Fact Check: COVID-19 Vaccines ARE Responsible For Half Of All Adverse Vaccine Reaction Reports In 30 Years -- But That's Not Full Story

Fact Check

  • by: Ed Payne
Fact Check: COVID-19 Vaccines ARE Responsible For Half Of All Adverse Vaccine Reaction Reports In 30 Years -- But That's Not Full Story No Context

Does the number of reported adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccines in the United States equal half of all such reports for all vaccines over the last 30 years? Yes, that's true: Those numbers are found in the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), based on data through October 22, 2021. But the numbers don't tell the full story. The COVID vaccine rollout is considered the biggest and fastest in U.S. history and the first such mass vaccination program since VAERS was launched. The meaning of VAERS reports is unclear until they are verified. As the disclaimer for the VAERS website says, "The reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable."

The claim appears in an Instagram post (archived here) from Liberty Counsel on November 3, 2021. It says:


This is what the post looked like on Instagram on November 4, 2021:

Liberty Counsel.PNG

(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Thurs Nov 04 16:07:26 UTC 2021)

These numbers are from the VAERS database, run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While Lead Stories couldn't precisely match the figures cited by Liberty Counsel, we came up with very similar numbers on November 4, 2021.

The VAERS website includes this stipulation:

VAERS data ... are updated every Friday. Hence, results for the same query can change from week to week.

The Lead Stories VAERS search provided these numbers:

  • 1,638,037 adverse events reported for all vaccines since 1990 when VAERS was established
  • 834,170 adverse events reported for COVID-19 vaccines
  • Nearly 51% of all reported events are related to COVID vaccines

The number of VAERS reports would logically correspond to the size of each vaccination campaign.

So far, the COVID-19 vaccines are the fastest vaccines ever created. The virus was discovered and a vaccine was developed and tested within 12 months, UCLA Health reported. More than 426 million doses had been administered as of November 4, 2021.

The next fastest vaccine rollout was for mumps, 60 years earlier. From development to deployment, it took about four years, but the number of doses in the U.S. in the years since is dwarfed by COVID. The National Health Service in the United Kingdom estimated that by 2003 about 500 million doses of the MumpsMeaslesRubella vaccine had been delivered worldwide, only about 12 million per year worldwide.

The other factor likely to have affected VAERS reporting is the internet. When VAERS was launched in 1990, Tim Berners-Lee's World Wide Web had few users and reports were filed on paper. VAERS reports can now be filed by anyone with internet access, estimated at 93% of the U.S. population.

Lead Stories has debunked several claims about vaccine deaths that misuse VAERS.

Anyone with internet access can add a report to the VAERS list of reports. The public access link to it expressly warns against unwarranted conclusions based on VAERS material because the list only provides a tally of unverified notes about any health event people experience after they are vaccinated.

The list itself cannot be used to prove or quantify, since all it shows is a chronological correlation, not the causal link that would be more difficult to establish. It's the equivalent of a police precinct's running "blotter" of reports that may serve as a starting point for police work, not an end point.

VAERS website warnings include:

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.

Liberty Counsel is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit organization that has close ties to Liberty University. Its website has a page on "legal help for religious exemptions from vaccinations." It includes a vaccine exemption guide and a sample letter on how to ask an employer for a religious exemption.

And Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, is featured in a video discussing "COVID shot exemptions, vaccine passports, and religious freedom."

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.

  Ed Payne

Ed Payne is a staff writer at Lead Stories. He is an Emmy Award-winning journalist as part of CNN’s coverage of 9/11. Ed worked at CNN for nearly 24 years with the CNN Radio Network and CNN Digital. Most recently, he was a Digital Senior Producer for Gray Television’s Digital Content Center, the company’s digital news hub for 100+ TV stations. Ed also worked as a writer and editor for WebMD. In addition to his journalistic endeavors, Ed is the author of two children’s book series: “The Daily Rounds of a Hound” and “Vail’s Tales.” 

Read more about or contact Ed Payne

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