Re-visiting Information About the COVID-19 Vaccine
It’s been close to three years since the first COVID-19 vaccines were authorized for use by the general public in December of 2020. Controversial claims and concerns about the vaccine continue. With COVID cases back on the rise and the release of an updated vaccine to protect against current variants, let’s look at some controversial claims and the facts behind them.
Claim 1: The vaccine causes severe, adverse side effects, including heart problems, blood clotting, and an increased susceptibility to death.
Common side effects from the vaccine include pain, redness and swelling at the site of the injection, fatigue, headache, muscle pains, chills, fever and nausea. As with most vaccines, the severity of these side effects depends on the person – some people will experience no side effects at all.
In June of 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first reported instances of health problems such as myocarditis and pericarditis, heart issues involving inflammation of the linings within the heart, developing in young men aged 12 – 39, after the second dose and within a week of vaccination. While this was a legitimate cause for concern, between December 2020 and August 2021, there were only 1,626 cases of myocarditis reported among more than 354 million primary doses given (less than 0.0005 percent of all persons vaccinated). Among those aged 30 or younger, there were 826 cases who had clinical information available, and of those approximately 96% were hospitalized and 87% had resolution of presenting symptoms by hospital discharge. The most common treatment for these cases was nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. At the time of this study, there were 2 reports of death in persons younger than 30 years of age with potential myocarditis, however they remain under investigation and were not included in the case counts.
Similarly, as of March, 2022, out of 18 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that were given, 60 cases (0.0003%) of a blood clotting disorder called thrombosis with thrombocytopenia were reported. Out of those 60 cases, 9 people died. Despite the rare occurrence of this side effect, the FDA placed restrictions in May of 2022 on the vaccine and it is no longer available.
Claim 2: The vaccine caused thousands of sudden deaths in otherwise healthy people.
A recent poll released by KFF (formerly known as the Kaiser Family Foundation) showed that a third of American adults believe that the vaccines “caused thousands of sudden deaths in otherwise healthy people.” Despite large U.S. studies stating the contrary, there are attempts to substantiate data showing high numbers of deaths due to the COVID-19 vaccine:
- In 2022, screenshots of headlines claiming “CDC quietly confirms at least 118k Children & Young Adults have ‘Died Suddenly’ in the USA since the roll-out of the COVID Vaccines” began circulating social media, referencing a conspiracy theory-based film entitled “Died Suddenly”. The article cited CDC data as published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and claimed that there were about 118,000 excess U.S. deaths in the 0-to-44 age group between December 2020 and October 2022, compared to the 2015-2019 average. It then went on to suggest that these deaths are “most likely due to Covid-19 injections”. A CDC spokesperson later responded, confirming that reports of deaths caused by vaccination are extremely rare, despite the millions of doses that have been administered in the U.S. Outside of the 9 deaths that have been confirmed to be associated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, a large number of these deaths were caused by people getting ill with COVID-19, and then dying.
- In an Instagram video posted in December of 2022, Peter McCoullough, a Dallas cardiologist and outspoke vaccine critic, made claims that “the vaccine is killing large numbers of people,” and cites data from the CDC that over 16,000 Americans had died within a few days of taking the vaccine. The video received over 23,000 views within a month. The CDC reported that in over two years it had received 18,000 preliminary reports through VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporter System), a user-generated reporting system, of people dying after getting a COVID-19 vaccine. VAERS relies on unverified reports submitted by the general public. Again, the actual number of deaths caused by COVID-19 vaccines reported by the CDC is 9.
Claim 3: Vaccinated people are more likely to die than unvaccinated people.
There are claims that the number of deaths among vaccinated groups of the population is much higher than those among unvaccinated groups. However, this claim is an example of what is known as the base rate fallacy. It’s important to compare the percentage of deaths among these populations, not just the number of deaths themselves. The average weekly COVID death rate in March 2022, showed that there were 1.71 deaths per 100,000 people among unvaccinated populations, versus 0.22 deaths per 100,000 people among vaccinated populations, and 0.1 deaths per 100,000 people among boosted populations.
Claim 4: There’s no point in getting vaccinated if you can still get sick.
No vaccine provides a 100% guarantee that you will not get sick – unfortunately that is not how vaccines work. They help your immune system do its job better, and faster. In this case, the COVID-19 vaccine works by preventing serious illness and hospitalization. Among breakthrough infections, 25% – 30% are completely asymptomatic while 50% – 60% experience mild symptoms and do not need hospitalization. According to the CDC, vaccinated Americans are 14 times less likely to die from COVID-19.
Claim 5: Even if I get sick, there are options available to me to treat the virus other than the vaccine.
Throughout the 2020 lockdown, there was often talk about a variety of medications that could be used to prevent and treat COVID-19:
- Ivermectin, which was previously approved by FDA for use in treating infections caused by parasitic worms and head lice, was promoted throughout the United States and in South Africa as a viable treatment option. However, a variety of trials concluded that “ivermectin has no beneficial effect for people with COVID-19”. Additional research conducted as recently as 2023 showed that even at higher doses and longer treatment durations, the drug is not beneficial for the treatment of COVID-19.
- Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, FDA-approved drugs for treating and preventing malaria, were also touted as another option for treating COVID infections. After a review of safety issues, the FDA revoked emergency use authorization to use the two drugs to treat COVID-19 based on the results of a trial that showed no benefit for decreasing the likelihood of death or speeding recovery. In fact, there were several reports of serious heart rhythm problems, blood and lymph system disorders, kidney injuries, and liver problems and failure associated with the antimalarial drugs.
Fortunately, there are some medications that have been FDA-approved to treat COVID-19, including Veklury, Olumiant, Atemra, and Paxlovid – an oral antiviral that was created specifically to treat high-risk patients who are at risk for severe side-effects and to prevent hospitalization.
When evaluating the numbers above, it’s important to remember that more than one million Americans have died of COVID. It helps to put into perspective the small numbers of complications versus the tragic number of deaths.
In summary, evidence shows that COVID-19 vaccinations are effective in preventing infections and death. Complications are minimal and inline with other vaccines – more than the typical flu shot but a bit less than side effects from the shingles vaccine. Rumors of mass deaths and complications are not accurate. Medications like hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine, and ivermectin are not effective in preventing or treating COVID. Vaccinations and boosting are the best defense against the dangers of COVID-19.
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