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Doctors: S.C. deaths reported to CDC after COVID-19 vaccinations don’t tell whole story

Updated: Mar. 9, 2021 at 9:01 PM EST
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - The safety of the COVID-19 vaccines is on the minds of many, not only for patients but for those who supply and administer the shot.

For the last 30 years, the CDC and FDA have tracked any and all “adverse events” related to vaccines administered across the country, by logging them into the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System.

It functions as a kind of canary in a coal mine, to detect possible safety issues by gathering details about possible side effects or health problems. It accepts entries from anyone aware of some kind of health problem after a vaccination - medical providers, vaccine manufacturers and the general public.

But it, unfortunately, can’t tell the whole story, because this data contains both coincidental events and actual effects brought on by a vaccination.

“In medicine, we’ve got to figure out - was it just coincidental; occurring at the same time, but not related at all? Or could it be indirectly related, or is it directly related as a causal event?” said Dr. Dale Lusk, McLeod Health’s chief medical officer. “And that’s where we’ve got to be careful, and it takes a lot more investigation, rather than to say, ‘This happened at the same time; therefore, the vaccine caused the death.’”

The CDC says that “reports of adverse events (possible side effects) after vaccination do not mean that the reported problem was caused by a vaccine,” and that they are instead signals that can alert scientists to investigate possible cause-and-effect relationships.

So when seven deaths are listed within South Carolina’s recorded adverse events when it comes to COVID-19 vaccinations, this doesn’t reveal the full picture of why these individuals actually died.

“They could’ve passed away for a non-related reason that has nothing to do with the vaccine,” said Dr. Paul Richardson, Conway Medical Center’s chief medical officer. “They’ll still get reported in that system because they had received it at least in time fairly close to that person’s death. So that raw number, in and of itself, doesn’t really mean a whole lot.”

Per VAERS, South Carolina has recorded 842 adverse events for dozens of conditions as of February 26. They range as widely as 31 reports of fever, to one report of insomnia.

You cannot make an “apples-to-apples comparison” that a vaccination directly caused a recorded event, according to Richardson.

Physicians with the CDC and FDA do investigate these reports of deaths as soon as they’re notified. After reviewing the clinical data available (such as death certificates and medical records), federal officials say that there was “no evidence that vaccination contributed to patient deaths.”

“To date, VAERS has not detected patterns in cause of death that would indicate a safety problem with COVID-19 vaccines,” the CDC’s website reads.

“The facts are, this is being very well tolerated, and we have not seen severe reactions. As a matter of fact, I would put it as well if not better tolerated than most vaccines that I’ve seen in my career,” said Richardson.

The CDC and FDA say they will continue to follow up and investigate all further adverse events recorded in VAERS.

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