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Fact check: Technology will be used to support ‘proactive vigilance’ of COVID-19 vaccination

A screenshot of a contract award notice has been shared by social media users with the claim that it is evidence that the UK government knows COVID-19 vaccines are going to be dangerous. This is false. The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency says it does not anticipate any specific safety concerns from the new vaccines, based on reports from clinical trials.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

Examples of the claim can be seen here and here . It also formed the basis of an article published by Natural News here , a website that promotes anti-vaccine narratives (here).

The article said the contract award notice was evidence that: “even the UK’s MHRA realizes the covid-19 vaccines are going to be extremely dangerous to the public, generating a catastrophic wave of adverse reactions and deadly side effects” (here).

This misinformation stems from a real contract award notice from the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) which outlined a requirement for “an Artificial Intelligence (AI) software tool to process the expected high volume of Covid-19 vaccine Adverse Drug Reaction (ADRs) and ensure that no details from the ADRs’ reaction text are missed”(here).

The MHRA is an executive agency of the UK government’s Department of Health and Social Care (here).

An MHRA spokesperson told Reuters: “Like all medicines, vaccines can cause side effects. Most of these are mild and short-term, and not everyone gets them.

“We have a range of resources and technology to support the proactive vigilance of any COVID-19 vaccination programme. The use of AI is one element of that.

“Based on the available published reports from the clinical trials, we don’t currently anticipate any specific safety concerns with COVID-19 vaccines. We expect the general safety profile to be similar to other types of vaccines.

“A COVID-19 vaccine will only be deployed once it has been proven to be safe and effective through robust clinical trials and approved for use.”

According to a team of global health scientists and infection preventionists at the Meedan Digital Health Lab, governments and health organisations are strengthening vaccine safety monitoring systems before COVID-19 vaccines are widely available.

This is not because governments anticipate safety problems but due to the fact “some rare side effects may show up when very large numbers of people are given a vaccine, so close observation is critical.”

The experts add that if patients do report side effects (also called ‘adverse events’), it is not necessarily a direct result of a vaccine. A headache reported three days after taking a vaccine, for instance, could be due to stress, dehydration, or a vaccine side effect.

“It is up to public health and medical experts to evaluate if the vaccine caused the side effect and further determine if there is a vaccine safety concern”, they explain.

This is why vaccine monitoring systems are needed even if vaccines are shown to be safe in clinical trials. Further information about how vaccines are monitored for safety can be found learnaboutcovid19.org/ .

VERDICT

False. The UK government has requested an AI tool to process reported side effects to a COVID-19 vaccine but this is not evidence it expects it to be dangerous. A vaccine will only be rolled out when clinical trials prove it is safe and it is standard practice to monitor recipients closely to ensure any rare side effects are recorded.

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

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