Fact Check: Children's Risk Of Death Is NOT Increased 5,100% By Pfizer Vaccine; UK Agency Says Claim Is 'Highly Misleading'

Fact Check

  • by: Ed Payne

STORY UPDATED: check for updates below.

Fact Check: Children's Risk Of Death Is NOT Increased 5,100% By Pfizer Vaccine; UK Agency Says Claim Is 'Highly Misleading' Misleading

Does Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine increase the risk of death in children by 5,100%? No, that's not true: The Office of National Statistics (ONS) in the United Kingdom calls the claim "highly misleading." During the bulk of the time period where the numbers came from, "only clinically vulnerable children" in England and Wales could get the vaccine. This group has a much higher mortality rate than the general population, skewing the comparison between the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

The claim appeared in an article (archived here) published by The Exposé on February 7, 2022, under the title "Pfizer Covid-19 Vaccine increases Children's risk of Death by 5100% according to the Office for National Statistics." It opened:

There is a massive difference in death rates among children vaccinated against Covid-19 and their unvaccinated counterparts in England and Wales according to official data published by the Office for National Statistics which shows fully vaccinated children's risk of death due to any cause increases by 5,100%.

This is what the article looked like on The Exposé website on February 9, 2022:

Expose.png

(Source: The Exposé screenshot taken on Tue Feb 8 19:31:00 2022 UTC)

The Exposé article specifically looks at children aged 10-14. In a February 9, 2022, email to Lead Stories, the ONS called the headline and report "highly misleading":

For the bulk of the period (January October 2021), only clinically vulnerable children were allowed to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and clinically vulnerable young people were vaccinated much earlier than those with no comorbidities. Clinically vulnerable children and young people have a higher mortality rate than those with no comorbidities, and this explains why vaccinated teenagers have higher rate of death than those who remained unvaccinated.

For the 10-14 age groups, no children below 12 would have been vaccinated, so vaccinated kids aged 10-14 would be older on average than unvaccinated 10-14. Essentially mortality rates are not meaningful for children because of the way children at risk were prioritised in the vaccine roll out.

The rollout of COVID vaccines to healthy 12- to 15-year-olds in England and Wales didn't begin until late September 2021, the tail end of the statistical period cited by The Exposé.

In the U.K., everyone aged 12 and over, and some children aged 5 to 11, can get first and second doses of the vaccine, according to the National Health System (NHS). But to be clear, most in the lower age group aren't eligible at this time, the NHS website said on February 9, 2022:

Some children aged 5 to 11 can get a 1st and 2nd dose of the COVID-19 vaccine if either:

  • they have a condition that means they're at high risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19
  • they live with someone who has a weakened immune system

The U.K.'s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved the Pfizer vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds on December 22, 2021. Dr. June Raine, MHRA chief executive, said this in a press release:

We have concluded that the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective for 5 to 11-year olds, with no new safety concerns identified. We have carefully considered all the available data and reached the decision that there is robust evidence to support a positive benefit risk for children in this age group.

Our detailed review of all side-effect reports to date has found that the overwhelming majority relate to mild symptoms, such as a sore arm or a flu-like illness. We have in place a comprehensive safety surveillance strategy for monitoring the safety of all UK-approved COVID-19 vaccines and this includes children aged 5 to 11 years old.

In a February 10, 2022, email to Lead Stories, Pfizer global media relations provided this statement regarding the claim against their vaccine:

We take adverse events that are potentially associated with any of our products very seriously. We closely monitor all such events and collect relevant information to share with global regulatory authorities. To date, more than 2.8 billion of our COVID-19 vaccines have been delivered globally. Based on ongoing safety reviews performed by Pfizer, BioNTech and health authorities, our COVID-19 vaccine retains a positive benefit-risk profile for all approved indications and age groups.

Lead Stories previously debunked another claim from The Exposé saying teens from England and Wales vaccinated for COVID-19 are three times more likely to die than unvaccinated teens. You can read that story here.

Updates:

  • 2022-02-10T19:10:02Z 2022-02-10T19:10:02Z
    Adds statement from Pfizer.

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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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