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Misleading With Numbers

07/30/2021 | 09:06am EDT

NUMBERS, numbers, everywhere.

The Covid-19 pandemic is about numbers - numbers of infections, of deaths, of recoveries, of vaccinations, of breakthroughs, and on and on - and anti-vaccine propagandists continue to deliberately misinterpret and misuse the numbers to peddle their falsehoods, conspiracy theories and unproven cures and remedies.

Of late the deceptive use of numbers has become all about the Covid-19 vaccines being rolled out around the world, but much of the disinformation revolves around the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna) that are mostly in use in the US and Europe.

Recently a post was shared in a Namibian WhatsApp group that pointed to suspected adverse reaction reports concerning Covid-19 vaccines administered in the UK.

The post, which links to the UK's yellow card reporting system, cryptically states: "346 blind, 504 deaf, 1490 fatalities ... our children are next in line."

The yellow card reporting system is run by the UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

And then the post reels off a confusing jumble of numbers and conditions or suspected adverse reactions reported for the eight months from December 2020 to 14 July 2021.

The aim of the post is clearly to scare people with the numbers and the list of adverse conditions or reactions related to the vaccines in use in the UK.

It should be noted that anti-vaccine propagandists always use the numbers out of context and without an appropriate perspective, and even make up numbers where it suits them.


It is unclear where the "346 blind" and "504 deaf" come from for they do not appear on the MHRA webpage that the WhatsApp post links to.

As for the "1 490 fatalities", the yellow card report mentions the figure, and provides a breakdown for how many are reportedly linked to each of the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines.

Importantly, the MHRA clearly states: "The majority of these reports were in elderly people or people with underlying illness. Review of individual reports and patterns of reporting does not suggest the vaccines played a role in these deaths."

So, in effect, none of the deaths could be blamed on any of the vaccines.

The WhatsApp post also mentions "spontaneous abortions" and "stillbirth/foetal death" as suspected adverse reactions to the vaccines, and states that 348 "spontaneous abortions" and seven "stillbirths/foetal deaths" were linked to the vaccines.

However, these figures do not appear in the MHRA report, which should have contained such figures given the seriousness of such occurrences.

For the eight months to 14 July 2021, the UK had administered a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine to 46,1 million people and more than 35 million people had been fully vaccinated (two doses).

During the same period the MHRA received about 325 000 suspected adverse reaction reports, with the vast majority of reports detailing mild side effects.

In this regard, the MHRA states: "For all Covid-19 vaccines, the overwhelming majority of reports relate to injection-site reactions (sore arm for example) and generalised symptoms such as 'flu-like' illness, headache, chills, fatigue (tiredness), nausea, fever, dizziness, weakness, aching muscles, and rapid heartbeat. Generally, these happen shortly after the vaccination and are not associated with more serious or lasting illness."


The US Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) has been especially abused by anti-vaccine propagandists.

On 18 June 2021, the office of science and society at Canada's McGill University posted an article on its website warning that the VAERS was "being misused by anti-vaxxers to terrify the public".

The VAERS is overseen by the US's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centres for Disease Control (CDC).

The VAERS data has been used by anti-vaccine propagandists since December 2020 to spread false claims about Covid-19 vaccine-related deaths.

The latest anti-vaccine disinformation that has gone viral on social media is a claim that VAERS shows that more than 12 000 Americans have died as a result of Covid-19 vaccines.

However, the US CDC states: "More than 342 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines were administered in the United States from 14 December 2020, through 26 July 2021. During this time, VAERS received 6 340 reports of death (0,0019%) among people who received a Covid-19 vaccine."

The CDC adds: "Reports of adverse events to VAERS following vaccination, including deaths, do not necessarily mean that a vaccine caused a health problem. A review of available clinical information, including death certificates, autopsies, and medical records, has not established a causal link to Covid-19 vaccines."

With all this in mind, Namibian social media users are cautioned to be critical of social media posts containing claims accompanied by numbers, especially large numbers.

Many of the numbers in some of these posts are misinterpreted or misinformed, presented without context, and even outrightly fake or made-up.

- Frederico Links is the editor of Namibia Fact Check, which is a project of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). Namibia Fact Check can be viewed at www.namibiafactcheck.org.na

Copyright The Namibian. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com)., source News Service English

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