The COVID-19 vaccine, like many other vaccines before it, has quickly become a target for misinformation by anti-vaccine campaigns and groups.
Recently, such campaigns have latched onto preliminary death reports, believing the reports to be evidence of the vaccine’s danger.
But, these preliminary reports, such as one about deaths in Norway which gained attention, aren’t designed to be used as statistical evidence. Health experts need to verify their accuracy first.
Did COVID-19 vaccines lead to the deaths of 33 elderly people in Norway plus baseball legend Hank Aaron?
Right now, there’s no clear evidence to suggest this. While the Norway Institute of Public Health and the World Health Organization are currently investigating the cases, both organizations say the benefits of the vaccine outweigh any potential risks.
Additionally, the Fulton County Medical Examiner's office in Atlanta has found no indication that the COVID-19 vaccine was a contributing factor in baseball legend Hank Aaron’s death.
WHY WE ARE VERIFYING
There have been dozens of articles and social media posts with thousands of shares, claiming that COVID vaccines are linked to the deaths of elderly patients. And many are using these articles to push distrust or fear of the vaccine.
WHAT WE FOUND
The original claim comes from a weekly Norwegian Medicines Agency report on suspected adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccines. Specifically, the January 21 release notes 30 vaccine reports involving death.
But, that very same report also contextualizes the data. “Many of the nursing home residents who have been vaccinated so far are very frail or terminally ill patients. Every day, an average of 45 people die in Norwegian nursing homes or other similar institutions. The fact that some nursing home residents die soon after being vaccinated does not imply that there is a causal relationship. The reported deaths have occurred within a period of 1-9 days following vaccination,” it said.
Since Norway notes that nursing home residents are being prioritized for vaccinations, the Norwegian Medicines Agency believes it’s possible for residents who were already dying from something unrelated to die soon after receiving the vaccine.
In the release, the Norwegian Medicines Agency went on to say, “in several of the fatal reports, the report states that no link with vaccination is suspected, and that the death is being reported for the sake of completeness,” the Norwegian Medicines Agency said in the release.
That doesn’t necessarily rule out that at least some of the deaths are actually related to the vaccine. “However, in the case of some of the most frail patients, it cannot be ruled out that relatively mild adverse reactions following vaccination contributed to a more severe course in their general condition or underlying illness, leading to death of the patient,” the release mentioned. Those reports were being investigated by the Norwegian Medicines Agency and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
“So far, there are no statistical analyses that indicate that coronavirus vaccination has had an increased risk of death among those vaccinated,” Dr. Sara Viksmoen Watle, senior physician at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said. She also noted that the overwhelming majority of people vaccinated in Norway have had or will have mild or no side effects.
The NIPH explained that healthcare professionals and the public can report suspected vaccine side effects electronically. “All reports, regardless of source, are registered in the same database, giving the Norwegian health authorities a rapid and good overview of all reported incidents,” they said. That means that if someone takes the vaccine and then someone reports that they died or went to the hospital, it goes into the system regardless if it was actually related to the vaccination or not. Norwegian health officials investigate the reports to determine whether they are caused by the vaccine or caused by something else. The American Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) works much the same way.
The WHO is also investigating data on deaths reported in frail, elderly individuals after taking the COVID-19 vaccine. They came to the conclusion that “current reports do not suggest any unexpected or untoward increase in fatalities in frail, elderly individuals or any unusual characteristics of adverse events following administration of [the COVID-19 vaccine]. Reports are in line with the expected, all-cause mortality rates and causes of death in the sub-population of frail, elderly individuals.”
They noted “countries should continue to monitor the safety of vaccines, and promote routine after-care following immunization.” The NIPH also said extremely frail patients or patients with a short remaining life expectancy “must be assessed individually, whether the benefit of vaccination outweighs the risk that they may not tolerate potential side effects. This principle applies for decision making on provision of all medical care for this patient group, and healthcare professionals are required to make these difficult assessments on a daily basis.”
Most people, however, are not extremely frail and are not expected to be at the very end of their lives. All of the health bodies involved continue to stress that the benefits of the vaccine outweighs any risks for the overwhelming majority of the population.
Health agencies, including Norway’s track things like deaths and hospital visits that follow vaccinations. They go public before their accuracy or link to the vaccines is verified, and this public, unverified record is where these death statistics are being grabbed from.
Norwegian health officials are currently investigating these statistics for accuracy. However, at this time, they’ve found no evidence that would link the vaccine to patients’ deaths. They maintain that the health benefits of the vaccine outweighs the risks.
There is no evidence linking Hank Aaron’s death to the COVID-19 vaccine either.
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