What 'Pfizer Documents' Release Reveals

Misleading claims suggesting that more than 1,200 died after suffering adverse reactions to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine have once again been spread on social media.

The phrase "Pfizer documents" became a top trending topic on Twitter, thanks in part to a tweet posted by Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who previously had her personal Twitter account permanently suspended for "repeated violations" of the social media site's COVID-19 misinformation policy.

In her tweet, Greene shared a screenshot of a document released by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which she took as meaning that 1,223 people died during "Pfizer's post authorization adverse events" report. A number of other conservative figures also posted why they are skeptical about the safety of the vaccine with the #pfizerdocuments hashtag.

While the report discussed adverse reactions to the vaccine in a 90-day period and the figures are genuine, the pharmaceutical company has said the documents do not link the vaccine as being responsible for the people's death.

Pfizer documents
False claims that 1,200 died after suffering adverse reactions to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine have spread on social media. Above, a healthcare worker administers a Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine at the John Knox Village Continuing Care Retirement Community on January 6, 2021, in Pompano Beach, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The report states that of the billions of vaccines shipped worldwide between December 1, 2020, and February 28, 2021, there were 42,086 reported reactions.

These included those who had fully recovered or are recovering from COVID, those who recovered but were still experiencing some symptoms, those not recovered at the time of the report, and the 1,223 who are listed as "fatal."

The 1,223 fatalities listed in the report are among 158,893 adverse effects reports from health officials from across the world. The cause of each fatality is not verified and therefore may also include those who had "various illnesses" such as cancer or cardiovascular disease, Pfizer spokeswoman Dervila Keane told AFP.

Elsewhere in the so-called "Pfizer documents" being misinterpreted online, the report concluded that the data does not reveal "any novel safety concerns or risks requiring label changes" and supports a "favorable benefit risk profile" for the vaccine.

The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, (VAERS) which is operated by the FDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tracks reports of adverse issues related to the vaccine.

Officials are tasked with reviewing post-vaccine deaths even if "it's unclear whether the vaccine was the cause," a spokesperson for the FDA told Reuters. "In fact, reviews by FDA and CDC have determined that the vast majority of the deaths reported are not directly attributable to the vaccines."

Additional trials and research have also made links between the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and fatalities.

Responding to the false claims circulating on social media, Irish cancer researcher Dr. David Robert Grimes tweeted: "Why is Pfizer trending? Short version: Because a bunch of conspiratorial half-wits with all the scientific, statistical acumen of a particularly inept hamster are, yet again, incapable of understanding (a) what passive reporting is (b) basic fractions."

"That accolade also goes for the collective clownshoes who crafted the hashtag #pfizerdocuments to showcase their absolute inability to parse technical documentation or trial data," Grimes added. "Sure why do we even need scientists when we have conspiracy theorists on the internet eh?"

In December, the British independent fact-checking organization Full Fact also debunked claims the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine has a one in 17 mortality rate based on misinterpreted data from the "Pfizer documents."

A number of people on social media arrived at the figure after noting that 21,002 people had recovered to some extent after taking the vaccine. When you add the 1,223 fatalities, you get a total of 21,325.

As 1,223 is around 6 percent of 21,325, people wrongly interpreted the data to mean you have around a one in 17 chance of dying after taking the vaccine. Full Fact ruled the claim as false as the data does not mean that one in 17 people who received the Pfizer vaccines "died shortly afterward" as was being claimed.

"It means that one in 17 reports, where the outcome was not unknown or the illness was ongoing, was fatal," Full Fact said.

About the writer

Ewan Palmer is a Newsweek News Reporter based in London, U.K. He joined Newsweek in February 2018 after spending several years working at the International Business Times U.K., where he predominantly reported on crime, politics and current affairs. Prior to this, he worked as a freelance copywriter after graduating from the University of Sunderland in 2010. Languages: English.

You can get in touch with Ewan by emailing e.palmer@newsweek.com.

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