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Deaths Following COVID-19 Vaccination – Understanding Background Rates

Do we expect any deaths after people get their COVID-19 vaccines?

While hopefully far fewer people will die from COVID-19, simply getting vaccinated and protected against the SARS-CoV-2 virus isn’t going to stop people from dying from other things (heart disease, cancer, and accidents, etc), so yes, we expect people to die after getting vaccinated.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that they died because they were vaccinated.

How Many People Will Die After Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine?

An easy way to understand this is to think about what happened in South Korea recently.

The deaths in South Korea were not caused by the flu vaccine.
The deaths in South Korea were not caused by the flu vaccine.

As they began their flu vaccine program this year, they started to get media reports of deaths.

Fortunately, none of the deaths were linked to getting a flu vaccine and the vaccination program continued.

Although some people wanted to suspend vaccinations, experts had likely learned a lesson from a similar episode in Italy a few years previously.

“We estimate that, by pure statistical chance, 15-20 people die every day in Italy during the two month flu vaccination campaign within 48 hours of vaccination. These figures help us to understand that the three deaths in question fell well within the daily expected numbers of deaths in the vaccinated elderly population.”

Deaths after Fluad flu vaccine and the epidemic of panic in Italy

A lesson that includes the importance of looking at:

  • the background rate of deaths and serious conditions before the vaccination program begins
  • the effect of media coverage on side effects once folks start getting vaccinated

“In the following weeks, the number of deaths reported as suspected adverse reactions increased, probably as a result of the massive media coverage, which is also likely to have boosted the public’s hesitancy to be vaccinated.”

Deaths after Fluad flu vaccine and the epidemic of panic in Italy

Why is it important to know the background rate of deaths and the development of things like Guillain-Barré syndrome and Bells Palsy?

Assuming an 80% vaccination rate with three doses per person — which equates to about 480 000 boys vaccinated and a total of 1 440 000 doses administered nationally per year in the first 2 years of the program — about 2.4 episodes of Guillain-Barré syndrome would be expected to occur within 6 weeks of vaccination. In addition, about 3.9 seizures and 6.5 acute allergy presentations would be expected to occur within 1 day of vaccination, including 0.3 episodes of anaphylaxis.

Human papillomavirus vaccine in boys: background rates of potential adverse events.

Because if the rates of all of these things don’t change before and after you start your vaccination program, then they likely aren’t caused by the vaccine!

And if you know the background rate, you can predict the number of coincident events after a vaccine dose.

The above study, for example, looked at how many people might be expected to have Guillain-Barré syndrome, seizures, and acute allergic reactions after an HPV vaccine based on how often those things typically happen – the background rate. Now if rates increase after they actually get vaccinated, then that would be a signal that the adverse effect might actually be caused by the vaccine.

“Even within the short 1-week period, a substantial number of events can be expected for rare events. For example, approximately four cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome per 10 million vaccinated people are predicted to occur within 1 week of vaccination as background coincident cases. The exact number would depend on the demographics of the vaccinated population. For some of the other events, such as spontaneous abortion or death, the numbers of expected events are quite large.”

Importance of background rates of disease in assessment of vaccine safety during mass immunisation with pandemic H1N1 influenza vaccines

It is important to remember that these were studies that modeled how many people would develop these conditions after getting vaccinated based on known background rates. No one was actually vaccinated, but they were able to predict how many people would get Guillain-Barré syndrome for example, because they know how many people typically get Guillain-Barré syndrome. They are not predicting how many people will get Guillain-Barré syndrome from the vaccine!

If more people were to actually get Guillain-Barré syndrome than predicted, then that might indicate a problem.

Again, they are just saying that this is how many people are normally diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome each day, so you can expect to continue to see that many new diagnoses after you start vaccinating folks. Don’t be surprised. It is not a vaccine reaction!

Deaths Following COVID-19 Vaccination – Understanding Background Rates

And that brings us to deaths.

“Determining the baseline mortality rate in a vaccinated population is necessary to be able to identify any unusual increases in deaths following vaccine administration. Although the current body of evidence does not suggest a causal relationship between vaccines and death, it is important to provide background rates of mortality to aid in the assessment of vaccine safety concerns. Background rates are particularly useful in the evaluation of new vaccines, and during mass immunization campaigns in addition to vaccine safety surveillance efforts.”

Mortality rates and cause-of-death patterns in a vaccinated population

Tragically, people die every day, so with hundreds of millions of people getting vaccinated in a short time, you can expect that some will die within hours, days, and weeks of getting their COVID-19 vaccine.

The leading causes of death in this study mirrored the leading causes of death in the National Center for Health Statistics, including heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and accidents, etc.
The leading causes of death in this study mirrored the leading causes of death in the National Center for Health Statistics, including heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and accidents, etc.

Fortunately, studies have been done to provide background mortality rates following vaccination. These background mortality rates can be used as a baseline when trying to ensure that new vaccines are safe, especially during large immunization campaigns, when lots of people are getting vaccinated.

We can’t discount these background rates when seeing or hearing reports about vaccine deaths.

“Additionally, it is possible to look for temporal or geographical clustering when assessing causality. However, one should expect that rates of adverse health outcomes that are temporally associated with vaccination, such as spontaneous abortion, might also be clustered geographically and within clinical practices just by chance alone. Even random events can appear to have patterns.”

Importance of background rates of disease in assessment of vaccine safety during mass immunisation with pandemic H1N1 influenza vaccines

We can’t let media reports or things people post on social media scare us away from getting vaccinated and protected against COVID-19.

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