Tucker Carlson Misrepresents Vaccine Safety Reporting Data

By Saranac Hale Spencer

Posted on May 14, 2021

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SciCheck Digest

The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System accepts any reports of adverse side effects following vaccination to help regulators detect potential problems. Anyone can submit a report, whether or not the incident is vaccine-related. Fox News host Tucker Carlson misrepresented the VAERS data to suggest that thousands have died from COVID-19 vaccines.



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More than 266 million COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the U.S. and most of the reported side effects have been minor.

But Fox News host Tucker Carlson suggested to his 3.3 million viewers on May 6 that more than 3,000 people have died from the COVID-19 vaccines. “The actual number is almost certainly higher than that,” he said. “Perhaps vastly higher than that.”

Social media posts then spread this claim further.

But the claim is based on a misrepresentation of data collected by federal agencies that use it to identify potential safety issues with vaccines. The system that collects the data is called the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, or VAERS, and anyone can submit a report, even if it’s not clear that a vaccine caused the problem.

We took a look at the details in some of the cases reported in the VAERS system.

For example, one case that was included in Carlson’s count was for an 85-year-old senior home resident who died on Dec. 29. This was what was reported to VAERS: “My grandmother died a few hours after receiving the moderna covid vaccine booster 1. While I don?t expect that the events are related, the treating hospital did not acknowledge this and I wanted to be sure a report was made.”

Another report included in Carlson’s count was for a woman who was vaccinated on Jan. 9, had a car accident two weeks later, and died with a brain hemorrhage nine days after that.

Another report was for a 17-year-old who killed himself with a gun eight days after he was vaccinated.

This doesn’t mean that no deaths could be related to the vaccines. But these examples make it clear that “VAERS accepts all reports without judging whether the event was caused by the vaccine,” as the Department of Health and Human Services explains.

Doctors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration review every case of death as soon as it is reported to VAERS.

As we said, the CDC and FDA use the database to detect patterns of potential vaccine-related adverse events, which is what happened in April when regulators flagged reports of rare instances of blood clots in women under 50 who had received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The agencies then recommended pausing distribution of the vaccine to investigate the rare and dangerous clotting condition. When they recommended resuming its use, the agencies a warning for women under 50.

As of May 11, according to the CDC, more than 9 million doses of the J&J vaccine had been given, and there were 28 confirmed reports of the clotting syndrome. The CDC has said that its review of the information in those cases “has not established a causal link to COVID-19 vaccines. However, recent reports indicate a plausible causal relationship between the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine and a rare and serious adverse event — blood clots with low platelets — which has caused deaths.”

The bottom line is that it’s wrong to suggest that reported deaths in the VAERS database were all caused by vaccines. That’s not the case. We’ve written before about similar falsehoods that misrepresent the information in VAERS.

In his case, though, Carlson took that misrepresentation further. He suggested that the already inflated number of deaths is even higher.

“A report submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services in 2010 concluded that ‘fewer than 1% of vaccine adverse events are reported by the VAERS system,’” he said. “Fewer than 1%. So what is the real number of people who apparently have been killed or injured by the vaccines?”

But that report — which analyzed the use of an automated system for tracking health changes following vaccination rather than relying on the current system of purely voluntary reports — didn’t explain how it calculated that percentage and, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, the degree of underreporting in VAERS varies widely depending on the severity of the symptoms.

“‘Underreporting’ is one of the main limitations of passive surveillance systems, including VAERS,” HHS says on its website. The department then gives the example of injection-site soreness, which is one of the most common events to follow vaccination, but represents few of the reports to VAERS.

“On the other hand, more serious and unexpected medical events are probably more likely to be reported than minor ones, especially when they occur soon after vaccination, even if they may be coincidental and related to other causes,” the site says.

A recent study by CDC scientists also found that reporting to VAERS was relatively high for some of the more serious events that can follow vaccination, such as anaphylaxis and Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

“VAERS sensitivity for capturing anaphylaxis after seven different vaccines ranged from 13 to 76%; sensitivity for capturing GBS after three different vaccines ranged from 12 to 64%,” the study found.

Carlson also injected some conspiratorial thinking into his segment, saying, “Some people say, ‘well it’s just a coincidence that someone gets a shot and then dies, possibly from other causes.’ No one really knows, is the truth.”

Actually, the point of the VAERS system is to alert federal agencies to potential problems so they can investigate. For reported deaths, HHS says CDC and FDA doctors in each case review “available clinical information, including death certificates, autopsy, and medical records.”

A Fox spokeswoman we talked to declined to answer whether or not Carlson has been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Editor’s note: SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over our editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation. The goal of the project is to increase exposure to accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines, while decreasing the impact of misinformation.

Sources

National Center for Immunization & Respiratory Diseases. COVID-19 vaccine safety update. 1 Mar 2021.

Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. Frequently Asked Questions. Accessed 11 May 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. VAERS Event Details. Details for VAERS ID: 0913733-1. 30 Dec 2020.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. VAERS Event Details. Details for VAERS ID: 1004811-1. 5 Feb 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. VAERS Event Details. Details for VAERS ID: 1243487-1. 22 Apr 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Selected Adverse Events Reported after COVID-19 Vaccination. 12 May 2021.

Kiely, Eugene and Catalina Jaramillo. “The Facts on the Recommended J&J Vaccine ‘Pause.’” FactCheck.org. 13 Apr 2021.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Joint CDC and FDA Statement on Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine.” 13 Apr 2021.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “FDA and CDC Lift Recommended Pause on Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) COVID-19 Vaccine Use Following Thorough Safety Review.” 23 Apr 2021.

Jaramillo, Catalina. “Viral Posts Misuse VAERS Data to Make False Claims About COVID-19 Vaccines.” FactCheck.org. Updated 13 Apr 2021.

Spokeswoman, Fox News. Telephone interview with FactCheck.org. 7 May 2021.

OpenVAERS. Frequently Asked Questions. Accessed 10 May 2021.

Truth Snitch. “Why Did the CDC Silence the Million Dollar Harvard Project Charged With Upgrading Our Vaccine Safety Surveillance System?” Truthsnitch.com. 24 Oct 2017.

Lazarus, Ross. “Electronic Support for Public Health–Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (ESP:VAERS).” Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Inc. 2011.

Miller, Elaine, et al. “The reporting sensitivity of the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) for anaphylaxis and for Guillain-Barré syndrome.” ScienceDirect. 7 Oct 2020.

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