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COVID-19 vaccine deaths don’t outnumber virus deaths

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the virus that causes COVID-19. On Friday, Aug. 26, 2021, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly asserting a study from the Francis Crick Institute in London found that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine destroys a type of white blood cell called the T cell and weakens the immune system. On the contrary, the vaccine generates a strong T cell response and boosts immunity, according to medical experts. (NIAID-RML via AP, File)

The Associated Press checked out some of the most widely shared — but completely untrue — stories circulating social media this week. Here are the facts:


Vaccine deaths do not outnumber virus deaths

CLAIM: Data shows that COVID-19 vaccines are more deadly than the virus itself.

THE FACTS: An article shared widely on social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Telegram, misrepresents data from Scotland to falsely conclude that getting the COVID-19 vaccine is more dangerous than getting the virus. In fact, reports of death resulting from COVID-19 vaccination are rare while more than 4 million people worldwide have died from COVID-19. Yet the article claims “more people have died due to the Covid-19 vaccine in 8 months than people who have died of Covid-19 in 18 months.” This bogus claim rests on U.K. data presented without proper context, according to an Associated Press analysis confirmed by medical experts. The article cites data from Scotland’s national public health agency that shows that between Dec. 2020 and June 2021, 5,522 people died within 28 days of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. It compares that number to a report from the National Records of Scotland showing that between March 2020 and July 2021, 704 people who had no pre-existing conditions died of COVID-19 in Scotland. But using those figures alone leaves out key context. Public Health Scotland explains that though 5,522 people did die within 28 days of receiving a vaccine, that number includes “all recorded deaths due to any cause and does not refer to deaths caused by the vaccine itself.” The agency adds that this tally of coincidental post-vaccine deaths is actually lower than the 8,718 deaths that would be expected based on average monthly death rates in Scotland. National Records of Scotland Communications Manager Ewan Mathieson told the AP that out of millions who have received COVID-19 vaccine doses in Scotland, a total of four people there have died from adverse effects of the shot. Reducing virus deaths in Scotland to the 704 people without pre-existing conditions is also misleading, because it excludes anyone who had any condition that preceded COVID-19 or was listed as a contributory factor in their death. In total in Scotland between March 2020 and August 2021, there have been more than 10,000 deaths involving COVID-19, Mathieson said. The article also points to reports made to the British government’s Yellow Card scheme, a program for reporting adverse drug reactions. It claims that nearly 300,000 adverse reactions and 501 deaths reported through the program are proof that the vaccines are dangerous and can be deadly. That’s not accurate, according to the U.K. government, which explains that any member of the public can submit suspected side effects so the Yellow Card reports should not be considered conclusive. “The nature of Yellow Card reporting means that reported events are not always proven side effects,” the U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency explains on its website. “Some events may have happened anyway, regardless of vaccination. This is particularly the case when millions of people are vaccinated, and especially when most vaccines are being given to the most elderly people and people who have underlying illness.” Sheena Cruickshank, a professor and immunologist at the University of Manchester, called the piece an “irresponsible article that is using data in an unethical way.” In an email to the AP, Cruickshank wrote: “Current data clearly shows that unvaccinated people are much more at risk of catching the delta variant of COVID and being hospitalised or dying. The vaccines are proving highly effective against protecting against the worst effects of this condition.”

— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in New York contributed this report.


Video clip of Ohio school board meeting spreads vaccine falsehoods

CLAIM: People who have been vaccinated are going to die within six months to five years; COVID-19 vaccines will sterilize children permanently; 80 percent of women who have been jabbed have miscarried in the first trimester; people who are vaccinated are banned from donating blood.

