FactCheck Social Media

Meme misuses Australian data to falsely claim COVID-19 vaccine deaths

2021-06-10 17:11:30

The Statement

A Facebook meme claims that more than 200 people in Australia have died as a result of COVID-19 vaccinations based on purported official figures from the country’s drug assessor.

The meme includes text claiming that from January 1 until May 23 there had been only one COVID-19 death in the country but 210 “COVID-19 vaccine deaths”.

It includes the logo of the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), Australia’s regulatory body for medicines and therapeutic goods. The same claim has been posted by multiple Facebook users in Australia and New Zealand – examples are here, here, and here.

A Facebook post
 A post featuring the logo of Therapeutic Goods Administration lists 210 COVID-19 vaccine deaths. 

The Analysis

The figure included in the meme is not the number of “COVID-19 vaccine deaths” in Australia, as claimed. Rather, it is the number of people reported to have died after immunisation; only one of whose deaths could be directly attributed to the treatment, according to the TGA.

This figure is less than the expected natural death rate in the general population for the same cohort, the TGA says.

The meme misrepresents official COVID-19 vaccine safety figures, published by the TGA each week.

In its vaccine safety update on May 27, which covers all COVID-19 vaccinations in Australia up to May 23, the TGA said: “In this period, the TGA has received 210 reports of deaths following immunisation.”

Three-quarters of those deaths were people aged 75 and over, it said, while 93 per cent were people aged 65 and over.

In a statement to AAP FactCheck, a TGA spokesperson said the regulator had determined COVID-19 vaccines to be causally linked to only one of those deaths, which was a person affected by Thrombosis with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (TTS) due to the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“The reporting of an adverse event to the TGA does not mean the event was caused by the vaccination. In some cases adverse events may occur coincidentally after vaccination,” the spokesperson said in an email.

“Our analysis includes comparing expected natural death rates to observed death rates following immunisation. To date, the observed number of deaths reported after vaccination is actually less than the expected number of deaths.”

The May 27 update includes similar context, reiterating: “Apart from the single Australian case in which death was linked to TTS, COVID-19 vaccines have not been found to cause death.” More than 3.6 million vaccine doses had been administered in Australia by May 23.

Professor Louisa Jorm, the director of UNSW’s Centre for Big Data Research in Health, told AAP FactCheck that an average of 464 Australians died every day in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic, including an average of 348 people aged 70 or over.

She said it is inevitable that some deaths will occur shortly after COVID-19 vaccination – but this did not mean the vaccines were the cause.

“The COVID-19 vaccination rollout is prioritising the protection of people who are most likely to die from COVID-19,” she said in an email.

“These people are already at high risk of dying due to their age and/or underlying health problems. Therefore it is totally to be expected that (unrelated) deaths will occur soon after vaccination.”

Anybody can report an adverse event to the TGA, however its spokesperson told AAP FactCheck that around four out of five cases are logged by health professionals or state and territory public health units.

Official data from the US and the UK has been similarly misused to falsely claim vaccines have caused large numbers of deaths.

AAP FactCheck previously examined a claim that the US VAERS database showed a string of vaccine deaths; in fact, the database represents unverified reports of deaths subsequent to vaccination which authorities said were not linked to the inoculations.

In the UK, claims that hundreds of people died from COVID-19 vaccines last year were similarly found to be a misrepresentation of vaccine safety data.

The TGA’s spokesperson noted the misuse of its logo in the meme could constitute a Commonwealth criminal offence on the grounds of impersonating an official body, and the matter had been referred to the Australian Federal Police.

“The alleged posting, particularly of false information surrounding deaths from ‘COVID-19 vaccines’ with the (health) department’s and TGA’s apparent endorsement is particularly concerning,” the spokesperson said.

People waiting in a line for vaccination at the Melbourne
 People wait in line for a COVID-19 vaccine at a mass vaccination centre in Melbourne. 

The Verdict

The post falsely claims that 210 people have died in Australia as a result of COVID-19 vaccines. The figure in the post refers to the number of people who have died after receiving the vaccine, a figure authorities say is less than the expected natural death rate for a similar cohort of the wider population.

Only one death from the tally had been directly linked to a COVID-19 vaccination.

False – Content that has no basis in fact.

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