A 10-year-old boy receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot.
A 10-year-old boy becomes one of the first children in Queensland to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Image by Russell Freeman/AAP IMAGES

Video makes false comparison between kids COVID and vaccine risks

AAP FactCheck January 20, 2022
WHAT WAS CLAIMED

Children are much more likely to die from COVID-19 vaccination than the coronavirus.

OUR VERDICT

False. While COVID-19 deaths among children are rare, vaccine monitoring systems have not identified any causal links between vaccinations and child deaths.

As approval for use of COVID-19 vaccines are expanded to five to 11-year-olds around the world, a US doctor has claimed that children are much more likely to die from the vaccine than from the coronavirus.

The claim is false. While child deaths have been associated with the coronavirus, data from vaccine rollouts among children in multiple countries have not identified causal links between child deaths and COVID-19 vaccinations. The false claim is likely based on misrepresented data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).

The claim was made in a video by Vladimir Zelenko, a New York doctor who gained prominence for prescribing hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19. Major trials have since found the treatment to be of no clinical benefit – and even to be associated with increased mortality among COVID-19 patients.

The video also features Australian politicians Craig Kelly and Malcolm Roberts, and has been shared on Facebook by other sources of misinformation, such as former Qantas pilot Graham Hood.

In the video, Dr Zelenko says: “According to the CDC 99.998 per cent of children recover from COVID with no intervention. That is the same for the influenza virus. According to Dr Michael Yeadon, and he has the statistical analysis to prove it, the vaccines are 100 times more lethal to children than COVID. In other words, the COVID vaccines are 100 times more deadly to children” (video mark 20 min 23 sec).

But Emma McBryde, a professor of Infectious Disease and Epidemiology at James Cook University, pointed out that the calculations did not stand up to scrutiny.

“Assuming a 99.998 recovery from COVID, for a vaccine to be 100 times worse than COVID, it would have to cause serious problems in 0.2 per cent of cases or one in 500,” she told AAP FactCheck via email.

In reality, the most common, serious adverse event identified in young COVID-19 vaccine recipients is myocarditis/pericarditis. The Therapeutic Goods Administration said this occurred at the highest rates among teenage boys receiving their second doses of mRNA vaccines, with reports of between 12 and 17 cases per 100,000 doses. Most people experiencing the condition recovered within a few days, it added.

Professor Nikki Turner, an academic general practitioner and director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre at the University of Auckland, told AAP FactCheck she was not aware of any reported child deaths occurring due to COVID-19 vaccines.

Prof Turner added that it’s “important that every country in the world does review their deaths post-vaccination and ensure that a causality process has been undertaken”.

“We look at deaths that are reported temporarily associated with the vaccine and do a proper causality assessment. And, to my knowledge, to date there have been no causally associated (child) deaths,” she said in a phone interview.

Dr Zelenko’s comments closely resemble previously debunked claims from Dr Yeadon, who in June 2021 incorrectly stated that children were 50 times more likely to be killed by COVID-19 vaccines than the virus. Dr Yeadon told Reuters at the time that he came to this conclusion by reviewing data from the US Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).

But, as AAP FactCheck has previously explained, VAERS reports are unverified and are intended only to highlight where further investigation may be needed. These reports do not determine if a vaccine caused an adverse event.

Investigations into adverse events reported during large-scale vaccine rollouts among children in the US did not find any deaths causally linked to COVID-19 vaccines after the administration of millions of doses.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report published in August 2021 noted there had been 14 reports of deaths among the 8.9 million COVID-19 vaccine recipients aged 12-17 between December 2020 and mid-July 2021. None of the deaths were determined to be the result of myocarditis, and their causes did not indicate they were linked to the vaccine, the report said.

A similar report published in December 2021 identified there had been two reports of deaths among vaccine recipients aged five to 11 years between November 3 to December 19, during which 8.7 million doses were administered among the age group. In both cases, the children “had complicated medical histories” and records did not suggest a causal relationship between the deaths and vaccination, the CDC said.

In Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) identified 11 deaths that were linked to vaccination after the administration of 44.1 million doses to 9 January. All were among recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is only approved for use in adults.

A TGA spokesman confirmed to AAP FactCheck in an email that the drug regulator had “not assessed any reports of death in people aged under 18 as likely to be related to vaccination”. As of 17 January, it had also not received any reports of deaths following vaccination among recipients aged from five to 11, the regulator said.

COVID-19 has, in comparison, been linked to many deaths in children – although experts have identified that such cases are extremely rare. The CDC reported that in the US, as of January 19, there had been 862 deaths involving COVID-19 among those aged up to 18.

In Australia, there had been three COVID-19-associated deaths among children aged nine or younger as of January 19. A further three deaths had been recorded in those aged 10 to 19.

The Verdict

The video falsely claims that COVID-19 vaccination is more deadly to children than the virus. Vaccine safety monitoring efforts in Australia and the US involving the administration of millions of doses have not identified any causal links between reported child deaths and vaccines. The claim appears to be based on misrepresenting reports to the US VAERS, which are unverified and do not prove causality.

In comparison, while COVID-19 deaths among children are rare, there have been numerous fatal cases linked to the coronavirus.

False ÔÇô The claim is inaccurate.

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