CLAIM: Data shows that COVID-19 vaccines are more deadly than the virus itself.
THE FACTS: An article shared widely 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.
In fact, reports of death resulting from COVID-19 vaccinations are rare, while more than 4 million people worldwide have died from COVID-19. Yet, the article claims “more people have died due to the COVID-19 vaccine in 8 months than people who have died of COVID-19 in 18 months.”
This bogus claim rests on United Kingdom data presented without proper context, according to an Associated Press analysis confirmed by medical experts. The article cites data from Scotland’s national public health agency that shows that from December 2020 to June, 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 from March 2020 to July 2021, 704 people who had no preexisting 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 of adverse effects from the shot. Reducing virus deaths in Scotland to the 704 people without preexisting conditions also is 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 from March 2020 to August 2021, there have been more than 10,000 deaths involving COVID-19, Mathieson said.
The article also 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 is 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.”
In an email to The AP, Cruickshank wrote: “Current data clearly shows that unvaccinated people are much more at risk of catching the delta variant of COVID and being [hospitalized] or dying. The vaccines are proving highly effective against protecting against the worst effects of this condition.”