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Vaccines didn’t cause increase in deaths and life insurance payouts

January 10, 2022 GMT

CLAIM: An increase in death benefits paid out by life insurance providers in the third quarter of 2021 in the United States provides evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines, which became widely available in 2021, led to a spike in deaths.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The claim wrongly attempts to tie COVID-19 vaccines to a surge in deaths in the U.S. in 2021. Insurance industry leaders say the delta variant of the coronavirus and deferred medical care during the pandemic likely contributed to the increase in deaths. Even as millions of people got vaccinated against COVID-19 in 2021, reports of death after vaccination remain extremely rare, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

THE FACTS: As U.S. life insurance companies have reported a surge in deaths among their customers amid the coronavirus pandemic, online blogs and social media posts are falsely attributing the deaths to COVID-19 vaccines

“More preliminary evidence that the vaccines have led to a spike in deaths,” reads the headline of one blog post circulating widely online this month. The post goes on to claim that a rise in deaths in the third quarter of 2021, about six months after COVID-19 vaccines became widely available, “offers further evidence that something is very wrong with these vaccines.”

Other posts misrepresented comments made by Scott Davison, the CEO of the Indianapolis-based insurance company OneAmerica. Davison said in a press conference in late December that his firm saw a 40% rise in death rates among working-age individuals insured under its group life policy in the third quarter of 2021. Some posts used that statistic to falsely imply vaccines were to blame, with one blog claiming the data showed a “record number of younger people in the workforce were dying after the roll-out of COVID-19 ‘vaccines.’”

These posts misrepresent comments byDavison and others in the insurance industry. More than half of the excess deaths in the U.S. in the third quarter of 2021 were caused by COVID-19, Davison said in a statement to The Associated Press, citing CDC data.

CDC data indicates that 65% of 3Q excess deaths can be directly attributed to COVID,” Davison said. “Our own claims data is consistent with that as well. Based on the data and our analysis, we believe that a significant portion of the remaining excess deaths are driven by deferred medical care and individuals who recover from COVID but later die from the toll COVID has taken on their bodies.”

Catherine Theroux, a spokesperson for the insurance industry-funded research group LIMRA, said the firm doesn’t have concrete data through the end of 2021, but there’s no reason to suggest vaccines caused the excess deaths. She said deaths from the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus, which raged through the U.S. in the summer of 2021, likely contributed to the increase in deaths.

“Based on the CDC data, the delta variant did impact working age and younger individuals more than the original variant,” Theroux said.

The AP reported in December that CDC data indicated 2021 would be the nation’s deadliest year on record, with COVID-19 becoming the nation’s No. 3 cause of death behind heart disease and cancer. Experts also said U.S. drug overdose deaths, which surpassed 100,000 in a single year from May 2020 to April 2021, would probably affect 2021 death numbers.

As deaths increased across the U.S., reports of death after COVID-19 vaccination remained extremely rare. The CDC has identified nine deaths associated with rare blood clots caused by the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, out of more than 17 million doses of that vaccine given. Health officials recommend the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines for most Americans, since they are highly effective against the virus and do not carry the rare blood clot risk associated with the Johnson & Johnson shot.

The AP has previously debunked claims that getting vaccinated against COVID-19 can affect life insurance death payments. Whether someone received a COVID-19 vaccine is not a factor in whether a life insurance company will pay their claim.

A spokesperson for the CDC did not respond to a request for further comment.

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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.