A health worker administers a dose of COVID-19 vaccine (file image)
A health worker administers a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination clinic in the US.

Wild estimate of vaccine deaths is fatally flawed

William Summers November 1, 2022

COVID-19 vaccines have killed 20 million people worldwide.


False. The figure wrongly assumes all deaths following vaccination were due to the vaccine and that vaccine deaths are massively under-reported.

A recent study estimates COVID-19 jabs prevented almost 20 million global deaths, but vaccine sceptics have flipped the figure on its head – falsely claiming 20 million people died from the vaccines.

The claim is baseless and does not stand up to mathematical scrutiny. Biostatistics experts told AAP FactCheck the calculations are based on faulty assumptions and an implausibly large multiplier effect.

The 20 million figure appears to have originated from an August 2022 blog written by a self-described “climate change denier” who regularly publishes anti-vaccine commentary.

It has since been amplified by UK-based misinformation website The Exposé and widely shared on Facebook (see here, here and here).

A screenshot of a Facebook post with the claim.
 The blog’s claim is being shared on Facebook, linking to The Exposé article. 

According to the blog, the figure was calculated by taking all deaths following COVID-19 vaccination recorded by medical safety regulators in the United States and the European Union.

The death count was multiplied by 40 to account for the alleged under-reporting of deaths, then multiplied by eight to extrapolate the purported vaccine deaths to countries outside of the US and EU.

“A reminder of the logic that the injections have killed 20 million people,” the blog post says.

“Add the EUDRA and VAERS adverse event data on deaths and events; together, multiply by an under-reporting factor of 40, globalize the EU+US one-eighth share of 12.5 billion global doses.”

EUDRA refers to EudraVigilence, the database of suspected adverse drug reaction reports across the 30 countries of the European Economic Area.

VAERS is the US vaccine safety monitoring system, which similarly accepts and analyses reports of possible “adverse events” after vaccination.

As the basis for his calculations, the blogger added together the number of deaths following COVID-19 vaccination recorded in EUDRA and VAERS up to August 2022, to get a total of 60,971 across the two systems.

A calculator and a pen (file image)
 The blogger has used some creative mathematics to come up with their implausible calculations. 

However, the EudraVigilance and VAERS websites both make clear that post-vaccine deaths they record are not necessarily caused by the jab.

The EudraVigilance website says the database records reports of medical events “that have been observed following the administration of the COVID-19 vaccines, but which are not necessarily related to or caused by the vaccine”.

“These events may have been caused by another illness or be associated with another medicine taken by the patient at the same time,” it says.

Similarly, the VAERS website says healthcare providers are required to report any death after COVID-19 vaccination “even if it’s unclear whether the vaccine was the cause”.

“Reports of adverse events to VAERS following vaccination, including deaths, do not necessarily mean that a vaccine caused a health problem,” the website states.

Jennifer Martin, chair of clinical pharmacology at the University of Newcastle, told AAP FactCheck the claim appears to be based on “a lot of correlative data and assumptions”.

“Causality can be difficult to ascertain especially as many (vaccinated people) have had COVID too, and also death happens for other reasons,” Professor Martin said in an email.

Prof Martin said she believed that while it was likely that mild to moderate adverse events were under-reported, more prolonged or significant events that required medical attention were less likely to be missed.

“We know that underreporting of adverse events is common in Australia but … death data is more clear as death is certain,” she said.

Chris Baker, a biostatistician at the University of Melbourne, likewise said the VAERS and EudraVigilance databases contained reports of suspected side effects following vaccination but not necessarily a direct link.

“Given these limitations, great care must be taken in using these datasets and there is no guarantee about reliability,” Dr Baker told AAP FactCheck in an email.

Dr Baker said he was also “very sceptical” about the under-reporting factor the blogger used in his calculations, a figure purportedly based on the alleged under-reporting of anaphylaxis following COVID-19 vaccination.

“While there may be under-reporting of vaccine side effects as a whole, I think mild side effects are much less likely to be reported than severe ones, including deaths,” he said.

“I don’t think the factor of 40 is well-supported and I think it is likely much higher than the true under-reporting rate,” he said.

COVID-19 vaccination are prepared at a pop-up clinic (file image)
 A direct link between COVID-19 vaccines and deaths has been found in a small number of cases. 

Adrian Esterman, a biostatistics professor at the University of South Australia, pointed out that at the time of writing, the Australian Database of Adverse Event Notifications included 939 deaths following COVID-19 vaccination, but a direct link to vaccines was established in only 14 of those deaths to date.

Similarly, 16,990 post-vaccine deaths had been reported to VAERS, nine of which were found to be causally linked with the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine.

Prof Esterman agreed that non-death adverse reactions may be under-reported, but said that even if there was significant under-reporting of anaphylaxis, “this does not mean it is also true for death”.

The Verdict

The claim that COVID-19 vaccines have killed 20 million is false. It wrongly assumes all post-vaccine deaths reported to US and European monitoring authorities were directly caused by vaccines, and that the number of post-vaccine deaths is massively under-reported.

Health data experts told AAP FactCheck non-death adverse reactions from vaccines could be under-reported, but vaccine-related deaths were much more likely to be recorded accurately.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

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