FactCheck Social Media

Post tying NZ vaccine program to dire population warning full of falsehoods

2021-04-16 11:52:38

The Statement

A post from a New Zealand-based Facebook page makes several claims about the safety of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine before linking the suggestions to a dire population forecast for the country.

It features a screenshot that reads: “New analysis from the Israeli Health Ministry concluded Pfizer’s COVID vaccine killed ‘about 40 times more (elderly) people than the disease itself would have killed’ during a recent five-week vaccination period, and 260 times more younger people than would have died from the virus.”

Next to the screenshot, the post’s text says: “NZ just gave away the 5 million doses of the other types of covid vac it purchased and ordered Pfizer ones only. Ardern did this after the news came out that the Pfizer vac kills 260 x more young people than covid itself does.

“While you process this, consider that the UNs (sic) population projection group, Deagle, is predicting 2 million LESS people to live in NZ by 2025. This is looking more and more like genocide in action!”

At the time of writing, the March 9 post had been viewed more than 3000 times and shared more than 50 times. Another example of the post’s claims, also from a New Zealand user, is here.

A Facebook post
 A post lists a death toll estimate for the elderly in Israel to warn about the Pfizer vaccine. 

The Analysis

The post’s claims about the safety of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are based on a misleading analysis of Israeli health data. In addition, it includes baseless claims that New Zealand gave away five million alternate immunisation doses as well as an alarming population forecast unsupported by any credible evidence.

The screenshot’s text, stating that the Israeli Health Ministry concluded that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine “killed about 40 times more elderly people than the disease itself”, is from a now-deleted article on the Children’s Health Defense website. The site was founded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an anti-vaccine activist who has been banned from Instagram for sharing misinformation.

The article was in turn based on a post on a Hebrew-language message board analysing data from the Israeli Ministry of Health that featured in a report from news site Ynet. The Ynet report, from February 11, describes the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine, noting early data showed much higher rates of illness and hospitalisation among those who had not been vaccinated. It does not include any mention of the vaccine leading to deaths.

Fact-checkers Health Feedback noted the message board post was based on an “unsound” analysis that included “several flawed and misleading assumptions that render the calculations meaningless”. For example, the post focused on deaths among people aged over 60 who had received one dose of the vaccine within the past 13 days.

However, the same data shows a significant drop in hospitalisations and deaths from COVID-19 among those who received one dose of the vaccine more than 13 days earlier, and a further decline among those who had received two doses.

Following drug trials, Pfizer reported its vaccine had 52 per cent efficacy after one dose, rising to around 95 per cent after the second dose. A more recent report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were 90 per cent effective for prevention of infection after both doses and 80 per cent effective with a single dose after 14 or more days.

The CDC says people are only considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the second dose in their two-dose series.

John Hopkins Medicine notes in a guide to COVID-19 vaccines that recipients were “not considered appropriately protected after the first shot”, adding: “It takes up to two weeks after the second shot for your immune system to fully respond to a vaccine and provide protection against an infectious disease.”

Around four weeks after Israel began its national vaccination program, the country began to see a steep decline in new hospitalisations for severe COVID-19, according to an analysis from Our World In Data.

Helen Petousis-Harris, a vaccinologist and associate professor at the University of Auckland and co-leader of the Global Vaccine Data network, says the Facebook post features false information.

“Pfizer vaccine does not kill people. This is an absurd claim,” Dr Petousis-Harris told AAP FactCheck in an email.

“As of writing, there are no deaths that have been causally linked to the Pfizer vaccine. So far there have been around 100 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine administered, across many countries. At this stage, global safety surveillance supports that the Pfizer vaccine is very safe. It continues to be monitored closely.”

AAP FactCheck has previously investigated numerous false claims about the Pfizer vaccine and other COVID-19 inoculations leading to deaths (see examples here, here and here), while various claims attempting to link Israel’s vaccination program to deaths have also been debunked (see here, here, here and here).

There is no evidence to support the post’s claim that New Zealand “gave away” 5 million doses of alternative vaccines in favour of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The country has previously announced pre-purchase agreements with AstraZeneca, Novavax and Janssen Pharmaceutica.

However, those agreements are subject to the inoculations successfully completing all clinical trials and passing regulatory approvals, the New Zealand government has stated. Only the Pfizer/BioNTech had been approved for use at the time of writing.

The country’s medicines regulator, Medsafe, has been weighing up approval of the single-shot Janssen vaccine, but it has requested more information from the drug provider in response to reports the vaccine had been linked to rare cases of blood clots.

Dr Petousis-Harris, who is also a member of the government’s COVID-19 Immunisation Implementation Advisory Group, said New Zealand had not “given away” alternative vaccines because it had neither purchased nor received them.

“At the moment NZ has ordered sufficient Pfizer vaccine to cover the population,” she said.

AAP FactCheck sought comment from the Ministry of Health but had received no reply at the time of publication.

New Zealand provisionally approved use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in February, and has since ordered 10 million doses. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on March 8 that Pfizer would be NZ’s “primary vaccine provider”. The country has begun immunising border and quarantine workers, and high-risk frontline staff.

The post also claims the “UNs population projection group, Deagle, is predicting 2 million LESS people to live in NZ by 2025” before claiming it appeared to be “genocide in action”.

While it is true that the Deagel website — the name for which is incorrectly spelled in the post — forecasts New Zealand’s population will be 3.3 million by 2025, the analysis is predicated on the collapse of the Western financial system and a major world war, according to its disclaimer. It also predicts the US population will plunge from more than 300 million people to 99 million within the same period.

There is no evidence the website is in any way connected with the United Nations or any other international body, with the disclaimer also stating: “We are not linked to any government. Take into account that the forecast is nothing more than a game of numbers whether flawed or correct based upon some speculative assumptions.”

The site’s past doomsday forecasts have also proved inaccurate. For example, in February 2012 it predicted the US population would fall to 248 million by 2020. According to the US Census, the population in April 2020 in the US was more than 329 million.

Stats NZ’s most recent population projection said there was a 90 per cent chance the number of residents would grow from 5.09 million people to between 5.13 million and 5.51 million in 2025.

James Weir, a senior communications adviser for Stats NZ, told AAP FactCheck in an email: “Even at the fifth percentile (low population growth), the population is still projected to increase slightly, not fall.”

New Zealand social distancing sign
 NZ is not predicted to suffer a population decline, despite the impact of COVID-19. 

The Verdict

There is no evidence that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has led to an increase in deaths in Israel. In fact, data suggests it has been effective in reducing rates of death and severe illness as a result of COVID-19.

The post also falsely suggests New Zealand has “given away” doses of non-Pfizer vaccines when the country has neither ordered nor received any alternate inoculations. There is also no credible evidence to suggest the country’s population will soon decline by two million people.

False – Content that has no basis in fact.

AAP FactCheck is an accredited member of the International Fact-Checking Network. To keep up with our latest fact checks, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.