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Fact Check-No evidence to support claim by ex-Pfizer scientist on COVID-19 vaccine safety in children

Contrary to a claim made by ex-Pfizer scientist Michael Yeadon, there’s no evidence to say COVID-19 vaccines are “50 times more likely” to kill children than COVID-19 itself.

Yeadon, who has emerged as an unlikely hero of the so-called anti-vaxxers (see Reuters special report here ), made the statement in a June interview with Steve Bannon (see here, here).

A recent post on Instagram ( here ) with the allegation has garnered at least 3,351 likes.

VAERS DATA

Contacted by Reuters, Yeadon reaffirmed his calculation and said his “estimate was based on review” of the U.S. Vaccine Adverse Event System (VAERS), although he provided no further details on how he arrived at the “50 times” higher figure.

Reuters has previously addressed claims that use data from VAERS to report high and unverified numbers of COVID-19 vaccine-related deaths in children ( here ) and other age groups ( here , here , here , here , here ).

Anyone can add adverse event reports into VAERS ( vaers.hhs.gov/reportevent.html ) and the website includes clear disclaimers from the CDC that reports in the system do not prove causality until they are investigated further.

Martha Sharan, spokesperson for the CDC, told Reuters, “To date, there are no confirmed cases linking reports of death in children after COVID-19 vaccination to the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Out of the 194.4 million people fully vaccinated in the United States as of Nov. 10, per the latest CDC data ( here ), “CDC and FDA have identified 50 confirmed reports of people who got the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine and later developed TTS, including 5 confirmed reports of death” ( here ) ( here ).

“CDC continues to review all reports of death in children to VAERS and closely monitor the safety of COVID-19 vaccines for all who are eligible for vaccination,” Sharan added.

COVID-19 IN KIDS – WHAT WE KNOW

It is true that children are at a lower risk of COVID-19-associated hospitalizations and deaths compared to adults, the CDC says, ( here ) and hospitalizations in this age group are mainly registered in those with underlying medical conditions ( here ).

As previously explained by Reuters, underlying medical conditions put people with COVID-19 at greater risk ( here , here ).

However, there’s no data to suggest that there have been more COVID-19 vaccine-related deaths in children than deaths from the disease.

As of November 16, the CDC's COVID-19 tracker recorded 913 COVID-19 deaths and 5,829,850 registered cases among U.S. children aged 0-17 ( here ).

This mortality rate coincides with data presented by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on Nov. 4, which reported that from 0.00% to 0.03% of COVID-19 cases in children result in death ( bit.ly/3wGEsNL ) . The AAP reported a cumulative more than 6.5 million cases in children (see page 5). The age definition of “children” varies across states, from 0 to 20 years old (see page 3).

Reported COVID-19 deaths in children greatly outnumber the unconfirmed VAERS reports, which again, do not prove causality.

As of Nov. 12, Reuters found 30 death reports on VAERS following COVID-19 vaccination for ages 6-17 (two of “suicide”) and two for children between 1-2 years old (including 1 unlikely “suicide”).

Dr Ilan Shapiro, a spokesperson for AAP ( here ), concurred and told Reuters he didn’t find data to support Yeadon’s statement. Shapiro also highlighted that COVID-19 vaccination protects pediatric patients not just against death.

According to the AAP, there have been almost 1.6 million additional pediatric cases since the first week of September ( here ).

Although a lower risk of severe disease in children has been observed, they can present long-term effects from SARS-CoV-2 infection, regardless of the severity of the disease. “Long-term health effects even after mild infection in children are now being recognized,” an article by Harvard Medical Public School says ( here ).

NO EVIDENCE OF DEATHS IN PFIZER-BIONTECH AND MODERNA TEEN AND CHILDREN TRIALS

“There is no evidence to suggest that claim,” Keanna Ghazvini, Pfizer’s Senior Associate of Global Media Relations, told Reuters via email when asked about Yeadon’s allegation. Ghazvini said, “There have been no vaccine-related deaths in children who have been immunized by the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine.”

No deaths were reported in the Pfizer-BioNTech trial for minors aged 12-15 ( here ) or 5-11 ( here ). The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 has been authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the CDC ( here ).

“We do not agree with the statement and believe that vaccination is associated with substantial reduction in risk of COVID-19, hospitalization and death across all age groups,” Kate Cronin, Moderna Chief Brand Officer, told Reuters via email.

Cronin referred Reuters to Moderna’s published data for adolescents (12-17), which reported no deaths ( here ), and to a population modeling study which concluded that including adolescents and children in the COVID-19 vaccination program could significantly reduce the overall disease-related mortality and cases of long COVID-19 ( here ).

Moderna said in October that its COVID-19 vaccine generated a strong immune response in children and that the safety data was comparable to what was previously seen in clinical trials of adolescents and adults ( here ).

VERDICT

False. No evidence to support the claim that COVID-19 vaccines are “50 times” more likely to kill children than the disease itself, as said by an ex-Pfizer scientist.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .

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