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Report falsely claims Covid vaccines killed 17 million worldwide

Report falsely claims Covid vaccines killed 17 million worldwide - Featured image

Author(s): Daniel FUNKE / AFP USA

Public health authorities say the Covid-19 vaccines have saved lives, but a Canadian report shared across platforms estimates the shots have killed 17 million people globally. This is false; government agencies and independent experts worldwide told AFP the findings are flawed and that only a minuscule percentage of deaths among the vaccinated can be attributed to the jabs.

“Researchers Find COVID Vaccines Causally Linked to Increased Mortality, Estimate 17 Million Deaths,” says a September 28, 2023 headline from the Epoch Times, a website that has previously spread misinformation about vaccination and the pandemic.

The article accumulated more than 3,400 interactions on Facebook, according to CrowdTangle, a social media insights tool. Similar claims circulated on other conspiratorial websites, including InfoWars and Children’s Health Defense — both of which AFP has previously fact-checked.

US politicians, internet personalities and other social media users shared the headlines to thousands more on Facebook, Instagram and X, formerly known as Twitter.

“Shhhhhh… (Told ya so!)” says James T Harris, a radio host in the US state of Arizona, in an October 2 post sharing the Epoch Times story.

Screenshot from Facebook taken October 4, 2023
Screenshot from InfoWars taken October 4, 2023

The articles are the latest to cast doubt on the safety of Covid-19 vaccines, which more than five billion people worldwide have received (archived here).

As evidence, they cite a September 17, 2023 report from a Canadian group called Correlation Research in the Public Interest. The paper — which has not been peer-reviewed — analyzes all-cause mortality and vaccination rates in 17 countries in the Southern Hemisphere to claim the Covid-19 vaccines kill roughly one in 800 recipients.

“This is a staggering number, compared to what is generally believed about traditional vaccines,” the authors say in the conclusion.

The ratio “equates to 17 million Covid-19 vaccine-related deaths worldwide,” the Epoch Times reported.

But Tarik Jasarevic, a World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson, told AFP in an October 3 email that the claims “are not correct.”

Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, agreed, saying the findings “represent a major distortion of the actual data.”

“All-cause mortality spikes are likely due to the virus surging during certain periods and have nothing to do with booster campaigns,” he said in an October 3 email.

Flawed paper

Correlation Research in the Public Interest claims that, in the countries analyzed in its report, “there is no association in time between Covid-19 vaccination and any proportionate reduction in (all-cause mortality).”

The group bases that conclusion on figures from the World Mortality Dataset, Our World in Data and a few other regional sources. The authors accurately note that excess deaths — those recorded in a crisis beyond what would have been expected in a “normal” year — rose in early 2022 after an uptake in Covid-19 vaccination.

But Oliver Watson, a visiting researcher in the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, told AFP that instead of proving Covid-19 shots cause death, the report simply “correlates vaccine rollout with increases in mortality” without accounting for other events that could have caused the spikes.

“For example, they include a number of ‘zero covid’ countries, eg Singapore and New Zealand, which implemented strong lockdowns that prevented Covid-19 spreading,” he said in an October 4 email.

“These countries, once they reached high vaccine coverage, relaxed lockdowns and subsequently had an increase in Covid-19 deaths and mortality, as the vaccines are not 100 percent effective nor did they achieve 100 percent coverage.”

Australia, another country that pursued a “zero-Covid” strategy, saw significant excess mortality near the end of 2021 as the omicron variant surged, AFP previously reported.

The paper shared online also focuses solely on the Southern Hemisphere, which Tara Moriarty of the University of Toronto said “had really high rates of all-cause mortality before vaccines came out.”

That trend continued after the rollout in the United States and Europe, the infectious disease researcher added, because many countries “didn’t have access to vaccines.”

Excess deaths unrelated to vaccines

There were several global spikes in excess deaths during the coronavirus pandemic (archived here). But AFP has previously reported that Covid-19 infections, not vaccines, are to blame.

“If anything, the vaccines likely reduced mortality over the course of the last couple of years,” said Richard Watanabe, professor of population and public health sciences at the University of Southern California, in an October 3 email.

A June 2022 study published in The Lancet found that, within the first year of the vaccine rollout, the shots saved an estimated 19.8 million lives worldwide (archived here). Data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show those who receive booster shots are far less likely to die from Covid-19 than their unvaccinated peers (archived here).

Chart showing Covid-19 daily global death rate, according to the WHO, and key dates since the start of the pandemic in 2020 – Valentina BRESCHI / Valentin RAKOVSKY / AFP

On the other hand, confirmed deaths resulting from vaccination are rare.

In Australia, for example, the Therapeutic Goods Administration has identified 14 deaths likely linked to the shots out of more than 68 million doses administered (archived here).

“Importantly, there is no credible evidence that Covid-19 vaccines have contributed to excess deaths in Australia,” an agency spokesperson told AFP in an October 5 email. “The number of vaccine doses administered in 2022 was approximately half that given in 2021, which clearly indicates that there is not a temporal relationship between vaccination and excess mortality.”

Meanwhile, in South Africa, public health authorities have found three deaths resulting from Covid-19 shots of more than 38 million doses administered (archived here). Similar numbers are reported in other countries cited in the Correlation Research in the Public Interest report, including New Zealand and Singapore (archived here and here).

National health authorities and the WHO are monitoring rare side effects resulting from Covid-19 vaccination, including thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome and myocarditis — inflammation of the heart muscle.

But the CDC says on its website (archived here) that those who receive the shots “are at no greater risk of death from non-Covid causes than unvaccinated people.”

AFP contacted public health agencies in several other countries mentioned in the Correlation Research in the Public Interest report, but responses were not forthcoming.

AFP has fact-checked other false and misleading claims about vaccines here.

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Originally published here.