Does this blog post prove 25,800 people have died of reactions to COVID vaccines? No, that's not true: The claim recycles an oft-rebuked misuse of the U.S. government's unverified list of vaccine reaction reports called VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System). Multiple peer-reviewed studies by medical doctors and infectious disease Ph.D.s have found the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines both effective and safe, with benefits far outweighing the harm done by two documented side effects: anaphylaxis and rare clots mostly affecting women.
The claim appeared in an article published by TrialSite News on May 25, 2021 titled, "Should you get vaccinated?" (archived here), which says: "these vaccines have likely killed over 25,800 Americans (which I confirmed 3 different ways) and disabled at least 1,000,000 more" It continued:
... Academics in the medical community are nearly all clueless, urging people to get the safe and effective vaccine ... What I find deeply disturbing is the lack of transparency on how dangerous the current COVID vaccines are. Healthy people could end up dead or permanently disabled at a rate that is 'off the charts' compared with any other vaccine in our history.
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If you haven't been vaccinated yet or are on the fence about whether to get vaccinated or not, this article can help you decide which path to take. You
The blog post's author, tech entrepreneur/philanthropist Steve Kirsch, declares that he knows better than the thousands of M.D.s and Ph.D.s with relevant specialty education and experience. This fact check does not address every claim in the 7,600-word post, focusing on the claims related to reports of deaths.
The author cites the lack of takers on his offer to debate the point as proof that he has caught the medical community in a lie:
... nobody who counts (e.g., over 10K Twitter followers) will debate me. I've tried everything. People are too afraid I'll win.
To support the claim, he cites a document that he falsely claims is "leaked." The lab that created it, Pfizer, has publicly said that document is not what Kirsch and other vaccine critics are calling it.
Kirsch writes: "Biodistribution data shows massive accumulation in ovaries of the LNP (which instructs cells in ovaries to sprout toxic spike protein). Whoops. That was never supposed to be leaked out. We obtained it via FOIA request." In other contexts, Kirsch has specified that he bases this claim on a Japanese-language document obtained by a Canadian veterinary school professor.
Pfizer, however, says that report shows the results of tests on mice and rats. A Pfizer spokesman told Lead Stories in a June 23, 2021, email that the document contains no evidence of dangerous buildups.
FDA press officer Abby Capobianco was unequivocal, telling Lead Stories there is no scientific evidence for Kirsch's declarations about medical matters. She wrote, in a June 23, 2021, email: "There is no scientific data to indicate that the spike protein in mRNA vaccines is toxic or that it lingers at any toxic level in the body after vaccination."
Violating a first principle of scientific inquiry and of medical research, Kirsch cites a personal anecdote as evidence the vaccine is toxic and is not safe for pregnant women, a claim debunked here, and made by a Baylor Medical Center cardiologist just days before he was removed from the staff of the hospital, which stated it does not endorse the claim. In making his claim about pregnant women Kirsch provides no names, dates or contact information that would permit an independent investigator to authenticate the claim. He writes:
It is baffling that the CDC says the vaccine is safe for pregnant women when it is so clear that this is not the case. For example, one our family friends is a victim of this. She miscarried at 25 weeks and is having a D&C on 6/9/21. She had her first shot 7 weeks ago, and her second shot 4 weeks ago. The baby had severe bleeding of the brain and other disfigurements. Her gynecologist had never seen anything like that before in her life. They called in a specialist who said it was probably a genetic defect (because everyone buys into the narrative that the vaccine is safe it is always ruled out as a possible cause). No VAERS report. No CDC report. Yet the doctors I've talked to say that it is over 99% certain it was the vaccine. The family doesn't want an autopsy for fear that their daughter will find out it was the vaccine. This is a perfect example of how these horrible side effects just never get reported anywhere.
As corroboration of his claims, Kirsch cites strong opposition to the mRNA vaccine by "extremely credible voices" such as Dr. Robert Malone and Geert Vanden Bossche. Vanden Bossche is a Belgian doctor of veterinary medicine and Ph.D. virologist whose anti-mass vaccination claims have been debunked by the team of doctors and Ph.D.s at Health Feedback, which found that he misstated the effect of COVID vaccination on human immune systems.
