VAERS – A database full of lies?

Introduction

In this article we will examine the veracity of one of the main criticisms leveled against the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), a database run by the United States Department of Health and Human Services that reports vaccine reactions ranging from rashes to death. VAERS is commonly criticized by AstroTurf Media Professionals as exaggerating the actual injury figures.

Let’s have a look at one of the most commonly-heard criticisms about VAERS:

VAERS is a website that allows just anybody to report a vaccine injury, and anti-vaxxers have filled it with false data!”

The VAERS Reporting System

VAERS is a passive reporting system. That means it accepts reports from anyone who might happen to be aware of VAERS, who then takes the time to report a vaccine adverse reaction. The person making the report might be a health care professional or an individual. This process is in stark contrast to an active surveillance system, where doctors are required to report injuries. An example of an active surveillance system is when the CDC tracks outbreaks of communicable diseases, where all healthcare practitioners and first responders are required by law to report anyone showing symptoms. Healthcare providers are not mandated by law to report vaccine injuries, despite the fact that they often result in death and long-term disability.

Before Reporting an adverse event to VAERSVAERS Reporting Process

The first step in reporting an event to VAERS is to contact your physician. Though “just anybody” can file a report, everyone is required to contact their healthcare provider first. That presents a bit of an obstacle.

The reason one must contact their health care provider is explained in the VAERS FAQ: [1]

The CDC and FDA require additional information on selected VAERS reports for the public health purpose of helping to ensure the safety of U.S.-licensed vaccines. You or your health care provider may be contacted for follow-up information by VAERS staff after your report is received. These selected reports are followed up by a team of health care professionals to obtain additional information (such as medical records and autopsy reports) to provide as complete a picture of the case as possible. All records sent to VAERS are kept confidential as required by law. The patient’s consent is not required to release the medical records to VAERS.

In other words, if you were to file a false report, there is a chance you will be found out. Someone on the other end is actually watching.

Actually filing the report with VAERS

After contacting your healthcare provider, you can then access the online form [2] to file the report. Right there, above the fold and in bold face type we can see this warning:

VAERS Warning

18 U.S. Code § 1001 [3] penalizes any person convicted of filing a false report to VAERS with a fine and/or prison sentence. The sentence can be up to 5 years, and the fine up to $250,000 [4].

It would appear the VAERS database is robustly defended against false reports.

Potency of VAERS Data

Though the VAERS Database bears the warning that it may contain coincidental events as well as those caused by vaccines, the main flaw the government points out with regard to VAERS is that the data is underreported, and goes on to say VAERS receives reports for only a small fraction of actual adverse events.

“Underreporting” is one of the main limitations of passive surveillance systems, including VAERS. The term underreporting refers to the fact that VAERS receives reports for only a small fraction of actual adverse events. [5]

Injury Rates

The United States Health Resources and Services Administration freely discloses that 4,150 cases in the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program have been awarded damages for vaccine injuries. [6] The U.S. Census office projects the U.S. Population to be 322 million in the United States as of July 2015. [7] Therefore, the rate of vaccine injury compensation in the United States, which by no means includes all of the vaccine injuries, is 1 in 78,400 people. [8]

In conclusion

The likelihood of false reports to VAERS is minimized by both serious penalties under law for filing false reports, and the potential for review by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The likelihood that vaccine injuries may be many times more common than reported to VAERS is extremely high, and openly acknowledged by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

The actual number of people who have been injured by vaccines to the extent that they might candidates for compensation is likely higher than the rate of 1 in 78,400 for the same reasons that these cases are underreported to the VAERS database.  In addition, some people who believe they have been injured may choose not to pursue litigation which is expensive and uncertain in its outcome.

Citations

  1. VAERS Frequently Asked Questions
    https://vaers.hhs.gov/about/faqs#reports_followed_up
  2. VAERS Report Filing options
    https://vaers.hhs.gov/esub/index
  3. Cornell University listing of 18 U.S. Code § 1001
    https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/1001
  4. Cornell University list of 18 U.S. Code § 3571 – Sentence of Fine
    https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/3571
  5. VAERS Data Page
    https://vaers.hhs.gov/data/index
  6. US Health Resources and Services Administration Report on Vaccine Injury Compensation
    http://www.hrsa.gov/vaccinecompensation/statisticsreport.pdf
  7. US Census Bureau population clock
    http://www.census.gov/popclock/
  8. Arithmetic
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