Fact check: Video on World Health Organization's VigiAccess tool lacks context

·4 min read

The claim: The World Health Organization's VigiAccess tool shows deaths, reactions from COVID-19 vaccine

Amid the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in different countries, health officials and scientists have utilized national databases to detect potential rare and unusual reactions to vaccines.

The datasets have served as a useful tool for health agencies, but online, unverified reports within the public databases are frequently used to spread claims that COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe.

An Oct. 6 Facebook video depicts a screen recording of someone scrolling through the World Health Organization's VigiAccess tool. The database purportedly shows thousands of reported reactions to COVID-19 vaccines, including cardiac disorders, blood loss, pregnancy issues and death.

"Deaths and causation," the user captioned the video, which accumulated more than 11,000 views in less than a week.

A watermark on the bottom left corner reveals the user obtained the video from the Instagram page of kinesiologist James Huang, who shared the clip on Oct. 2.

"Over 2 MILLION 'C-nineteen' injuries reported to the WHO!!!!!!," Huang captioned his post, crediting another Instagram page for the video.

But the posts misinterpret the data in VigiAccess. The submitted reports are not verified and cannot be used to conclude that an adverse effect was caused by a vaccine. COVID-19 vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective.

"It is not possible to draw conclusions about the safety of a medicinal product just from looking in VigiAccess," said VigiBase manager Helena Skold.

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Huang and the social media users did not return requests for comment.

Search tool is a 'starting point'

While the data seen in the video is authentic, the reports shown are not thoroughly verified, and the data cannot be used to conclude that a vaccine caused the reported symptom.

VigiAccess was launched by WHO in 2015. The reports in the tool are collected from VigiBase, a global database of reported potential side effects from medicines.

The search tool is intended to serve as a "useful starting point" for people looking to learn more about potential side effects reported following immunization, according to the VigiAccess website.

The VigiAccess home page warns information on the site "does not reflect any confirmed link between a medicinal product and a side effect" and confirming a causal link is a "complex process" that requires a thorough scientific assessment and evaluation of all data.

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Skold told USA TODAY via email that the data is aggregated into broad categories and lacks "crucial details" that are needed to understand the context of the patient.

Reports are not vetted, verified

Reports submitted through VigiBase are monitored by the Swedish organization Uppsala Monitoring Centre, which operates the WHO Progamme for International Drug Monitoring.

When reports of suspected adverse drug reactions are submitted to VigiBase "we only validate that the minimum required information is available," Skold said.

That includes information about a patient, a drug, the suspected reaction or event and a reporter, she said.

"The reports in VigiBase are not vetted by us or WHO upon submission," Skold said. "Some countries may vet their reports themselves before submitting, but with large amounts of data to process, it is probably more common to submit reports after only minimum, likely automated, vetting."

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The system is similar to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, an "early warning system" in which anyone can submit an unverified report. The CDC warns that it's not possible to use the data to determine whether a vaccine caused the adverse event.

Users have repeatedly misused the VAERS database to push inaccurate claims about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines. In some cases, the reports were completely made up.

Our rating: Missing context

Based on our research, we rate MISSING CONTEXT the claim that the World Health Organization's VigiAccess tool shows deaths and reactions from COVID-19 vaccines. There are limitations to the data, and VigiAccess warns the public against interpreting the reports as meaning that the drug caused the adverse effect or that it's unsafe. The reports are not thoroughly vetted or verified. The posts fail to mention these key details about the search tool and falsely suggest COVID-19 vaccines are dangerous.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Post misleads on WHO's VigiAccess tool

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