COVID-19 vaccinations have not caused excess deaths among American millennials

COVID-19 vaccinations have not caused excess deaths among American millennials

What was claimed

The verdict

Official excess deaths data shows there was an 84 per cent increase in deaths caused by COVID-19 vaccinations among American millennials in 2021.

False. Official figures show excess deaths from all causes rose 44 per cent among Millennials from 2019 to 2021. The increase is largely attributed to deaths from COVID-19, not the vaccine.

By Eiddwen Jeffery

A claim that millennials in America experienced an 84 per cent increase in excess deaths due to COVID-19 vaccines in 2021 has been circulating online. 

The claim was first made in March 2022 by an anti-vaxxer interviewed on a podcast created by Steve Bannon, co-founder of the far-right news site, Breitbart News. 

In the interview, the anti-vax advocate and self-described equity investment executive, Ed Dowd, claims data from America’s national health agency, shows deaths among Americans aged 25 to 44 increased with the introduction of “mandates and boosters” in 2021. 

But the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention data that he uses to support his claim relates to excess deaths associated with COVID-19, not COVID-19 vaccinations.

Excess deaths is an epidemiological concept used to compare the number of deaths that occur in a specified time period with the average numbers of deaths from previous years. By looking at the difference between expected and actual deaths, epidemiologists are able to assess the impact of significant health events.

On its webpage, CDC says the Excess Deaths database is used to “capture estimates of deaths that are directly or indirectly attributed to COVID-19 to understand the mortality rates related to the pandemic”.  The rolling dashboard allows public users to view weekly breakdowns of excess deaths in the US relative to the average in the same time periods of past years (from 2015 to 2019).

This database does not include deaths linked to COVID-19 vaccinations. Such deaths are recorded in a separate CDC database called Vaccine Adverse Events (VAE)

The VAE reporting systems (VAERS) does not show an increase among millennial deaths linked to COVID-19 vaccines disproportionate to other age groups. People aged between 18 and 49 accounted for 556 of the total 7,942 reported deaths in 2021 (about 7 per cent). The webpage for the database notes most reports are voluntary and are therefore incomplete and unverifiable.

The claim that American millennials, considered to be people aged 26 to 41(those born between 1981 and 1996), experienced an 84 per cent increase in excess deaths due to COVID-19 vaccines in 2021, is not supported by CDC data.

A spokesperson for the US National Centre for Health Statistics (NCHS) told RMIT FactLab that mortality data shows an overall increase of 63,141 more millennial deaths in 2021. This amounts to an increase of 44 per cent excess deaths from 2019 to 2021, not 84 per cent as claimed. 

He cautioned that deaths should not be attributed to specific events or causes as the data is provisional. While it is not possible to attribute the increase in deaths to any specific cause, including vaccinations, it is worth mentioning that the increase in deaths does correspond with outbreaks of Omicron and Delta variants in late 2021, which had high fatality rates, especially among the unvaccinated

He also told RMIT FactLab that the database is incomplete and only shows estimates of mortality rates, not final figures. 

The anti-vaxxer has since repeated the incorrect claim on Twitter and several media outlets, podcasts and YouTube.

27 April 2022

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Screenshot of annotated tweet purporting to show increased millennial deaths

The anti-vaxxer also published a graph to Twitter with the purported  excess death rates for people aged 25-44. RMIT FactLab asked the CDC to review the graph. The spokesman said the data had been taken from the excess deaths dashboard and overlaid with an annotation to give the impression that vaccine mandates caused the spike in deaths. 

US government vaccine mandates occurred in 2021, with mandates for workplaces announced in September and November, as well as third-dose booster vaccinations announced in November

Professor Allan Saul, of the Burnet Institute in Australia, also reviewed the graph. “Claiming that the whole excess death profile is due to causes other than COVID, such as vaccinations, is both wrong and quite misleading,” he said. “By far the greatest cause of excess deaths in 2021 is from COVID.” 

Professor of Epidemiology and Medicine at Columbia University in the US, Wafaa El-Sadr, told RMIT FactLab the incorrect claim about excess deaths among millennials is an “ecological fallacy”, a misinterpretation of statistical data  when an inference is made about an individual based on aggregate data for a group. 

“Looking at location and noting high vaccination rates and high mortality rates at a population level, then arguing that this means that at the individual level getting vaccinated is associated with high mortality”, was an example of faulty logic, she said. 

The erroneous claim has also been repeated in an article published by Australian Free Independent Press Network (AFIPN), which has been previously reported for spreading COVID-19 misinformation.

 

The verdict

False. There is no evidence of an 84 per cent increase in excess deaths for people aged between 25 and 44 due to COVID-19 vaccines in the US. According to the US CDC, there was a 44 per cent increase in excess deaths for this age group from 2019 to 2021 due to a range of factors including COVID-19. The claim wrongly conflates excess deaths data relating to COVID-19 with government vaccine mandates.



27 April 2022

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