VAERS facts — contradicting anti-vaccine claims and beliefs

VAERS facts

This article about VAERS facts, literally a FAQ, was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), who is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy, and the law.

Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about vaccination’s social and legal policies. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable diseases. She is also a member of the Vaccines Working Group on Ethics and Policy.

Some of the new generation of anti-vaccine activists appear to have built their careers on misrepresentation of VAERS. One example is Dr. Jessica Rose, who apparently started her career as a legitimate young scientist, but at some point became a devoted anti-vaccine activist. Dr. Rose’s background is described by Orac thus:

Her background is more in the sort of computational biology that looks at protein structures and bioinformatics related to DNA sequences than it is to the sort of mathematical and statistical skill set necessary to delve into VAERS with any credibility. A perusal of her curriculum vitae, which is included on the profile, confirms my assessment, particularly her publication record, which includes a lot of molecular biology and virology, but nothing in the way of epidemiology.

In 2021, Dr. Rose joined the anti-vaccine organization IPAK as a research fellow, and she has published several papers in IPAK’s own publication, named Science, Public Health Policy, and the Law, whose editorial board is comprised of leading anti-vaccine activists.

Dr. Rose’s specialty appears to be doing bad analyses of VAERS and claiming, based on them, that COVID-19 vaccines are dangerous.

On August 9, 2022, Dr. Rose published a “Question and Answer” “facts” about VAERS, titled “A question and answer document on the subject of VAERS as a pharmacovigilance tool”. It is highly misleading. But it gave me an opportunity to provide information based on actual facts about VAERS.

If you want to see how it’s misleading, jump ahead to question 3 (and I hope you then go back and read the long discussion in questions 1 and 2).

I will repeat each question, answer it, shortly summarize Dr. Rose’s claims, and explain why they are misleading. Note that this discussion is limited to the mRNA vaccines and the J&J vaccine, which are the ones used in the United States and subject to reporting to VAERS – Novavax is newer and is not the subject of most of the misinformation from the anti-vaccine activists misleading people about VAERS. 

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The risk of Guillain-Barré syndrome after COVID mRNA vaccines is low

Guillaine-Barré COVID-19 mRNA vaccines

I keep reading anti-vaccine commentary that Guillain-Barré syndrome had been linked to the COVID-19 vaccines according to a deep dive into the VAERS database. Those of you who read my works know that I am apt to dismiss almost any claim that is based on VAERS. it is not built to show correlation let alone causation between Guillain-Barré syndrome and COVID-19 vaccines.

However, as I have said before VAERS can send a safety signal that should be investigated more thoroughly. And that’s what a vaccine research team did — they went to a better vaccine safety database and performed a thorough study. And what they found is that the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna, were not linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome. However, they did find a link to the JNJ COVID-19 vaccine, which confirms what was being discussed a few months ago.

Let’s take a look at this study so that we can at least partially debunk anti-COVID-19 vaccine claims.

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Anti-vaxxers don’t want to be called “anti-vaccine” — boo frickin’ hoo

anti-vaccine

A few days ago, some anti-vaxxer on Twitter complained that she didn’t want to be called anti-vaccine. She said it was a personal attack on her. And that she really wasn’t anti-vaccine.

Well, that’s just an incredibly laughable position that is unsupported by anything in reality. These anti-vaccine activists want to appear rational, thoughtful, and scientific, when, in fact, their position is anything but rational, thoughtful, or scientific.

We call someone anti-vaccine because they refuse to accept the vast scientific consensus about every vaccine on the market. No matter how many times we talk about a large, well-analyzed, unbiased study about a vaccine, they ignore it, and then they give preference to anecdotes and false authorities that confirm their pre-ordained conclusions about vaccines.

Now, just to be clear, parents who sit on the fence because they are confused about vaccines are not anti-vaxxers. They aren’t promoting anti-vaccine nonsense, they are trying to find good evidence to support getting vaccinated. I try to target this group lately because they seem to be working in good faith about vaccines. I’ve had numerous people over time that information I’ve prevented has moved them from “vaccine-hesitant” to pro-vaccine. That’s my mitzvah.

I’m going to write about true anti-vaxxers who present bad information about vaccines while complaining that they are being characterized as “anti-vaccine.” They deserve the label, and I’ll show you why.

