Some self-reported CDC data fueling the anti-vaccination movement

Some anti-vaccine groups are mining through unverified reports in the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System and presenting them without context in order to support their anti-vaccine stance and potentially spread misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines, according to a Feb. 3 VICE report.

VAERS was established in 1988 as a reporting surveillance system in which anyone can submit a claim about an adverse event they or someone else has experienced after receiving a vaccine. It is managed by the CDC and FDA, but reports submitted to the system are unverified. 

To illustrate the point that caution must be exercised when interpreting VAERS data, anesthesiologist James Laidler, MD, submitted a claim to the system in 2004 claiming a vaccine turned him into the Incredible Hulk. The CDC eventually followed up with Dr. Laidler and asked for his permission to remove the report, but he told VICE it would still be there today if he had not given them his approval.

Anti-vaccine groups have been accused of cherry-picking VAERS data and presenting it without context or disclaimers since the system launched, but there has been an uptick in this trend since COVID-19 vaccines have emerged.

Since the data comes from a CDC-sponsored system, users often view VAERS reports as verified, even though there is little to no regulation of what can be posted, Kolina Koltai, PhD, a misinformation researcher at the Seattle-based University of Washington, told VICE.


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