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Posts on WHO vaccine reporting tool lack context

October 11, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: A World Health Organization tool called VigiAccess shows thousands of adverse reactions from COVID-19 vaccines.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Missing context. The WHO list known as VigiAccess shows symptoms reported by people following vaccination. The reports, some of which are in the hundreds of thousands, are not vetted or verified, nor are they proof that the vaccine caused a particular symptom, according to a spokesperson from the organization that oversees the database.

THE FACTS: As a growing number of people worldwide receive COVID-19 vaccines, social media users are sharing a video of a WHO database without proper context.The video shows a phone user navigating to the search engine DuckDuckGo.com and searching for “vigiaccess.” The user clicks into the tool, searches for COVID-19 vaccines, and finds hundreds of results labeled “adverse drug reactions.” They include a range of ailments, from cardiac disorders to immune system deficiencies.

“You HAVE to see all the ‘adverse reactions’ from the covid jab they are hiding from you,” one Twitter user wrote alongside the video.

“VigiAccess is a worldwide reporting system for adverse effects of vaccines,” another user wrote. “Check out these numbers!”

But these posts don’t provide enough context around VigiAccess, which is a search tool to look through unverified reports of symptoms observed after taking a drug or getting immunized. The reports in VigiAccess are aggregated from data in a WHO database called VigiBase. VigiAccess is meant to be a “starting point” for people interested in learning about potential side effects, according to its website. Neither VigiAccess nor VigiBase shows confirmed side effects, as some social media users claimed.

Reports in VigiBase are submitted by organizations that have been appointed by health departments in various countries to do so. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is one example.

Uppsala Monitoring Centre, a Swedish organization that operates the WHO Programme for International Drug Monitoring, is responsible for overseeing the database. The reported information is different depending on the country submitting the information, and the group does not remove any reports from the database unless the person who submits the initial report asks for it to be removed.

“Neither WHO or UMC vets the reports of suspected side effects in VigiBase (shown in VigiAccess) upon submission,” Helena Skold, VigiBase Manager at Uppsala Monitoring Centre, said in an email. “The nature of spontaneous reporting however, makes it very difficult to prove that reports are falsified as reporters are often anonymous.”

Skold said the process of maintaining the database is largely automated and very permissive because there are so many reports to handle.

“We only do a basic validation to confirm that the minimum required information is included,” she said.

A disclaimer on the website says “VigiAccess cannot be used to infer any confirmed link between a suspected side effect and any specific medicine.”

Skold further confirmed to the AP that it is not possible to draw any conclusions about the safety of a medicinal product just from looking in VigiAccess.

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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.