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Video spreads false claim that vaccine booster shots increase risk of death

March 10, 2022 GMT

CLAIM: People who have received COVID-19 vaccine booster shots are at a greater risk of dying from the virus.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Research shows the opposite – booster shots reduce the risk of hospitalization and death, experts said.

THE FACTS: Video footage circulating widely on social media recently shows a doctor telling Tennessee lawmakers that people who get booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines are at a higher risk of death from the coronavirus.

In the clip, Dr. Richard Urso testifies at a March 1 House Health Subcommittee of the Tennessee General Assembly on a bill that would ban private businesses and public agencies from enacting rules that treat people considered to have natural immunity from COVID-19, differently from those who are vaccinated.

“The vaccine, even if we just talk about that, it’s not stopping infection, it’s not stopping transmission,” said Urso, a Houston-based ophthalmologist, “If you look at the studies in England, in Scotland, and in northern countries in Europe where they get real data, that there, actually, the triple vaccinated are the most likely to die.”

The video of Urso’s testimony has spread across social media platforms. One Facebook user who shared the clip on Sunday wrote, “‘Triple vaxxed are most likely to die from covid.’” Similarly, a Twitter user wrote, “The triple vaxxed are the most likely to die from covid-19.”

But the claim is false. No credible evidence has been presented showing that people who get COVID-19 vaccine booster shots are more likely to die, medical and immunology experts tell The Associated Press.

“There’s really nothing that supports that assertion,” said Francesca Torriani, a professor of clinical medicine at the University of California, San Diego. “It has to be categorized as misinformation.”

Ross Kedl, a professor of immunology and biology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, said the data shows the “exact opposite” of Urso’s claim. Kedl cited a March 2022 article in the New England Journal of Medicine that found that booster doses “substantially increased protection” against the omicron variant.

“I’ve never seen anything that shows an increased risk of mortality for individuals with the third dose and repeated doses to the vaccines,” said Robert Carpenter, a clinical associate professor at Texas A&M University College of Medicine. “That’s completely false based upon all of the data that is available, everything that I’ve seen both in the U.S. and outside it from reputable sources.”

Carpenter cited data published in January 2022 by the U.K. Health Security Agency that determined that booster shots significantly reduce the risk of death caused by the omicron coronavirus variant. He also pointed to a December 2021 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that found that people who received a booster shot had “90% lower mortality” due to COVID-19 than those who did not get a booster.

“The longer time goes on, the more and more people pour over this data, the better and better it gets,” Kedl said. “Go get a booster.”

Urso did not respond to the AP’s requests for 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.