Dr. Yomaris Pena, third from right, Internal Medicine Physician with Somos Community Care at a COVID-19 extracts the last bit of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine out of a vial so as not to waste it at a vaccination site at the Corsi Houses, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday, Jan. 21, that the city will run out of first doses of COVID-19 vaccine sometime Thursday without fresh supplies. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Video falsely claims Pfizer vaccine causes widespread ‘irreversible’ effects

AAP FactCheck January 28, 2021

The Statement

A video circulating on social media claims Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine causes people to experience widespread “irreversible” side effects following immunisation.

The video, shared by a Facebook user in Australia on January 4, features a man commenting on data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about the number of side effects reported in patients who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The speaker says that out of 112,807 people who were administered the Pfizer vaccine in the US, “3,150 of them suffered from adverse health impacts … from over 110,000 people, on average 3,000 people, that’s three per cent of those vaccinated, will be unable to perform normal daily activities, unable to work, require care from a doctor or medical professional.”

The man continues: “We’ve just seen now, the CDC reporting that three per cent … will suffer irreversible – irreversible – side effects.”

The caption on the post includes text that reads: “SO FAR 3% OF ALL PEOPLE THAT RECEIVE IT WILL BE PERMANENTLY DISABLED IF NOT DEAD! THAT’S 3 IN EVERY 100 PEOPLE!!!”

At the time of writing, the post had generated more than 1,200 shares, 240 reactions and 170 comments. The video has also been shared in New Zealand among other countries.

A Facebook post
 A video claims Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine causes people to experience “irreversible” side effects. 

The Analysis

The post’s claim that 3,150 recipients of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the US experienced “irreversible” side effects to the CDC is false, according to health experts and documents from the US public health agency.

Rather, almost all of the reported side effects were transient, short-term events which only impeded everyday activities for a short period of time. These are expected as part of an immunisation program, experts said.

CDC vaccination advice states that people who receive a COVID-19 vaccine “may have some side effects, which are normal signs that your body is building protection”.

“Side effects may feel like flu and even affect your ability to do daily activities, but they should go away in a few days,” it says.

As part of its vaccine safety monitoring efforts, the CDC is using a smartphone app called V-Safe, which records health impacts or side effects patients experience after immunisation.

A CDC presentation on anaphylaxis following the receipt of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines shows that 112,807 people registered with V-Safe had received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on December 18, 2020 (page 6). The app recorded 3,150 “health impact events”, which equates to 2.8 per cent of cases.

Nikolai Petrovsky, a professor of medicine at Flinders University in Adelaide, told AAP FactCheck that “health impact events” encompass any event where the vaccine recipient is unable to perform normal daily activities, unable to work, or requires care from a doctor or health care professional.

“Typically this will be short term vaccine-related symptoms like fever, flu-like symptoms, muscle aches, nausea etc., which can last for up to a week after immunisation,” Prof Petrovsky said in an email.

“This percentage of health impact events is entirely in keeping with the reported clinical trial data.”

Prof Petrovsky said there were no criteria for the duration or severity of health impact events in order for them to be included in the count. A case could be included even if the symptoms lasted for only a day, just as it would be counted if a recipient “saw a doctor to get a prescription for paracetamol or missed a day of work”, he said.

A spokeswoman for the CDC told Reuters the figure of 112,807 was not the total number of vaccine recipients in the US, as suggested in the Facebook video.

The CDC presentation said 272,001 vaccine doses had been administered by December 19, with six cases of anaphylaxis – a severe allergic shock – reported after administration of the Pfizer treatment (page 4).

According to the Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine briefing document, there were 103 serious adverse events recorded in recipients during the Phase 2/3 clinical trials. However, the company said only three of these cases were linked to the vaccine, which was given to more than 18,000 trial participants (page 43, table 6).

Associate professor Hassan Vally, an epidemiologist from La Trobe University with expertise in infectious diseases, described the video and post’s claims as “completely false”.

Dr Vally said the post had “conflated anaphylactic reactions, which are very rare, with self-limiting and transient milder adverse health events”.

“All vaccines that work induce an inflammatory response in individuals with a small proportion of people expected to experience mild to moderate short-term side effects,” he told AAP FactCheck during a phone interview.

“These can be as mild as having a sore arm in some people, but others may feel generally unwell for a day and some may feel unwell enough to see a doctor. These reactions are expected but are generally very mild.”

Dr Vally said there are some people who have “a moderate reaction to the COVID vaccination, but this is not cause for alarm based on the evidence we currently have”.

On the claims that the Pfizer vaccine had left thousands with “irreversible damage”, Prof Petrovsky said there was no suggestion from the CDC report that any of these health events were irreversible.

“The vast majority, if not all, of these events are almost certainly reversible and short-term, as the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) would investigate and report any significant/severe events that continued much longer than expected from the trial experience,” he said.

A doctor in New York extracts the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
 A doctor in New York extracts the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from a vial. 

The Verdict

CDC figures did not show that three per cent of COVID-19 vaccine recipients in the US developed “irreversible damage”.

Rather, the December data captured 3,150 health impact events among 112,807 vaccine recipients. These events are generally short-term, mild side effects that are expected after vaccination, experts said. Only six cases of anaphylaxis had been reported among more than 270,000 Pfizer vaccine recipients in the US at that time.

False – Content has no basis in fact.

AAP FactCheck is an accredited member of the International Fact-Checking Network. If you would like to support our independent, fact-based journalism, you can make a contribution to AAP here.

All information, text and images included on the AAP Websites is for personal use only and may not be re-written, copied, re-sold or re-distributed, framed, linked, shared onto social media or otherwise used whether for compensation of any kind or not, unless you have the prior written permission of AAP. For more information, please refer to our standard terms and conditions.