As pharmaceutical companies test vaccine effectiveness in adolescents and children, a post has surfaced on social media claiming a 2-year-old girl in Virginia died after receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize the Pfizer vaccine for adolescents ages 12-15 by mid-May, but studies for children ages 6 months to 11 years are still underway.
The claim originated in an article April 30 from Natural News shared as a screen grab to Facebook on May 1 and headlined, “Two-year-old baby DIES during Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine experiments on children.”
The article claims the child received her second dose of Pfizer’s vaccine on Feb. 25, suffered “some kind of serious adverse reaction” on March 1 and died March 3. The report also said she had been hospitalized since Feb. 14, suggesting "she may have gotten sick from the first shot."
The claim relies entirely on an entry from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), which allows anyone to submit an unverified report.
In a message to USA TODAY, the user cited Natural News, which is rated by Media Bias/ Fact Check as a “questionable source based on the promotion of quackery level pseudoscience and conspiracy theories, as well as extreme right-wing bias.” Natural News did not return a request for comment.
The original VAERS report of a 2-year-old dying after receiving the Pfizer vaccine no longer exists. CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said via email that it was removed from the system for being "completely made up."
VAERS is an "early warning system" established in 1990 in response to the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act to detect possible vaccine safety problems in U.S.-licensed vaccines, according to the CDC.
But there are limits to the data, and it is not possible to use the system to determine whether the vaccine caused or contributed to a reported death.
"A report to VAERS does not mean that the vaccine caused the adverse event, only that the adverse event occurred some time after vaccination," a CDC disclaimer says. "The reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable."
The agency adds that because a majority of VAERS reports are voluntary, "they are subject to biases" that result in "specific limitations on how the data can be used scientifically."
There have been instances of people abusing the VAERS database and filing false reports. For example, anesthesiologist James Laidler submitted a report claiming a flu shot turned him into the Incredible Hulk, Vice reported.
Aside from the VAERS entry about the 2-year-old being discredited, the original report contained inaccuracies.
The article claims the child received the second dose on Feb. 25, but Pfizer did not start vaccine trials with children 6 months to 11 years until March, according to the company's site.
Results from those trials are expected in the second half of 2021. Pfizer says it hopes "to receive authorization for vaccination of these younger kids by early 2022."
Similarly, Moderna did not give the first doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to children under 12 years old until mid-March.
From Dec. 14, 2020, through May 3, VAERS received 4,178 reports of deaths among those who received a COVID-19 vaccine. But the CDC says a review of medical records, autopsies and death certificates related to reports "has not established a causal link to COVID-19 vaccines."
The claim that a 2-year-old girl died after receiving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is FALSE, based on our research. The CDC said the report was removed from the VAERS database for being "completely made up." VAERS allows anyone to submit an unverified report, and the data can contain inaccurate information. Clinical trials of the Pfizer vaccine in that age group had not started at the time the report claimed the vaccine was administered to the child. Further, the CDC says it has not identified a correlation between reported patient deaths and COVID-19 vaccines.
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