A former barrister who provides legal advice to a prominent anti-vaccination group claims more Australians have died from COVID-19 vaccines than the virus.
The claim is false. At the time of the claim, 13 deaths were directly linked to COVID-19 vaccination in Australia from more than 62 million doses administered. By contrast, more than 12,000 Australians have died from or with the virus.
The claim was made in a Facebook video (screenshot here) from a group called Australian Vaccination-risks Network (AVN), previously known as Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network, which has a long history of making inaccurate and misleading claims about vaccines.
In the video, AVN legal advisor Julian Gillespie says: “Even at a figure of, the nominal figure of 900 deaths, when we properly look at the Australian Bureau of Statistics data, it’s clear to us … that we’ve got a situation in Australia that these injectables have killed more people than have died actually, actually died, from COVID” (video mark 6 min 41 sec).
Mr Gillespie also claims official figures about deaths following vaccination are significantly underestimated and his “conservative” estimate is at least 9000 Australians have died from COVID-19 jabs.
Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) monitors the safety of medicines and vaccines, including a register of “adverse events” such as injury or death associated with the use of medicines and medical devices. Adverse event reports can be submitted by anyone including the public, health professionals and the therapeutic goods industry.
The “900 deaths” figure cited by Mr Gillespie refers to deaths following vaccination reported to the TGA. By August 11, 2022, the day the video was posted to Facebook, 922 such deaths were reported.
However, the TGA says reports of injuries and deaths following vaccination are not necessarily caused by the jab and may be coincidental.
“The reports received by the TGA contain suspected associations that reflect the observations of the person reporting it,” the TGA says on its website.
“Adverse events are suspected of being related to a medicine or vaccine, but this relationship is usually not certain … it may be a coincidence that the adverse event occurred when the medicine or vaccine was taken.”
The TGA says 13 of the 922 reported deaths were directly linked to COVID-19 vaccines. All 13 deaths occurred after the first dose of Vaxzevria (AstraZeneca) and among people aged 34-81. No deaths linked to COVID-19 vaccination have been recorded for children or young adults.
By contrast, at the time of writing more than 12,000 people in Australia had died with or from the COVID-19 virus.
COVID-19 was the underlying cause of death for about 86 per cent of people who died in Australia with the virus up to the end of June 2022. The virus was established as a contributory factor in the remaining 14 per cent of COVID-related deaths, but not the main cause.
The health department, TGA and expert advisers investigate all deaths and serious injuries suspected to have occurred as a result of vaccines or other medicines. The expert group then uses an internationally accepted method to rate the likelihood of a link between the vaccine and the adverse event.
University of Newcastle’s Professor Jennifer Martin, a clinical pharmacologist who co-authored a journal article about the TGA’s adverse events database, told AAP FactCheck the database is mostly “an early warning/safety detection” system that checks if a drug or vaccine requires more investigation.
“My perspective is that all AEs (adverse events) are taken very seriously as that’s the whole point of having a safety system,” Prof Martin said in an email.
“AEs may well be underestimated. However, deaths are not usually underestimated as death is a binary outcome and a severe AE so more likely to be reported than other AEs.”
Jacques Raubenheimer, a biostatistics expert at the University of Sydney, told AAP FactCheck Mr Gillespie’s claim is “utterly and totally false”.
“Serious events like deaths are most likely to be captured almost completely, while minor events will be under-reported more,” Dr Raubenheimer said in an email.
“The information on deaths, and which can be attributed to the vaccine, are very accurate because they have been reviewed and checked, whereas the greater pool of DAEN (adverse event) data have not been reviewed and checked.”
Professor Louisa Jorm from UNSW’s Centre for Big Data Research in Health previously told AAP FactCheck an average of 464 Australians died every day in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic, so “it is totally to be expected” some deaths will coincidentally occur soon after vaccination.
The claim more people in Australia have died from COVID-19 vaccines than from the virus is false. At the time of the claim, the TGA had received 922 reports of deaths following vaccination, but a causal link was established for only 13.
COVID-19 has contributed to the death of more than 12,000 people in Australia. Health authorities determined the virus was the underlying cause of the vast majority of those deaths.
False – The claim is inaccurate.