The safety of COVID-19 vaccination revisited

While any new treatment can seem scary, the data that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collect through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) continue to confirm that the vaccines are both safe and effective. 

VAERS is a national vaccine safety monitoring system overseen by the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It serves as a place for doctors, nurses, vaccine manufacturers and the general public to submit information about any health problems that occur after vaccination — even if the problem can’t be tied for certain to the vaccination itself. Only vaccines have a system like VAERS; other medicines don’t have this type of safety monitoring. 

As the COVID-19 vaccines have been distributed throughout the U.S., the CDC has actively monitored the safety of these vaccines through VAERS.  

Based on the more than 145 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine that had been administered by March 29, the CDC found that the chances of a severe allergic reaction were “rare” — only about two to five people per million vaccinated would experience something similar. 

In most instances, these reactions occurred within 30 minutes of vaccination, which is precisely why folks are monitored immediately after their vaccinations. All vaccine sites are equipped to quickly and safely treat patients who experience reactions following vaccination.   

Deaths occurring after COVID-19 vaccination — which have received an outsized amount of media attention — have also been reported to VAERS. It’s important to note, however, that those reports don’t automatically mean someone died because of a COVID-19 vaccine.  

In fact, the CDC and the FDA have thoroughly investigated each one of these reports and have determined there is “no evidence that vaccination contributed to patient deaths.”  

So why report it?  

For starters, it’s required by law. The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA) demands that all health care providers report any serious adverse event following vaccination even if it can’t be determined that the vaccination caused the event. 

It is up to CDC and the FDA to determine whether a death was caused by the vaccination itself. After all, many people who have received a COVID-19 vaccine have also been managing the effects of another underlying condition. The same is true in Oregon, where we have given more than 2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine and have tried hard to vaccinate older people — especially those residing in long term care facilities.  

The CDC and the FDA review death certificates, autopsies and patient medical records to reach a conclusion. In the case of the COVID-19 vaccines, all these investigations revealed that that cause of death couldn’t be tied to the vaccine. 

While it’s tragic that these individuals died, it’s vital that we understand the vaccine wasn’t the cause. 

As distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine continues, so too will vaccine safety monitoring. And the evidence allows us to be confident that the vaccines remain a safe, reliable way to get back to doing the things we love. 

To learn more about vaccine eligibility and where to find a vaccine provider in your community, visit OHA’s How to Find a COVID-19 Vaccine in Oregon page in English or Spanish.     

This article first appeared in the April 8, 2021 issue of Oregon Coronavirus Update.