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Public commenter, not FDA, falsely claimed COVID vaccines kill many

September 22, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Experts with the Food and Drug Administration revealed that the COVID-19 vaccines are killing at least two people for every person they save.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. FDA experts did not say this, and strongly refuted this false claim in an email to The Associated Press. A speaker who is not affiliated with the FDA made these statements during the open public hearing portion of a Sept. 17 FDA vaccine advisory panel meeting.

THE FACTS: A 15-member panel of outside experts advising the FDA on vaccines held an eight-hour streamed meeting on Friday to make recommendations on the use of booster doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. In a 16-2 vote, the advisory panel rejected boosters for almost everyone, only endorsing extra shots for certain at-risk populations.

In the days after the meeting, social media users and bloggers began misattributing several statements from the livestream to FDA panelists, when they were actually made by independent speakers during a public comment period.

“FDA Panel Member Says COVID Vaccines are Killing More Than They’re Saving During Youtube Livestream,” read a headline on a blog post shared widely in conservative Facebook groups.

“FDA experts reveal the Covid-19 Vaccines are killing at least 2 people for every 1 life they save as they vote 16-2 against the approval of booster shots,” an Instagram post claimed.

However, this unsubstantiated claim actually came from Steve Kirsch, an independent speaker unaffiliated with the FDA, a YouTube video of the meeting shows.

Abby Capobianco, an FDA press officer, confirmed that none of the comments in the open public hearing session came from FDA employees or advisory committee members.

“The open public hearing portion of the meeting is open to anyone who is interested and signed up per themeeting announcement,” Capobianco told the AP in an email. “FDA does not screen remarks from speakers during the open public hearing portion of the meeting in advance.”

Kirsch, an entrepreneur with a background in banking technology who is funding research into COVID-19 treatments unrelated to vaccines, claimed in the meeting that “the vaccines kill more people than they save.”

To support his argument, Kirsch referenced data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, a CDC- and FDA-run database of unverified reports of adverse events that occur after receiving a vaccine. The VAERS system does not determine whether a vaccine caused the events that are reported.

Kirsch’s claim is not supported by data, according to Capobianco, who said the FDA “strongly disagrees with the analysis Mr. Kirsch put forth during the VRBPAC meeting, as we believe the data from VAERS that he referenced were not properly interpreted. This is due to the limitations of VAERS itself, as well as the limitations regarding certain private patient information that is not available to individuals outside of FDA and CDC.”

COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. by the FDA have met rigorous safety standards, and reports of death after COVID-19 vaccination are rare, according to Capobianco.

With more than 380 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines administered in the U.S. to date, VAERS has received fewer than 8,000 reports of death after vaccination, which Capobianco notes do not confirm any causal link between the vaccine and the death.

“FDA requires healthcare providers to report any death after COVID-19 vaccination to VAERS, even if it’s unclear whether the vaccine was the cause,” Capobianco said.

Meanwhile, research shows the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and extremely effective at preventing severe COVID-19 disease and death, and they continue to provide strong protection against the highly contagious delta variant.

Kirsch did not immediately respond to a message requesting comment.

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Associated Press writer Terrence Fraser in New York contributed this report.

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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.