Senator Gerard Rennick
Senator Gerard Rennick has used a report to suggest COVID vaccines are dangerous. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS

Senator’s vaccine report calculations don’t add up

Tom Wark March 15, 2024

A report shows COVID-19 vaccines had a rate of injury 50 times higher than other vaccines.


False. The report contains numbers of suspected adverse events following vaccination, not vaccine-induced injuries, and the 50 times greater calculation is incorrect.

A senator has claimed that COVID-19 vaccines caused an “enormous” increase in injuries compared to other vaccines.

Queensland Liberal National Party (LNP) Senator Gerard Rennick claimed that a Western Australia vaccine safety report found that the rate of injuries associated with COVID-19 vaccines was 50 times higher than other vaccines.

This is false. The report details reported adverse events following vaccination, not vaccine-induced injuries.

The methodology for collecting reports following COVID-19 vaccines and other vaccines differed, making any comparison problematic. 

Additionally, experts told AAP FactCheck the senator’s calculations were erroneous.

Senator Rennick X post
 Senator Rennick shared the Senate Estimates video on his social media accounts. 

Senator Rennick made the claim during a Senate Estimates hearing in October 2023, which he posted a video of to his X/Twitter, Facebook and TikTok accounts on February 14, 2024.

The senator asks a Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) officer: “How do you explain the enormous increase in adverse events across a wide range of adverse events, as per the Western Australian vaccine report, that showed it to be 24 times higher per dose? Given that we’ve taken two doses at least, it is a 50 times higher rate of injury with the COVID vaccine.”

When asked for the source of his claim by AAP FactCheck, Senator Rennick cited the Western Australian Vaccine Safety Surveillance (WAVSS) – Annual Report 2021.

The document records reports of suspected adverse events following COVID-19 vaccines, and for other vaccines, in WA for 2021.

There were 200 such reports following non-COVID vaccinations and 10,428 after COVID-19 vaccines, according to the report.

However, the document doesn’t show the “rate of injury”, as claimed by Senator Rennick.

The WA Department of Health said it records suspected adverse events reported by health professionals and the public.

“This includes any report where vaccination was recorded as ‘possibly’ being the cause of, or contributing to the reported adverse event, and are not necessarily confirmed,” a representative told AAP FactCheck in an email.

Adrian Esterman, a professor of biostatistics at the University of South Australia, says “there is no way of determining whether the adverse event was actually caused by the vaccine.”

“A thorough investigation to determine causality is only undertaken for severe adverse events,” he told AAP FactCheck in an email.

The health department said higher numbers of suspected adverse events for COVID-19 vaccines could be attributed to a change in methodology to increase surveillance of its effects compared with other vaccines.

Post-vaccination surveys at three separate intervals and linking vaccinations to emergency department visits and hospitalisations, it said, were new measures not taken for other vaccines.

“Both methodological differences would have resulted in the report disproportionately representing possible serious adverse events where the vaccinee had presented to hospital for COVID-19 vaccinations compared to other vaccines,” the representative said.

 The methodology for collecting reports differed between COVID and non-COVID vaccines. 

Prof Esterman said other factors likely increased reports of adverse events following COVID-19 vaccination.

“As the report says, because of the high rates of suspicions about the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines magnified by social media, people were far more likely to report any adverse event following a COVID-19 vaccination than for other types of vaccines,” he said.

Prof Esterman added that the vast majority of reports “are of very minor reactions, like a sore arm, or headache”. 

The most common reactions were headache, lethargy and muscle pain, the report said (Page 19, Figure 10).

The TGA has investigated all severe adverse events.

As an example, Prof Esterman pointed to the 1004 deaths reported to the TGA since the start of the vaccine rollout. Following investigations, the TGA has found that 14 deaths nationally were likely to be related to COVID vaccination.

Senator Rennick’s “50 times higher” claim is based on the rate of 264.1 adverse events reported per 100,000 COVID vaccine doses on Page 28 of the report. This compares to 11.1 per 100,000 doses of other vaccines.

After calculating 264.1 is 24 times greater than the non-COVID vaccine rate, he then doubled this (48) to account for the two injections required for a “primary course” of a COVID vaccine.

However, the health department and experts said there were various issues with this calculation.

A departmental spokesperson said the 264.1 per 100,000 doses figure includes all COVID-19 vaccine doses received, regardless of whether they were the first, second, or boosters.

“It is incorrect to multiply this rate by the number of doses an individual receives,” they added.

Dr Christopher Baker, from the University of Melbourne’s School of Biosciences, said recording adverse events for COVID and non-COVID vaccine-related reports per 100,000 doses made sense, given that many of the latter would likely require two or more doses.

The report states that the non-COVID category includes influenza vaccines and others on the National Immunisation Program Schedule, many of which require multiple injections.

“So if you were to compare a primary course for COVID to other primary courses, there would need to be a similar calculation for the others,” Dr Baker told AAP FactCheck.

The Verdict

The claim that a report shows COVID-19 vaccines had a rate of injury 50 times higher than other vaccines is false.

The report looked at suspected adverse events following vaccination, not vaccine-induced injuries.

Regardless, the methodology for collecting reports differed for COVID and non-COVID vaccines, making any comparison problematic.

Experts also raised several issues with Senator Gerard Rennick’s calculations.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

EDIT: 15/3/24 @ 1PM: Change to paragraph 26 to clarify Senator Rennick’s calculation method.

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