Not Real News

A dose of a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at Lurie Children's hospital, Nov. 5, 2021, in Chicago. On Friday, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly claiming 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.

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.

THE FACTS: The claim wrongly attempts to tie COVID-19 vaccines to a surge in deaths in the U.S. that insurance companies reported in 2021. Insurance industry leaders say the delta variant of the coronavirus and deferred medical care during the pandemic, not vaccines, 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. One blog post circulating widely online this month claims 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. But 65% 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 AP, citing CDC data. “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,” Davison said.

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 CDC data indicates the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus likely contributed to the increase in deaths.

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. 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.

— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in New York contributed this report.