Professor Otto Yang, M.D., of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, has also dismissed Vanden Bossche's theories. Yang both operates an infectious disease clinic and conducts lab research on viral infections. In a March 2021 op-ed piece, he wrote that Vanden Bossche's claims about the vaccine's limitations ignore the basic tenets of biology.
Malone is a Virginia-based pharmaceutical developer with an M.D. who claims to have invented the mRNA vaccine technology and that it was stolen from him. Independent authors writing about development of mRNA vaccine do not credit Malone with the invention.
Referring to national mortality statistics, Kirsch writes that the number of "excess deaths" (the term for observed deaths in excess of predicted numbers of deaths based on recent death rates) in the U.S. during the pandemic period matches the number of vaccine-caused deaths people have added to the VAERS list:
Virtually all of these deaths are 'excess deaths' due to the vaccine. The CDC cannot explain any of these excess deaths. If it wasn't the vaccine, what caused it? Have you seen the analysis of any of these cases?
The mortality statisticians of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said many of the 2020-21 excess deaths were likely caused by COVID-19, but not noted as such on death certificates.
More significantly, Kirsch's derivation of causes of death from VAERS' wide-open list of unsubstantiated notes ignores the system operators' many warnings about its unsuitability as a basis for declaring a vaccine has caused any deaths or injuries. That warning is based on the scientific and statistical tenet that correlation does not prove causation because coincidences do happen. To borrow a phrase from computer science, using VAERS information to calculate something precise like causes of death is a classic case of "garbage in -- garbage out."
The reports in VAERS exist only to generate early warnings about vaccine safety. If CDC staff start to see a pattern in the list, they go back and check to see if the reports (which can be filed by anyone with internet access) are authentic. Analysts seek death certificates and other factual information to learn if multiple people filed reports on the same cases, creating a fake pattern. If the reports are authentic and if death certificates and medical files can be obtained and uphold what was listed in VAERS, investigators can then conduct medical and statistical analysis to learn if several illnesses out of millions of vaccine patients are out of the ordinary or just the kinds of coincidences that public health officials at the outset of a vaccination campaign warn the public not to overinterpret (see page 76 in previous link).
The VAERS web page reads:
When evaluating data from VAERS, it is important to note that for any reported event, no cause-and-effect relationship has been established. Reports of all possible associations between vaccines and adverse events (possible side effects) are filed in VAERS. Therefore, VAERS collects data on any adverse event following vaccination, be it coincidental or truly caused by a vaccine. The report of an adverse event to VAERS is not documentation that a vaccine caused the event ... VAERS reports can be submitted voluntarily by anyone, including healthcare providers, patients, or family members. Reports vary in quality and completeness. They often lack details and sometimes can have information that contains errors.
A report to VAERS generally does not prove that the identified vaccine(s) caused the adverse event described. It only confirms that the reported event occurred sometime after vaccine was given. No proof that the event was caused by the vaccine is required in order for VAERS to accept the report. VAERS accepts all reports without judging whether the event was caused by the vaccine.
To gain access to the VAERS data, users like Kirsch are required to affirm they have read the VAERS website's warning about what VAERS is and is not.
Kirsch says in his blog post that he is not a conspiracy theorist and does not believe everything prominent anti-vaccine conspiracists say, but:
Still, it's a bit hard to explain why they aren't at least warning the public that the vaccine is the deadliest vaccine ever and has an extremely high incidence of death and long-term disability.
The CDC regularly updates vaccine safety information, informing the public about problems like the rare clots affecting women and the anaphylactic reactions affecting some patients. The clotting that the CDC says appears to be vaccine-related affects 7 per 1 million vaccinated women ages 18 to 49. For women 50 and older and men of all ages, the clots are even more rare. Part of that safety information is also the customary warning that not every post-vaccination event is vaccine-caused. Hundreds of millions of people have been injected and millions have illnesses and conditions that would have acted up whether or not they were vaccinated.