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Facebook Video Misrepresents CDC Report on COVID-19 Vaccine Boosters

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SciCheck Digest

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that side effects such as a sore arm or headache following a booster dose of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines were less frequent than after the second dose. But a Facebook video from a chiropractor misrepresents the report’s findings, the systems that record adverse events and the availability of information on those events.

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Jen DePice, a Pennsylvania chiropractor with a history of spreading anti-vaccination messages, has posted a Facebook video misrepresenting a February report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report, published in the CDC’s Feb. 18 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, reviewed data from two systems run by U.S. health authorities to track possible side effects to the COVID-19 vaccines. One is the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, or VAERS, which, as we’ve explained before, is a reporting system jointly run by the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration. It acts as an early warning system to detect possible safety problems with vaccines after they’ve been rolled out to the public. The other is v-safe, a reporting system specific to the COVID-19 vaccines, run by the CDC.

The CDC report found that for those who had received three doses of the same mRNA vaccine — from either Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna — the generally minor and expected side effects such as a sore arm or a headache, or what are known as local and systemic reactions, were less frequent after the third dose than after the second. The report supported the recommendation that everyone 12 years old and above should get the third, or booster, shot.

But DePice’s video, titled “Booster Effectiveness👎 & Vaccine Safety⚠️,” repeats several faulty claims similar to ones we’ve addressed before about COVID-19 vaccines and misrepresents what the report found. We’ll go through her primary claims below.

DePice: “It hasn’t been mandatory that any adverse events are reported” to VAERS, “and it hasn’t been mandatory that we are entitled to look at safety reports regarding these vaccines.”

First, health care providers are required to report certain adverse events following COVID-19 vaccination to VAERS.

While reporting to the system is largely voluntary and can be done by anyone, for the COVID-19 vaccines that were first made available under emergency use authorization, health care providers who administer the vaccines are required to report certain events. Those include vaccine administration errors, serious adverse events, cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome, and cases of COVID-19 that result in hospitalization or death.

It’s important to remember, though, that just because an event followed vaccination, that doesn’t mean the vaccine caused it.

So it’s false to say that “It hasn’t been mandatory that any adverse events are reported.”

Second, the data collected by VAERS is available to the public, as are multiple studies about the vaccines’ safety and efficacy during clinical trials, as well as in real-world settings. The CDC maintains a page on its website that tracks updated information about COVID-19 and vaccines.

DePice: “The odds of having an adverse event – much higher than 50% with both [the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines]. Higher in terms of the second dose than it was of the booster, but why isn’t it that we’re letting people understand the risk of adverse events?”

DePice correctly recites figures included in the CDC report, but she uses the term “adverse event” without explaining what symptoms that includes.

What the report found was that ​more than half of people — 58% of people receiving the Pfizer/BioNTech booster and 64% of people receiving the Moderna booster — who voluntarily reported their experiences to v-safe had a “systemic reaction,” or a side effect affecting the body beyond the injection site, such as a fever, headache or fatigue. While such side effects can be bothersome, they’re temporary and generally mild — and are normal signs that a person’s immune system is responding to the vaccine.

The v-safe reporting is on par with data collected in VAERS, which shows that by far the most common adverse events reported after COVID-19 vaccination have been headache, fever and fatigue. DePice gives the impression that those events are unexpected and indicate a safety problem, when all they show is that the first day or two after vaccination may be somewhat unpleasant for many people.

That said, there have been some very rare but serious adverse events following COVID-19 vaccinations. They include a blood-clotting condition paired with low platelets that led the CDC to recommend the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. There have also been rare cases of myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle, reported, particularly among young males following the second dose of mRNA vaccines — although most of those cases resolved quickly. Research on the issue is ongoing.

The fact that public health officials could detect potential issues associated with the vaccines and in the case of the J&J vaccine, briefly pause its use last April shows that the system is working.

Furthermore, the detection of potential issues has allowed for extensive examination by the scientific community and widespread coverage by the media. We’ve published stories explaining the circumstances around both the blood-clot and myocarditis issues.

Also, the CDC maintains a webpage with information about adverse events, and the report that DePice is reading from says, “Vaccination providers should educate patients that local and systemic reactions are expected” after getting a booster shot of the same kind the patient received initially.

So her suggestion that the risk of adverse events is being hidden is, at best, misleading.

DePice: “Why isn’t it that the CDC and the FDA are required to produce and reveal those safety reports?”

As we said, both VAERS and v-safe are run by the government in order to advise the public. All of the reports made to VAERS are accessible in a searchable database. Reports produced using the data are also available to the public, as is evidenced by the report that DePice misrepresents in this video.

Editor’s note: SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over FactCheck.org’s editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation. The goal of the project is to increase exposure to accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines, while decreasing the impact of misinformation.


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