reported to VAERS and will be counted,” Dr Ellenberg said in an email.

Prof Schleiss said he was unaware of any link between COVID-19 vaccination and death, hospitalisation or serious illness of children in the US.

He said this was supported by the US FDA’s review of effectiveness and safety of the Moderna vaccine in children aged six to 17, and safety data from Pfizer on COVID-19 vaccine for use in children six months to four years – both published by the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) in the days before the child vaccination announcement on June 17.

“As the VRBPAC tables (from the Moderna and Pfizer studies) show, there have been no attributable deaths to COVID vaccination of children,” Prof Schleiss said. “There was a safety signal a year ago with myocarditis; no deaths, no disability, complete recovery, and this has not been seen in young children.”

Dr Ellenberg said children with life-threatening illnesses would have received COVID vaccines and it was expected some deaths in this group occurred due to their underlying illness. 

“Without reviewing the reports (and likely obtaining more information about each case – the information in VAERS reports is minimal and unverified) it is impossible to assess the likelihood that any of the deaths could have been related to the vaccine. That’s exactly what the CDC and the FDA scientists are doing.”

AAP FactCheck has previously highlighted abuses of VAERS data, such as here and here, while another fact-check of misuse of VAERS data can be seen here. A similar claim of children dying from the vaccine in the UK was debunked here.

The Verdict

The claim COVID-19 vaccines have killed 125 children in the US and injured more than 50,000 is false. Experts told AAP FactCheck that VAERS data is not intended to show a causal link between an adverse reaction and the vaccine, and anti-vaccination activists have misused the data to suit their agenda.

Data published by US authorities suggests there have been no deaths or serious injury from COVID-19 vaccines among children.

False ÔÇô The claim is inaccurate.

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