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Overcrowding in Australian hospitals not caused by vaccine injuries

November 10, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Australian hospitals are overwhelmed by “vaccine-injured” patients.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. A video of Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan was taken out of context to support the incorrect claim. McGowan was discussing the impacts of the pandemic on the health care system generally, not referencing vaccine side effects, a spokesperson told The Associated Press. Hospitals across Australia have experienced diminished capacity, longer wait times and increased demand for years. These issues are being exacerbated by the pandemic, but are not related to COVID-19 vaccine injuries, according to government and health officials.

THE FACTS: A number of recent social media posts have made the incorrect assertion that Australian hospitals are inundated with patients who have suffered side effects from COVID-19 vaccines.

The false claims began circulating following a news conference held Oct. 31 by McGowan and other regional officials to encourage vaccination and promote upcoming clinics.

Toward the end of the 25-minute conference, a reporter asked McGowan a question about canceled elective surgeries, to which McGowan stated that hospitals in Tasmania, South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria were under “enormous pressure.”

“Why, it is hard to know except that there is some evidence that it is some sort of delayed reaction to COVID,” McGowan continued, adding: “There are huge numbers of people coming through the doors. So we are doing everything we can to try and manage it.”

The premier did not elaborate on the reasons why more patients were in hospitals, nor did he mention vaccines specifically.

However many social media users, including a prominent account known to promote anti-vaccination content, shared a clip of McGowan’s response with the caption: “Hospitals all over Australia are overwhelmed by vaccine-injured patients.”

A spokesperson for McGowan said his comments were misconstrued and that he was referring to the impacts of the pandemic on the health care system generally, not referencing the vaccine.

While Australian hospitals are under stress that has intensified during the pandemic, the official attributed it to “increased demand in attendances to hospital for other ailments, backlog of elective surgery, more babies being born during the pandemic” and other issues not related to coronavirus vaccines.

“The Premier was not suggesting it is related to adverse reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. “What he’s referring to is the general experience the health system is facing — like other health systems in the country and across the world.”

Two reports released by the Australian Medical Association in the past month have highlighted the pressure facing the health care system, but pointed to a long period of decline in hospital capacity and issues with funding as some of the reasons why facilities have been overwhelmed, even before the pandemic.

In an Oct. 15 analysis, the AMA said public hospitals were in a “cycle of crisis” due to a funding formula that failed to address the “sustained decline of hospital performance” over the course of a decade.

Dr. Omar Khorshid, AMA President, said Friday that the organization’s 2021 Public Hospital Report Card found that even during pandemic lockdowns when patient volumes were dramatically reduced, health care facilities were still overwhelmed, and demonstrated “backsliding or barely improved performance.”

Neither the report card nor the recent analysis provided any evidence that vaccine injuries were to blame for crowded hospitals. In fact, the reports showed that hospital resources were strained before coronavirus vaccines became widely available.

Australia’s health department maintains that data shows the benefits of the vaccines continue to outweigh the risks, and that “the vast majority of COVID-19 vaccine adverse events” are not serious, and include symptoms such as headaches, muscle pain, fever, nausea and fatigue, according to a spokesperson for the agency.

Australia has reported 182,870 COVID-19 cases and 1,841 deaths during the pandemic, with nearly 69% of its population fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

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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.