Gaming an Early Warning System
Newsweek|June 18 - 25, 2021
How a well-intended U.S. government database fuels dangerous vaccine misinformation
MELISSA GOLDIN, JOHN GREGORY and KENDRICK MCDONALD

ON APRIL 30, 2021, THE WEBSITE Natural News—which News Guard has rated Red, meaning generally unreliable—published a story reporting the death of a 2-year-old who in late February had received the second dose of a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine during the company’s clinical trials for children. The only problem? Children under 5 did not begin receiving shots until April, according to a press release on the Pfizer website.

Natural News picked up the false claim from another Red-rated website: Great Game India. The single source of evidence cited by both websites was the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, or VAERS, a database jointly run for 31 years by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Its purpose: to be “a national early warning system to detect possible safety problems in U.S.-licensed vaccines,” according to its website.

It is true that a report about a 2-year-old who died was submitted to VAERS on March 5, 2021. But Great Game India’s article noted that Pfizer’s “own promotion says the vaccination trials were for children from age 5 to 11” and asked, “How come a 2 year old baby got vaccinated?”

The answer is that the incident never happened. CDC spokesperson Kristen Nordlund told USA Today that the adverse event report was “completely made up” and the CDC took the rare step of removing it from the VAERS system.

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