Coronavirus, Vaccines

Activist Misuses Federal Data to Make False Claim That Covid Vaccines Killed 676,000

By Tom Kertscher, PolitiFact  SEPTEMBER 1, 2023

Covid-19 vaccines have killed 676,000 Americans.

Steve Kirsch in an Aug. 6, 2023, blog post

A blog post shared on Facebook claimed that covid-19 vaccines have killed some 676,000 Americans.

The post was written by anti-vaccine activist Steve Kirsch, who has made other vaccine claims debunked by PolitiFact and other fact-checkers.

Kirsch’s Aug. 6 post referred to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, a federal database.

“VAERS data is crystal clear,” the headline read. “The COVID vaccines are killing an estimated 1 person per 1,000 doses (676,000 dead Americans).”

The blog post was shared on social media and flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about PolitiFact’s partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

The data Kirsch used is from an anti-vaccine group’s alternative gateway to VAERS. VAERS, which includes unverified reports, cannot be used to determine whether a vaccine caused death. Kirsch did not reply to our request for information.

“Statements that imply that reports of deaths to VAERS following vaccination equate to deaths caused by vaccination are scientifically inaccurate, misleading and irresponsible,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which co-manages the database with the FDA, told PolitiFact.

The CDC added that it “has not detected any unusual or unexpected patterns for deaths following immunization that would indicate that COVID vaccines are causing or contributing to deaths, outside of the nine confirmed” thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome, or TTS, deaths following the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine, which is no longer offered in the U.S.

TTS, which causes blood clots, has occurred in approximately four cases per million doses administered, according to the CDC.

VAERS helps researchers collect data on vaccine aftereffects and detect patterns that may warrant a closer look.

The CDC cautions that VAERS results, which come from unverified reports anyone can make, are not enough to determine whether a vaccine causes a particular adverse event.

For the covid vaccines, VAERS has received a flood of reports, and they have become especially potent fuel for misinformation.

Kirsch made his claim not by using VAERS directly, but with an alternative gateway to VAERS from the anti-vaccine National Vaccine Information Center. 

That website draws on raw and limited VAERS reports, which can include incomplete or inaccurate information. These reports do not provide enough information to determine whether a vaccine caused a particular adverse event.

There is no evidence that covid vaccines have killed Americans in large numbers, let alone 676,000. We rate the claim Pants on Fire!

Our sources

Steve Kirsch’s newsletter, “VAERS Data Is Crystal Clear: The COVID Vaccines Are Killing an Estimated 1 Person per 1,000 Doses (676,000 Dead Americans),” Aug. 6, 2023

Health Feedback, “VAERS Data Don’t Show That COVID-19 Vaccines Are Deadly; Steve Kirsch’s Claim to the Contrary Relied on Flawed Analysis,” Aug. 6, 2023

Facebook, post, Aug. 8, 2023

PolitiFact, “How an Alternative Gateway to VAERS Data Helps Fuel Vaccine Misinformation,” Feb. 28, 2022

PolitiFact, “Federal VAERS Database Is a Critical Tool for Researchers, but a Breeding Ground for Misinformation,” May 3, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Selected Adverse Events Reported After COVID-19 Vaccination,”July 13, 2023

Email, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Aug. 10, 2023KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.