The Dangers of Misinterpreting Public Health Data
The gathering on Hospital Drive on Tuesday, August 17, 2021, was a chance for opponents of the vaccination effort to voice their concerns. One of the organizers, Alison Despathy, has subsequently written an opinion piece in the CR complaining about the lack of news coverage for their rally. Alison Despathy went on to comment on the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) data to bolster her claim that the COVID-19 vaccines are a public hazard. The deceptive wording used to bolster her argument cannot remain unchallenged. Her use of the term “experimental COVID injection” and subsequent quoting of raw VAERS data are clearly meant to scare people and serve to perpetuate a great injustice to the Public Health System.
We are living history in these unprecedented times. There have been over 4.8 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine administered to date, that’s 4,800,000,000 doses. These vaccines have been scrutinized and monitored by all types of governmental and private entities. Yet nothing compares to the effort by the VAERS to catalog and report every possible side-effect of these vaccines. Of the 170 million people vaccinated in the US each and every recipient has had the opportunity to report any and all side-effects. The CDC even offered up an app for recipient’s smart phone to make reporting easier, called V-SAFE. This app prompts users months out from their vaccine to see if there are any lasting effects from the vaccine. There is nothing to hide here. We all want to be safe.
Using Alison Despathy’s own quoted data from VAERS we can see that the 545,337 adverse events, (“greater than all other vaccines combined in the past 20 years”), make up 0.3% of vaccinated people, and the reported deaths of 12,366 vaccine recipients makes up 0.007% of vaccine recipients. These numbers are actually not meant to be interpreted like this. This is raw data, self-reported data, and unverified data. It is meant to give our Public Health providers a feel for what is being seen in the broad public sector. They are looking for trends. They are looking for events that are occurring “above background”, meaning events that are occurring above and beyond that which we expect to see in a population this size.
Self-reported “adverse effects” might be a headache or stuffy nose that may or may not be attributable to the vaccine. Any death within a few days of a vaccine dose is reported as attributed to the vaccine, but we know that when a group as large as the population of the US is vaccinated some people will die within a few days of getting vaccinated, particularly when we are specifically targeting the elderly and most frail because of their vulnerability to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The VAERS data for pregnant women has been very reassuring. To date there has not been any data “above background” to suggest any long-term adverse effects on the mother or the baby from the COVID vaccine.
Overall, the VAERS data has been reassuring to our Public Health professionals that the COVID vaccines are safe and effective. Using raw data without including the denominator is deceptive and not at all helpful in making an informed decision about the COVID vaccines. Please stay informed and be careful about the source of your information.
Michael Rousse, MD, MPH
NVRH Chief Medical Officer