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Fact check: COVID-19 is not a cover for flu vaccine deaths

Social media users have been sharing a post that makes the false claim that COVID-19 is a smoke screen for UK flu vaccine deaths. The 933-word post was first shared on Dec. 30 2020 and read: “I can now confirm that official data shows that the first and second waves of alleged Covid deaths correspond with the roll out of this year’s WHO-approved flu vaccines.”

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

It goes on to connect “the mortality spike that followed the initial lockdown from 23/03/2020” with “the surge of adverse events from 14 million vaccinations over the first 12 weeks of the year”. The post added: “The more people who took the vaccine each week, the more people died and were falsely recorded as Covid deaths, which actually began in January and not March, according to official data. In other words, they started falsifying the cause of death as being Covid in the same month this year's first round of flu shots began.” (here)

However, the flu vaccine reduces influenza deaths and there is no causal link between the flu vaccine and COVID-19.

Firstly, the status erroneously conflates the timeline of flu vaccinations with the COVID-19 pandemic. It is correct that around 14 million people were vaccinated against the flu in the 2019-20 winter season (here , pages 57 and 60), but this did not happened in the first 12 weeks of 2020. Vaccinations for the 2019/2020 flu season began in October 2019, as reported by BBC News here .

It is unclear when the flu vaccines for the season ended, but weekly statistics on flu vaccinations were published by the UK government up until January 26 2020 (here, see the last vaccination data here, scroll to 2.6) and a report evaluating vaccinations over the flu season included data on flu vaccines administered up to Feb. 28, 2020 (here, page 55).

In contrast, the first coronavirus cases were recorded in the UK in late January 2020 (here, page 6) and Reuters reported the first death from COVID-19 in Britain on March 5 (here), months after flu vaccinations began in October 2019.

Secondly, there is no evidence that flu vaccines led to increased deaths. A government report published in June 2020 stated that peak flu hospitalisation rates were similar or lower than in previous flu seasons in 2018/2019 and 2017/2018 (here , page 5). Excess deaths of all causes were seen at the beginning of the flu season in Britain due to high circulation of the flu, and again towards the end of the season due to COVID-19 (page 67). None of these deaths were due to the flu vaccine and there is no evidence it is harmful.

Oxford University’s Vaccine Knowledge Project states: “the inactivated flu vaccine does not contain any live flu viruses and cannot give you flu.” It also provides details of the different types of inactivated flu vaccines offered in the UK for the 2020/2021 flu season (here). The NHS also outlines the safety of the flu vaccine (here).

COVID-19, meanwhile, is real disease, that continues to cause deaths. Figures from the UK government using data provided on Jan. 5, 2021 show that 4,738 people died within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test in the last seven days and 17,175 patients were admitted to hospital with COVID-19. Reuters reported on Dec. 3 that the UK’s COVID-19 death toll had surpassed 60,000 (here).

VERDICT

False. The COVID-19 pandemic is not a cover to disguise deaths from the flu vaccine. The influenza jab is safe and was given to 14 million people in the UK during the 2019/2020 season.

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

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