The US government maintains a database called VAERS, to which Anyone can file a report if they think something bad happened to them after receiving a vaccination. It’s an important tool for monitoring vaccine safety, but it’s also being undermined by anti-vaccine activists to make vaccines seem scarier than they are.
VAERS is short for Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. “Adverse events” are literally things that happen (events) that are bad (adverse). Scientists and doctors tend to prefer this term to something like “side effects”, which implies a cause and effect relationship that often cannot be established. If you have a headache after receiving an injection, for example, it is an adverse event. Was that caused by the vaccine? Maybe, but that’s a separate question and it can be difficult to answer. definitely.
How VAERS is Actually Used
As the CDC explains here, the VAERS database was established in 1990 as part of a vaccine safety reform package. (The same law established a no-fault vaccine court to compensate people for vaccine injuries without having to sue drug companies).
Anyone can submit a report to VAERS: you, your doctor, your family member, even your lawyer. (Doctors should report certain adverse events, but for the most part, submissions are voluntary). It’s a bit like Wikipedia, in a sense: TThe things in it may not all be true, but a lot of them probably are, and you can still learn a lot from what’s in it.
The idea is that if there is is a problem with a vaccine, reports will start to appear in VAERS. Investigators will look for events that appear to be serious, common, or related. Here’s how HHS describes the goals of the program:
- Detect adverse events from new, unusual, or rare vaccines;
- Monitor increases in known adverse events;
- Identify the patient’s potential risk factors for particular types of adverse events;
- Evaluate the safety of newly licensed vaccines;
- Identify and address potential reporting groups (for example, localized suspicion [temporally or geographically] or product / lot / lot specific adverse event reports);
- Recognize persistent problems of safe use and administration errors;
- Provide a national safety monitoring system that extends to the entire general population to respond to public health emergencies, such as a large-scale pandemic influenza vaccination program.
Reports in VAERS can be an early warning if there are problems associated with a vaccine, or even with a particular batch of vaccine. Is one of many ways regulators said they would keep an eye on safety as new COVID vaccines are released.
How VAERS is misused
Anti-vaccine activists have been misusing and misrepresenting VAERS for as long as it exists. The reports are publicly accessible, so anyone can search the database and they do.
Before searching the database, you need to click on a massive disclaimer screen that explains that the reports are not verified and lists other important ones limitations. (Vice recently reported a group of activists has created a search portal for VAERS that allows you to view reports without viewing this screen).
YCan probably see the problem here. Getting a bunch of reports that say “death” and that mention a certain vaccine does not mean that the vaccine killed those people. It simply means that the person died some time after receiving the vaccine. In fact, a recent analysis of adverse events from the COVID vaccine, both from VAERS reports and another monitoring system called V-SAFE, found that the majority of deaths after vaccination were found in elderly residents of long-term care facilities and were not likely to be caused by vaccines.
So if you see information being shared that claims to attribute deaths, miscarriages, or other terrifying reactions to the new COVID vaccines, apply your critical thinking skills with common sense and find out where the data comes from. It is very possible that there are safety problems with these or other vaccines.But if there are, any serious issues would make headlines, so be wary if you only find out about it through a viral Facebook post.