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COVID-19 vaccine deaths do not outnumber virus deaths

August 24, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Data shows that COVID-19 vaccines are more deadly than the virus itself.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. This bogus claim rests on U.K. data presented without proper context, according to an Associated Press analysis confirmed by medical experts. Reports of death resulting from COVID-19 vaccination are rare. Meanwhile, more than 4 million people worldwide have died from COVID-19.

THE FACTS: An article shared widely this week on social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Telegram, misrepresents data from Scotland to falsely conclude that getting the COVID-19 vaccine is more dangerous than getting the virus.

“There can no longer be any doubt that the Covid-19 injections are more deadly than the alleged Covid-19 virus itself, thanks to a raft of official Public Health and Government data available, confirming more people have died due to the Covid-19 vaccine in 8 months than people who have died of Covid-19 in 18 months,” the article reads.

The article cites data from Scotland’s national public health agency that shows that between Dec. 2020 and June 2021, 5,522 people died within 28 days of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. It compares that number to a report from the National Records of Scotland showing that between March 2020 and July 2021, 704 people who had no pre-existing conditions died of COVID-19 in Scotland.

But using those figures alone leaves out key context. Public Health Scotland explains that though 5,522 people did die within 28 days of receiving a vaccine, that number includes “all recorded deaths due to any cause and does not refer to deaths caused by the vaccine itself.” The agency adds that this tally of coincidental post-vaccine deaths is actually lower than the 8,718 deaths that would be expected based on average monthly death rates in Scotland.

National Records of Scotland Communications Manager Ewan Mathieson told the AP that out of millions who have received COVID-19 vaccine doses in Scotland, a total of four people there have died from adverse effects of the shot.

Reducing virus deaths in Scotland to the 704 people without pre-existing conditions is also misleading, because it excludes anyone who had any condition that preceded COVID-19 or was listed as a contributory factor in their death. In total in Scotland between March 2020 and August 2021, there have been more than 10,000 deaths involving COVID-19, Mathieson said.

The article also cites National Health Service data from England showing that as of Aug. 12, 3,743 people with no pre-existing conditions had died of COVID-19 in England. It fails to mention that including people with pre-existing conditions bumps the death count to more than 89,000. The pre-existing conditions listed included things like mental health disorders, asthma, learning disabilities, autism and diabetes.

Finally, the article points to reports made to the British government’s Yellow Card scheme, a program for reporting adverse drug reactions. It claims that nearly 300,000 adverse reactions and 501 deaths reported through the program are proof that the vaccines are dangerous and can be deadly. That’s not accurate, according to the U.K. government, which explains that any member of the public can submit suspected side effects so the Yellow Card reports should not be considered conclusive.

“The nature of Yellow Card reporting means that reported events are not always proven side effects,” the U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency explains on its website. “Some events may have happened anyway, regardless of vaccination. This is particularly the case when millions of people are vaccinated, and especially when most vaccines are being given to the most elderly people and people who have underlying illness.”

Sheena Cruickshank, a professor and immunologist at the University of Manchester, called the piece an “irresponsible article that is using data in an unethical way.”

“COVID is a serious condition that can cause long term health impacts and severe disease and even death,” Cruickshank wrote in an email to the AP. “Current data clearly shows that unvaccinated people are much more at risk of catching the delta variant of COVID and being hospitalised or dying. The vaccines are proving highly effective against protecting against the worst effects of this condition.”

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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.