THE FACTS: A video clip of a speaker sharing several false claims about COVID-19 vaccines during a school board meeting in Ohio made the rounds on social media. Sean Brooks introduced himself at the Talawanda School District meeting on Aug. 16 as a doctor who has a Ph.D. According to his website, it is in education rather than science. No evidence can be found to back up several of the claims Brooks makes in the clip, including his prophecy that people who have been vaccinated will die within months or years due to the shot. Data from millions of people who have been vaccinated shows COVID-19 vaccines prevent deaths. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to Pfizer for its vaccine on Monday after reviewing six months of safety data. The FDA had previously granted Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson emergency use authorization for their COVID-19 vaccines based on safety data that tracked more than 70,000 people through clinical trials up to two months after they received shots. “The safety data now exists for a full year and in some cases 18 months,” said Dr. Matthew Woodruff, an immunologist at Emory University. “We have seen over and over again no indications that the immune responses to these vaccines are functionally different to immune responses from other vaccines.” Furthermore, medical professionals agree that COVID-19 vaccines do not affect fertility, do not cause sterilization and are safe for pregnant people. A Pfizer study found that just as many women who were given the vaccine became pregnant as those who received placebo shots. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is encouraging pregnant women to receive the vaccine, particularly since pregnant women are at elevated risk for severe disease if they contract coronavirus. Brooks’ comment that 80 percent of women miscarried is not backed up by any evidence and is contradicted by available data. A CDC analysis found that 2,500 women who received a dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine before 20 weeks of pregnancy showed no increased risk of miscarriage. His claim that vaccinated people cannot donate blood is also false. Blood centers, including The American Red Cross, are accepting donations from people who have received the COVID-19 vaccines and are encouraging vaccinated individuals to give blood. The American Association of Blood Banks has said that the FDA's blood donation eligibility criteria includes people who have received vaccines authorized in the U.S. Brooks did not return a request for comment.

— Associated Press writer Beatrice Dupuy in New York contributed this report.


COVID-19 vaccines don’t destroy T cells or weaken immune system

CLAIM: A study from the Francis Crick Institute in London found that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine destroys a type of white blood cell called the T cell and weakens the immune system.

THE FACTS: The vaccine doesn’t destroy T cells or weaken the immune system. On the contrary, it generates a strong T cell response and boosts immunity, according to experts. Articles spreading on social media this week misrepresent the Francis Crick Institute study, which looked at the ability of COVID-19 vaccines to produce neutralizing antibodies against viral variants and did not examine T cells. “Our work to date has not studied T cells at all,” Francis Crick Institute researcher and study author Dr. David Bauer told the AP in an email. “All research published to date shows that the Pfizer (and other) vaccines generate a strong, positive, protective T-cell response against SARS-CoV-2.” Outside experts confirmed that the COVID-19 vaccines don’t destroy or damage T cells. “There’s a lot of data that shows that the vaccines induce strong T cell responses that recognize the virus and probably lead to protection,” said Dr. Joel Blankson, a professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who has personally studied T cell responses to COVID-19 vaccines. The claim that the vaccines weaken the immune system is also false, Bauer confirmed. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others shows the vaccines boost the immune response. The mRNA vaccines work by training the immune system to recognize the spike protein on the surface of the virus to generate an immune response. The Francis Crick Institute study examined how antibodies generated by COVID-19 vaccines are able to neutralize new strains of the virus. Bauer and other experts confirm that getting the vaccine offers more protection against the delta variant than going without it.

— Ali Swenson


Video shows airstrike in Gaza, not explosion in Kabul

CLAIM: Video shows the second explosion outside Afghanistan’s Kabul airport on Thursday near Baron Hotel.

THE FACTS: As social media users began sharing photos and footage of Thursday's deadly attack at Kabul's airport, several old images and videos were shared as new. One video showing an airstrike tinting a night sky orange in Gaza, which has appeared repeatedly online since at least Aug. 21, circulated widely with false claims it showed Thursday’s second explosion in Kabul. “#BREAKING : Second explosion hit Baron Hotel near #Kabul airport where Americans were rescued last week,” one Twitter user wrote alongside the video. But the video shows an airstrike in Gaza, according to several news reports and social media posts with the video shared days before the Kabul attacks. The open source intelligence network Aurora Intel and news outlets including Al Jazeera shared the photo online on Aug. 21 with captions explaining it showed an Israeli airstrike in Gaza. A spokesperson for the Israeli military also shared the video on Aug. 21, writing in a caption in Arabic that it showed warplanes raiding sites belonging to the Hamas militant group. Thursday’s bombings near the airport killed more than 100 people, including scores of Afghans and at least 13 U.S. troops, Afghan and U.S. officials said. It was the deadliest day for American forces in Afghanistan since August 2011.

— Ali Swenson


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