A flyer recently dropped into the letterboxes of some New South Wales residents urged people to attend the controversial “Freedom Rally” in Sydney’s CBD last Saturday 24 July (one of a number of rallies held across Australia). It seemed to have an effect: thousands turned out for the illegal assembly. Few marchers wore masks or observed social distancing, and chaotic scenes ensued as police sought to break up the gathering and make arrests. Health authorities warned the rally might potentially turn into a “super-spreader” event, leading to extended lockdowns – not exactly the result the marchers were looking for.
Like a previous flyer endorsed by Clive Palmer, the double-sided single-page document in question devoted one page to what it suggested were false media claims about the very existence of a current pandemic, with emotive claims about the perceived unfairness of public orders, and the resulting effect of these on individual rights. None of these claims were supported by any verifiable evidence.
The flipside presented a series of statistics lifted from a weekly report by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), dated 15 July 2021. It appears under the heading “Australia – Jan 01 to July 15 2021”.
Yes, this TGA report exists.
The flyer presents four statistics – each of which might politely be referred to as “cherry-picked”.
Let’s break down each number and present some context.
Deaths from Covid-19 – 3
We must assume that this refers to the number of reported deaths due to COVID-19 that have occurred since 21 June, around the time that the current wave of COVID-19 began. In fact, the overall number of reported COVID-19 related deaths in Australia in the last 18 months is 918.
The reason there have been no more than three deaths in Australia in 2021 is due to the strategy of authorities in reducing and eliminating (for a time) the virus from circulating in the community, and the vigilance of contact tracers in isolating carriers of the virus.
There have been a total of around 33,000 COVID-19 cases in Australia in the last 18 months, so, based on 918 deaths, the death rate in Australia is around 1 per 1000 people with COVID-19.
Looking at cases and deaths that concern just the current Delta outbreak that began in June, there have been 8 deaths in around 2200 cases, and a 10% hospitalisation rate. These show a slightly different epidemiological pattern than previous strains, because it may be more infectious, and therefore the risk of catching and potentially dying from Delta is higher than 1 per 1000.
Deaths after Covid-19 vaccine – 377
This number is correct, according to the report. And it even sounds like hundreds of people have been killed by the vaccine.
But this distorts a simple statistic.
These 377 deaths have followed 9.1 million vaccinations, which includes a combination of Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines, but this number refers to deaths after vaccination, not deaths caused by vaccination.
The TGA states: “Part of our analysis includes comparing expected natural death rates with observed death rates following immunisation.
“Detailed investigation and expert review of individual case reports and the data as a whole are required to assess whether there is a link between an event and the vaccine.
“So far, the observed number of deaths reported after vaccination remains LESS (our emphasis) than the expected number of deaths that would occur naturally, or from other causes, for that proportion of the population.”
This means that every death that occurs within three months of vaccination is investigated to judge the cause of death. A large portion of people vaccinated were above 75, many of whom would normally have died within this time period regardless.
So nearly all the deaths that occurred within three months were not caused by the administration of a vaccine, but by another factor.
To date, there have been six confirmed vaccine-related deaths, all linked to AstraZeneca, after a total of 6.1 million doses. This means the possibility of death following a dose of AstraZeneca vaccine is approximately 1 in a million. The current death rate for COVID-19 is 1 per 250.
“It is therefore important to remember that the number of adverse events and deaths is not an indicator of the safety of the vaccines,” the TGA report states.
Covid-19 vaccine adverse effects – 39,077
This number is also correct, according to the TGA report. In 9.1 million doses, side effects were reported at a rate of about 4 in 1000.
But they are almost entirely minor and typical.
“The most common adverse effects following immunisation reported to the TGA are predictable and have been observed with vaccines generally,” says the TGA report.
“They include headache, muscle pain, fever, chills and injection site reactions.”
Adverse reactions are fairly common, and this has never been a secret. This is why you are required to stay for a bit following a vaccine administration, so that trained staff can monitor your reaction.
However, most of the reactions are minor and dissipate quickly.
Blood clots/low platelet issues – 83
This number is also correct, but again out of context. We must assume that this refers specifically to the AstraZeneca vaccine.
At the time of the report, there had been 5.4 million administrations of AstraZeneca vaccine, with 26,000 reports of adverse effects, including headache, muscle pain and fatigue, 83 of which were reported as thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS), a type of platelet-related blood clot. Of those presenting with TTS, five have died.
That means the rate of TTS following administration of AstraZeneca vaccine at this time was 15 per million. In comparison, the likelihood of death due to car accident in Australia is over three times higher – 50 per million – than a non-lethal TTS, and 50 times higher than dying from TTS-related complications following an AstraZeneca jab.
Here is a list of resources about vaccines and how they work:
- How well do COVID vaccines work in the real world?
- Explainer: How to make a vaccine
- What’s in a COVID vaccine?
- Cosmos Q&A: vaccines, antivirals and why you should get a jab
- Strategies behind the great vaccine race
Deborah Devis is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Science (Honours) in biology and philosophy from the University of Sydney, and a PhD in plant molecular genetics from the University of Adelaide.
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