VAERS data distorted to falsely link vaccines and miscarriage
CLAIM: “VAERS listed 4,941 miscarriages post-COVID vaccine. For comparison, the fetal death reports for all other vaccines reported to VAERS in the last 30 years is 2,239. But no worries, the COVID vaccine is safe and effective for everyone.”
AP’S ASSESSMENT: Missing context. COVID-19 vaccines have not been linked to pregnancy loss, as this post implies. The post attributes its miscarriage data to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System, a database from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration where individuals can submit unverified reports of health outcomes after vaccination. But VAERS data does not prove a vaccine caused any side effects, and an Associated Press review of data in that system did not return the same numbers.
THE FACTS: A tweet shared across social media this week distorts CDC and FDA data to spread a false narrative about COVID-19 vaccines during pregnancy.
The post suggests that a high number of miscarriages reported in VAERS after patients received COVID-19 vaccines was cause for alarm because other vaccines in the past did not generate as many miscarriage reports in the database.
It’s unclear what search criteria was used to find 4,941 VAERS reports of miscarriages, and the AP couldn’t independently replicate that number. CDC spokesperson Martha Sharan said that as of Aug. 19, fewer than 1,300 reports of miscarriage in the U.S. had been made in VAERS related to the COVID-19 vaccines. For other vaccines, she said, there were just over 700 U.S. miscarriage reports. VAERS allows anyone to submit reports, even outside the U.S., but an AP search of reports categorized as “spontaneous abortion” — the medical term for miscarriage — in all locations after the COVID-19 vaccines turned up fewer than 3,400.
In addition, reports in VAERS do not prove any relationship between vaccines and adverse events. The database is intended as an early warning system to detect new or unusual side effects, and does not determine if a vaccine caused a reported health outcome, according to the CDC. The system allows any individual to submit reports and its website advises that these reports may “contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable.”
According to Sharan, research has shown that the risk of spontaneous abortion after an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine was consistent with what would be expected otherwise in the general population.“We see rates of spontaneous abortions and stillbirths, that are similar to those we saw before the pandemic or that we see among pregnant women without vaccination,” Sharan said in an email. “We see no indication that vaccination is raising the rate of either.”
Miscarriages are relatively common, affecting up to 20% of pregnancies, Sharan said. The risk is significantly higher for older mothers, around 80% for those who are 45 years of age.
The VAERS database contains far more adverse event reports related to the COVID-19 vaccines than to other vaccines, Sharan said. That’s in part a result of the provider agreement that health care providers entered with the CDC for the COVID-19 vaccines. Because the FDA initially authorized the vaccines for emergency use, health care providers are legally required to submit adverse events reported after the COVID-19 vaccines, even if they don’t suspect the vaccine caused them.
“This legally required reporting, the outreach and education by CDC to healthcare providers to increase awareness of the importance of reporting adverse outcomes to VAERS, and the great public attention to these new vaccines, likely account for the overall reporting volume after COVID-19 vaccines,” Sharan said.
Medical experts and leading obstetrician groups have confirmed that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and recommended during pregnancy.
“The COVID-19 vaccines have not been shown to have any adverse effect on pregnancy outcomes,” Dr. Stephanie Gaw, an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, previously told the AP. “In fact, people that get vaccinated have improved pregnancy outcomes (lower rates of stillbirth and preterm birth) in addition to the protection against COVID infection.”
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.