COVID vaccines do not kill more people than rifles
CLAIM: Rifles caused 454 deaths in the United States in 2020, while COVID-19 vaccines caused 20,622 deaths in the United States in 2021.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: Partly false. The claim that 20,000 people have died from COVID-19 vaccines misrepresents data maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. To date, a total of nine deaths in the U.S. have been linked to the shots, all related to rare blood clots caused by the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
THE FACTS: As the country reels from a spate of mass shootings that have sparked calls for gun reform, social media users are distorting data to falsely claim that COVID-19 vaccines kill people more often than rifles do.
The post, which circulated across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter this week, uses a graphic that compares rifle death numbers to purported COVID-19 vaccine death numbers. The text claims that rifles killed 454 people in the U.S. in 2020. It claims COVID-19 vaccines killed 20,622 people in the U.S. in 2021.
The post implies that vaccines cause more deaths than rifles do, but a closer look at the data reveals that’s false. That’s because the CDC data it cites comes from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, or VAERS, an early warning system run by the CDC and the FDA that is meant as a portal to share potential adverse events after vaccines, not a verified database of vaccine-related deaths.
VAERS uses passive surveillance, meaning people self-report any negative medical event they experienced after getting vaccinated. Anyone can submit a report on any possible reaction after the vaccine and anyone can access the database. Health care providers and manufacturers are required to submit adverse responses reported after vaccines, even if they don’t know whether the vaccine caused them.
The VAERS website explains that its data may include “information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable.” It explains why VAERS submissions or the number of reports in the system cannot be interpreted as causal evidence of an association between a vaccine and an adverse event.
“While very important in monitoring vaccine safety, VAERS reports alone cannot be used to determine if a vaccine caused or contributed to an adverse event or illness,” the website reads.
When serious events are reported in VAERS, CDC and FDA scientists follow up with the person reporting the event to obtain more information and medical records.
To date, the CDC has identified nine deaths associated with rare blood clots that were caused by the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine. Currently, 221.5 million people in the U.S. are fully vaccinated.
The rifle death data in the post comes from a legitimate source — it was taken from the FBI’s annual Crime in the United States report in 2020. According to a table showing murder circumstances by weapon, at least 454 homicides in the U.S. in 2020 involved rifles.
However, that dataset also shows that nearly 5,000 additional murders involved guns that were not classified by type. It is possible some of those involved rifles. The table lists 13,620 total gun deaths in 2020, when all types of firearms are counted.
The FBI’s Crime in the United States report is also limited because it doesn’t include data from every law enforcement agency in the country. Participation in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program, which makes up the report, is voluntary.
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.