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Correcting this week’s misinformation: week of June 15, 2023

Are VAERS reports about fetal deaths being hidden?

The Claim:

A VAERS report highlighted by a Canadian doctor no longer allowed to practice medicine is being used to support the claim that mRNA COVID vaccines can cause fetal deaths, but people don’t know about it because the reports are being hidden.

The Facts:

We know VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) is not hiding information because the doctor above was able to find the report in VAERS.

One claim is that child deaths are concealed by “leaving the ‘Age’ box empty.” However, VAERS is merely a database; anyone can enter a report, and that report will contain only the information that was entered. If a person does not enter an age, we shouldn’t blame VAERS.

The person making the report highlighted in the tweet may have thought the death was unrelated to the vaccination but, because of the timing, felt it should be reported. Another claim concerned a 12-year-old boy who died, but the report states that the autopsy results have yet to come back and they can’t rule out natural causes.

It is crucial to remember that anyone can report anything to VAERS, regardless of causation, as is noted on the VAERS website. One doctor famously submitted a report that the flu shot turned him into the Incredible Hulk. VAERS is helpful for keeping track of vaccine safety, but just because something is reported doesn’t mean the vaccine caused it. Even if they’re not sure, doctors should report any important health problems that happen after vaccination.

The most pertinent warning on the website helps put the above claims into context: “VAERS reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable. Reports to VAERS can also be biased. As a result, there are limitations on how the data can be used scientifically. Data from VAERS reports should always be interpreted with these limitations in mind.”

Do COVID vaccines raise the risk of seizures in children?

The Claim:

Articles about a recent study are going viral because they claim the study shows 100 children had seizures of COVID vaccination, intimating that the vaccine raises the risk of seizures as well as Bell’s Palsy, appendicitis, stroke, and other health concerns,

The Facts:

Buried in the article tweeted was a study that looked at adverse events following COVID vaccination. Overall, the study did not find any safety concerns with the COVID-19 vaccines in children under the age of 5. The findings are consistent with the results of clinical trials and other safety monitoring systems.

The article in the referenced tweet seemed concerned about the rates of adverse events following vaccination, with special concern that the outcomes of the vaccinated were not compared to those of the unvaccinated. However, the researchers did compare rates of events in the vaccinated to expected rates in the population and found that the events that occurred in the vaccinated children didn’t spark any concern. (The events didn’t happen more often than we would expect them to happen without vaccination.)

According to the study, 247,011 children under the age of 6 received an mRNA vaccine during the 9-month trial period. When you have a study of a quarter million children, you’d expect to have unfortunate events occur–not related to the vaccine. In fact, the article even pointed out cases of hemorrhagic stroke and pulmonary embolism, which the study noted were due to congenital abnormalities and completely unrelated to the vaccine.

As far as seizures, febrile seizures, which are seizures as a result of rapid temperature change, commonly occur in children 6 months-5 years old. They may seem scary, but are generally benign. With a population of 247,000 children, 100 of them having seizures is about what we would expect to see in a group of children that size.

Did smallpox vaccines save lives?

The Claim:

For reasons we shall never understand, a computer engineer claims that smallpox vaccines never saved even a single life, and he is using a book published in 1889 as evidence.

The Facts:

Smallpox is believed to have appeared around 10,000 BCE. In the 12,000 years since, smallpox has had a devastating impact on humanity, killing millions. About 300,000 lives were lost worldwide in just the 77 years before its eradication

American Revolutionary War figures, including Thomas Jefferson, prioritized the vaccination of their own families. Jefferson had his children vaccinated against smallpox, understanding the risks associated with the disease and the potential for vaccination to save lives.

Inoculation, a precursor to vaccination, was a common practice during that time to combat smallpox. Inoculation involved deliberately infecting individuals with a mild form of smallpox to induce immunity. George Washington, for example, ordered the inoculation of his troops during the winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge. This proactive measure aimed to prevent outbreaks and reduce the severity of smallpox cases among his soldiers.

In 1959, the WHO announced its goal of eradicating smallpox but had a rocky start. In 1967, they started the Intensified Eradication Program,  with better vaccines and new tools to fight smallpox. One such tool was a system to track cases and large-scale vaccination campaigns. The last naturally-occurring case of smallpox was in 1977. Smallpox was eradicated from humans in 1980. It now only exists in a lab.

Fortunately, we did not rely on an anti-vaccine book written in 1889 to guide our public health strategy.

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