A paramedic outside St. Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne
There have been 11 deaths linked to COVID-19 vaccines in Australia to date. Image by Luis Ascui/AAP IMAGES

COVID vaccine deaths claim falls short on data coverage

AAP FactCheck January 28, 2022
WHAT WAS CLAIMED

Australia has recorded 12 times more deaths due to COVID-19 vaccines than from all other vaccines combined over 50 years.

OUR VERDICT

False. The claim misrepresents vaccine adverse event reports, which do not show causality. 11 deaths have been linked to COVID-19 vaccines in Australia to date.

A UK website that frequently publishes COVID-19 vaccine misinformation has turned its attention to Australia, claiming that the country has experienced significantly more deaths from the coronavirus vaccines than all others combined over a period of 50 years.

However, the claim is based on a distortion of data on adverse reactions published by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), Australia’s medical regulatory agency, repeating similar falsehoods shared about COVID-19 vaccine rollouts in other countries.

A TGA spokeswoman told AAP FactCheck the post incorrectly interpreted safety monitoring data, which does not identify that a vaccine caused an adverse event. She also noted that the large scale of the vaccine rollout meant that some people would fall ill or die following vaccination due to other causes.

One Facebook post from a Queensland page includes a link to the January 11 article from The Daily Exposé, a UK-based website which has been repeatedly identified as spreading COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation (examples are here, here, here, here and here).

Its headline states: “Australia has recorded 12 times more Deaths in 10 months due to the Covid-19 Vaccines than Deaths due to all other Vaccines combined in 51 years.”

The article compares deaths reported to the TGA following COVID-19 vaccines to similar reports relating to other vaccines dating back to 1971 as recorded in the Database of Adverse Event Notifications (DAEN).

While DAEN records show significantly more deaths have been reported following COVID-19 vaccines than other vaccines, the TGA spokeswoman said in an email these events were often coincidental rather than caused by the vaccines.

“Simple comparison of the number of adverse events reported for different vaccines is not a valid method for assessing safety,” she said.

According to its latest COVID-19 vaccine safety report, dated 27 January, the TGA had received and reviewed 755 reports of deaths following vaccinations. Of these, only 11 had been identified as being linked to the vaccines themselves. All occurred following the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“Review of these individual reports and patterns of reporting does not suggest that the vaccines played a role in the vast majority of these (reported) deaths,” the spokeswoman said.

More than 19.6 million people had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose in Australia as of 26 January, while over 48.7 million vaccine doses had been administered. As experts previously explained to AAP FactCheck, more than 400 Australians die each day on average, which meant some coincidental deaths following vaccination would inevitably be recorded.

Safety monitoring during the COVID-19 vaccine rollout involves both passive and active monitoring of adverse events. Both vaccine recipients and health professionals are encouraged to lodge reports.

However, as experts have noted in the United States – where similar false claims of COVID-19 vaccines causing large numbers of deaths have been repeatedly made based on adverse event reports – the publicity surrounding the coronavirus vaccines meant the adverse event reports were vulnerable to reporting bias and direct comparisons could not be made to other vaccination programs.

The TGA has an extensive section on its website describing how its data on adverse effects is used. This states that “an assessment of the safety of a medicine or vaccine cannot be made based on this information”.

Jacques Raubenheimer, a senior research fellow in biostatistics at University of Sydney who has written on vaccine misinformation and data misinterpretation, said the nature of the adverse event data meant it could not be used to draw the inferences made in the Daily Exposé article.

“They are assuming that every death listed against other vaccines was caused by those vaccines, and that every death listed against COVID vaccines were caused by the COVID vaccines. That should immediately give us (reason to) pause,” he told AAP FactCheck.

University of Queensland associate professor Paul Griffin, an infectious diseases physician and microbiologist, agreed that the post’s analysis was flawed.

“When the majority of the population is vaccinated, which we are fortunate is now the case with these COVID-19 vaccines, essentially all events, whether they be adverse events or indeed completely unrelated events, will occur mostly in the vaccinated as they are now the majority of the population,” he said in an email.

Dr Griffin added that there was “a tendency by some who fail to understand this concept to link events to the fact that people are vaccinated”.

AAP FactCheck has previously debunked multiple posts distorting TGA data on adverse events to support various false claims (see here, here and here).

The Verdict

The claim is based on a misinterpretation of Australian vaccine adverse event reports. While more deaths have been reported following COVID-19 vaccinations than after other vaccines, such reports do not show causation.

To date, there have been 11 deaths linked to COVID-19 vaccines in Australia, according to the TGA. Experts and the regulator say additional, coincidental deaths that are not linked to vaccinations are to be expected in the large-scale vaccine rollout.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

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