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Fact Check-Video misinterprets data of possible adverse drug reactions reported to the Yellow Card scheme

A video on social media has spread misinformation about the numbers of possible adverse drug reactions reported to the UK’s Yellow Card scheme.

Shared more than 3,000 times on Facebook, the video (here) shows a woman shouting misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines outside a vaccination centre. The woman has previously spread misinformation about the pandemic, as covered in this previous Reuters fact check (here).

In the latest video, the woman attempts to dissuade those in line from receiving the shot, claiming it is experimental - a point that has been repeatedly debunked by Reuters (here , here).

She goes on to claim that the Yellow Card scheme reveals that as of May 26, 1,253 people had died from COVID-19 vaccines, while 888,196 people had experienced adverse reactions (timecode 1:07).

The Yellow Card scheme (yellowcard.mhra.gov.uk/) is an initiative overseen by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) that encourages people to report suspected side-effects to medicines and vaccines. It is important to note that reports logged to the scheme are not confirmed adverse reactions; rather, they are suspicions that could well be coincidental.

“Many suspected ADRs reported on a Yellow Card do not have any relation to the vaccine or medicine and it is often coincidental that they both occurred around the same time,” an MHRA representative told Reuters in a previous fact check (here).

The MHRA says (here) that since underlying or previously undiagnosed illness can be a factor in the reports, the relative number and nature of reports should not be used to compare the safety of the different vaccines.

These reports are instead used to monitor and to be kept under continual review so that possible new risks can be identified.

The claim in the Facebook video, however, appears to misinterpret the numbers – mistaking regular summaries of Yellow Card reports as confirmation of adverse reactions.

Using the most recent Yellow Card data up to June 2, more than 39 million people in the UK have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 26 million have also had a second shot. A total 267,671 Yellow Cards have been logged – and each card can include more than one symptom, which might account for the figure of 888,196 cited by the woman in the Facebook video.

The MHRA notes that the vast majority of reports relate to sore arms at the site of injection and generalised symptoms, such as fatigue, headache and chills. It adds that this is a normal response to a vaccine and reflects the immune system getting to work.

There have also been 1,295 deaths reported after a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the latest Yellow Card data up to June 2. This includes 406 after the Pfizer/BioNTech shot, 863 after Oxford/AstraZeneca, four after the Moderna vaccine, and 22 where the brand of vaccine is unspecified (here). However, the MHRA stresses that a temporal link between vaccine and death does not definitively prove a causal link.

“Vaccination and surveillance of large populations” inevitably means some people will die or experience a new illness in the time after vaccination, the agency explains.

“Part of our continuous analysis includes an evaluation of natural death rates over time, to determine if any specific trends or patterns are occurring that might indicate a vaccine safety concern.

“Based on age-stratified all-cause mortality in England and Wales taken from the Office for National Statistics death registrations, several thousand deaths are expected to have occurred, naturally, within 7 days of the many millions of doses of vaccines administered so far, mostly in the elderly.”

VERDICT

Missing context. Reports made to the Yellow Card Scheme are not proof of a definitive causal link to a vaccine. They are instead a suspicion that might well be coincidental.

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

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