ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -- Websites and social media posts have been misusing a federal government database and spreading false information claiming thousands of people have died from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. Experts tell KCTV5 that's just not true.
KCTV5 recently received an email asking us why we weren't reporting the deaths from the "so-called" COVID-19 vaccines. The email pointed to a database called the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System, or VAERS.
The database was created back in 1990 and is accessible online. It allows the public and healthcare providers to report the side effects of any vaccine. Interest in it has piqued during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the last several months, experts say the database is being used inappropriately to spread false information about the vaccines.
Social media posts and videos, legitimate-looking articles, and even Tucker Carlson on Fox News, have all been using VAERS to spread misinformation about the vaccines being directly connected to people dying. Experts say that's highly problematic.
“There is no reason to believe those deaths are caused by the vaccine itself,” Dr. Laura Morris said, a physician with the University of Missouri.
Here’s what they say is the problem: VAERS is intended to be a massive and passive data collection system. If you feel a sore arm after the COVID-19 shot or a headache, you can make a report on VAERS. Anyone can do so, including doctors.
A person could report a death at any point, days or weeks after a COVID-19 vaccine. And from the numbers, people certainly have been reporting them. Those reports show up on VAERS as is, without anyone actually verifying the vaccine caused said person to die.
“Patients who get the vaccine might have cancer or a car accident and the death in timing is related, but cause and effect is not,” Dr. Morris said.
Instead, the CDC will go through the data submitted to VAERS and start gathering more information from things like medical records and death certificates. The CDC has been determining that the vast majority of deaths reported to VAERS were not connected to the vaccine at all.
“The research behind it just does not hold that up,” Dr. Morris said.
That's why the VAERS website is loaded with disclaimers trying to warn people that looking at the raw data alone is incomplete at best, and absolutely inaccurate at worst. This is not to say there have been zero adverse events from COVID-19 vaccines.
The CDC's website has precise information about rare instances of anaphylaxis or allergic reactions, Guillan Barre syndrome or, even more rare, blood clots from the Johnson and Johnson shot, which did lead to a reported three deaths.
Lets look at this another way: the VAERS website says there are 129 reports of death after someone received a COVID-19 vaccine in Missouri, but the state health department says they have no reports of anyone dying as a direct result of getting the shot. Close to 11,500 Missourians have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.
“They should get vaccinated,” Dr. Morris said. As always, experts say you should check your sources of information and when in doubt, listen to your own doctor.
“I have been having this conversation day in and day out for months and I will continue having this conversation until everyone is protected,” Dr. Morris said.
There is another vaccine reporting system that looks at vaccine side effects that's often preferred by and used by medical professionals; it’s called the Vaccine Safety Datalink.