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Premature ovarian failure and HPV vaccine — bad anti-vax “research”

premature ovarian failure

Let me start right from the top — no link has been found between the HPV vaccine and premature ovarian failure. But that didn’t stop some “researchers” from dumpster-diving into the VAERS database to try to establish a link between the HPV vaccine and premature ovarian failure.

Since I enjoy doing this, I am going to review this paper and tell you, once again, why good vaccine research should never rely upon VAERS.

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VAERS once more with science — how to use it and how to abuse it

VAERS

I have written numerous times about the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) because it is the database of choice for the anti-vaccine world to “prove” that a vaccine is dangerous. It is misused even though it does not tell scientists whether a vaccine is harmless or harmful.

Even though I’ve discussed it many times, I’ve usually critiqued VAERS here and there in different ways, so I wanted to write down, in easy-to-consume, bullet points. I love bullet points since if you have a limited amount of time to read through thousands of words, you can find the information you need easily.

So here we go, let’s take a look at the dumpster-diving into the VAERS database.

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VAERS does not show causation between vaccines and adverse events

VAERS causation

Anti-vaxxers love to use the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) to make claims about causation between vaccines and some (or all) adverse events. They have doubled down on dumpster diving into VAERS during the COVID-19 pandemic, producing outright falsehoods and misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines.

But VAERS is not the way to determine causation. In fact, it’s not even a good way to determine correlation. At the very best, VAERS contains observational information that functions as a safety signal for the FDA and CDC, who have the resources and epidemiologists who can use other methods to determine if there is a correlation, and possible causation, between a vaccine and an adverse event.

It’s ironic that most of the so-called “VAERS data” used by the anti-vaccine activists are analyzed by amateurs, who have never taken an epidemiology or statistics course. Good research into vaccine adverse effects requires much better data than is found in VAERS.

Let’s take a look at VAERS, correlation, and causation. It’s much harder than you think.

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Physicians for Informed Consent — VAERS-loving anti-vaccine group

physicians for informed consent

Physicians for Informed Consent is another one of those science-denying groups trying to pretend to be all about vaccine “informed consent,” but they spread anti-vaccine nonsense, no different than what we hear from the usual suspects like Del Bigtree and Robert F Kennedy Jr.

I’ve written about Physicians for Informed Consent (PIC) a few times, but I wanted to tell you all about the characters that are at the forefront of this anti-vaccine group. Talk about the usual suspects.

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Vaccine adverse effects may be in our heads — a systematic review and meta-analysis

Vaccine adverse effects are a point of contention with anti-vaccine activists. They always seem to overstate their frequency and claim that it’s much more frequent than reported. On the other hand, many of us on the science side agree that the number of adverse events is vastly overstated, especially in the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS), which is not a very good system for tracking these things.

Well, a new systematic review and meta-analysis, published in a respected journal, indicates that many reports of adverse effects in the COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials can be attributed to the placebo effect. As I like doing, let’s review this new paper.

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Why does pseudoscience in medicine and vaccines seem so popular today?

pseudoscience medicine

These days, it appears that pseudoscience in medicine, everything from homeopathy to anti-vaccine beliefs to cancer treatments to chiropractic to naturopathy, has taken hold of many people’s choices. It’s become so frustrating to read stories about people forsaking science-based medicine to use some quack treatment to treat their cancer.

I think there’s a basic reason for it — science is hard. Whether it results from the lack of education in science to a misunderstanding of science is irrelevant, too many people think that science-based medicine doesn’t work. Except it does.

I’ve written about pseudoscience over a hundred times, but I never answered the question of why it grabs the attention of people. I’m going to try to answer that here.

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COVID vaccine safety and effectiveness for 5-11-year-olds

woman holding sign

On 30 December 2021, the Centers for Disease Protection and Control (CDC) released two studies on COVID-19 vaccine safety for 5-11-year-olds that showed that there were few serious safety issues and showed that the vaccines prevented serious illness and hospitalization.

These two studies provide strong evidence for COVID-19 vaccine safety and effectiveness for children and should provide confidence for parents to make sure their children get the vaccine.

This post will examine these peer-reviewed articles and pull out the key data for the reader.

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