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Fact check: Video misinterprets report into health impact events after vaccination

Correction March 21, 2021: An earlier version of this check calculated the number of reported ‘health impact events’ as a percentage of the total number of vaccinations given. This was an error, as health impact events were only reported by users of the V-safe app, not all vaccine recipients. This percentage calculation has therefore been removed.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

Correction, March 11, 2021: An earlier version of this check incorrectly attributed remarks in paragraphs nine and twelve to a spokeswoman from Pfizer. The remarks were in fact made by a spokeswoman from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A Facebook video has falsely claimed that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported deadly or permanently disabling side effects in 3% of people who received a vaccine for COVID-19.

The 2-minute video was reposted on Jan. 4 and has since been shared 1,800 times in one post alone. A caption above the video reads: “THE CEO FROM THE POPULAR ‘V’ HAS JUST SOLD ALL HIS STOCK! AFTER THE CDC REPORTED THE IRREVERSIBLE DAMAGE THIS IS CAUSING PEOPLE!! SO FAR 3% OF ALL PEOPLE THAT RECEIVE IT WILL BE PERMANENTLY DISABLED IF NOT DEAD! THATS 3 IN EVERY 100 PEOPLE!!!” (here).

The findings from the CDC report have been wrongly interpreted and the sale of stock by a vaccine manufacturer’s CEO occurred a month before the report referenced.

The video begins with the speaker showing a document produced by the CDC titled: “Anaphylaxis Following m-RNA COVID-19 Vaccine Receipt”. He guides viewers through a table, which, he says, shows that out of 112,807 people who had received the first dose, “3,150 of them suffered from adverse health impacts…from over 110,000 people, on average 3,000 people, that’s 3% of those vaccinated, will be unable to perform normal daily activities, unable to work, require care from a doctor or medical professional.”

This is a misinterpretation of the figures. The CDC report in question from Dec. 19, 2020 (here , slide #6), references data that corresponds to the figures reported through V-safe (here), a smartphone-based tool that uses text messaging and web surveys to provide personalized health check-ins following COVID-19 vaccination.

The table shows that 112,807 people who had received one dose of the coronavirus vaccine were registered with V-safe by Dec. 18, 2020. It also shows that 3,150 health impact events were reported through V-safe by Dec. 18. “Health impact events” are defined by the CDC as “unable to perform normal daily activities, unable to work, required care from doctor or health care professional”.

The figure of 112,807 was not the total number of vaccine recipients in the US, but the number of “people that had registered with V-safe and received a first dosage of the vaccine”, Martha Sharan, a spokeswoman for the CDC, told Reuters via email.

The number of recorded “health impact events” – side effects – does not necessarily equal the number of people who developed side effects. The CDC spokeswoman explained that a person using V-safe can “check all the boxes” (unable to perform normal daily activities, unable to work, or/and required care from doctor or health care professional), therefore “3,150 reports does not necessarily represent 3,150 people”.

For example, a person that required “care from doctor or health care professional” would likely also been “unable to work” or “perform normal daily activities”.

It is also inaccurate to claim that the “health impact events” recorded by the CDC equated to “irreversible damage”, leaving people “permanently disabled, if not dead”, as the video caption claims.

While the CDC spokeswoman did not specify the symptoms reported by the V-safe registrants or provide a detailed breakdown of the 3,150 health impact events, she said: “We anticipate anyone getting vaccinated may have some side effects, which are normal signs that your body is building protection. These side effects may affect your ability to do daily activities, but they should go away in a few days.”

According to the CDC here , common side effects of the COVID-19 vaccination include pain and swelling on the injection site, as well as fever, chills, tiredness and headaches.

The caption’s mention of “irreversible damage” and “disability” may be related to an article, debunked by Reuters, that used the same CDC report to claim that 3,150 people were “paralyzed” after receiving the vaccine (here).

Having made this misleading claim, the video proceeds to allege that: “The Pfizer CEO, on the same day as announcement of this, of the CDC, that 3,000 people out of 113,000 will suffer irreversible damage from the vaccine, he’s sold 62% of the Pfizer stock. You don’t sell 62% unless you know your company is going to tank.”

This is false: the stocks were sold by Pfizer’s CEO a month before the CDC report.

As supporting evidence, the speaker shows an article by Canadian newspaper the Financial Post with the headline: “Why the Pfizer CEO selling 62% of his stock the same day as the vaccine announcement looks bad”. The article was originally published in the Financial Times with a different headline (here) on Nov. 13, 2020 (here).

The ‘vaccine announcement’ refers to Pfizer’s statement in November that the vaccine was more than 90% effective based on initial trial results. This information caused its global stocks to soar and the same day Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla sold $5.56 million worth of company shares, according to a Reuters report on Nov, 11, 2020 (here).

Pfizer said: “The sale of these shares is part of Dr. Bourla’s personal financial planning and a pre-established (10b5-1) plan, which allows, under SEC rules, major shareholders and insiders of exchange-listed corporations to trade a predetermined number of shares at a predetermined time.”

The sale raised eyebrows – but this was because Pfizer stocks were high following news about the vaccine’s efficacy, not because it followed negative information about side effects.

VERDICT

False. A CDC report did not find that 3% of US vaccine recipients developed “irreversible damage”. The study, published in December, registered “3,150 health impact events” out of 112,807 people that had registered with V-safe and received the vaccine. This was not the total number of people vaccinated in the US at that time nor the number of people who had developed side effects, as numerous “health impact events” were likely reported by the same people. Albert Bourla sold his Pfizer shares a month before the CDC report was published.

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

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