MTG claims the covid booster leads to hospitalization — it doesn’t – Grid

The claim

Seven to 8 percent of recipients of the updated covid-19 booster “get so sick, they have to go to the hospital.”

The truth is that, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 0.03 percent of people 12 and up who got one of the new covid-19 boosters ended up in the hospital with serious side effects. And, per the CDC, no children (ages 5-11) were hospitalized after receiving the booster.

When the CDC followed up with those who reported hospitalization after vaccination, more than half said that their hospitalization was unrelated to the covid shot they had received.

How it started

On Monday, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) stated in a viral tweet that 7-8 percent of people end up hospitalized after receiving a booster, citing Texas cardiologist Peter McCullough. Greene added that a recent Rasmussen poll also found that 7 percent of adult booster recipients have to go to the hospital because of the vaccine.

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“Healthy people & kids should not get vaccinated and the risks increase greatly with boosters,” she wrote.

The claim that 7-8 percent of booster recipients end up hospitalized is false.

The original source of the claims

Greene has two sources for the same false claim: McCullough and a Rasmussen Reports poll.

A frequent purveyor of misinformation

Let’s start with McCullough.

For context, it’s worth noting that McCullough is a frequent purveyor of covid-19 misinformation. During a panel discussion on the pandemic response in January of last year, hosted by GOP Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), McCullough falsely claimed that the CDC verified 21,000 cases of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. In fact, the CDC found only about 700 cases in kids and teens — the ages most likely to develop the side effect — after giving out more than 60 million doses of mRNA covid vaccines to those groups.

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The trouble with V-SAFE data

In this most recent claim, McCullough cited the CDC’s V-SAFE data to claim that 7-8 percent of Americans “get so sick they have to go to the hospital” after the second booster.

V-SAFE is a covid-vaccine safety monitoring system created by the CDC in December 2020. Participants register for V-SAFE with a smartphone after getting the first vaccine dose to voluntarily report side effects to the CDC. The CDC sends text messages with a brief health survey for participants to report symptoms and new or worsening health conditions since getting vaccinated. Doctors are skeptical of V-SAFE data because self-reported side effects are not necessarily representative of everyone who has gotten vaccinated. Rather, V-SAFE is a tool that CDC uses to look for unexpected side effects or patterns of side effects in vaccine recipients. But the agency uses data from several other sources to paint a complete picture of the shots’ safety profile.

Still, V-SAFE data, which includes data since covid vaccines became available, can be misused, and misinterpreted.

The V-SAFE program asks participants about changes in health status — whether related to the vaccine or not. As William Schaffner, infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, explained, anything that happens after a vaccination that a participant thinks is related to the vaccine might be reported. This means that sometimes a symptom that is unrelated to the vaccine or even a symptom that a participant had before the vaccine might be reported into the system.

“These are just anecdotal reports that come in from the patient themselves,” Schaffner said. “So these are not medically vetted.”

Here’s the other issue with relying on V-SAFE data: The program is not necessarily representative of everybody who gets vaccinated.

In fact, Schaffner said, people who are likely to have some sort of reaction to the vaccine are probably more likely to participate in the program, so again, it is not necessarily representative of the larger vaccinated population.

The CDC’s analyses of safety data do not support this claim either. According to a report from November 2022, no children aged 5-11 received hospital care after receiving the bivalent booster. And, per the CDC, based on data from V-SAFE and the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System(VAERS), hospitalization was only reported in 0.03 percent of booster recipients aged 12 and up.

It’s also important to note that the CDC looks at what is coming in through V-SAFE and VAERS and investigates any potentially concerning reports or patterns of reports. The CDC analyses are also based on data from V-SAFE as well as VAERS, which draws in reports from doctors and the public.

The problem with polling

The Rasmussen poll, cited by Greene, which reaches the same conclusion as McCullough is problematic too.

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First, as David Mayhew, clinical radiation oncologist at Tufts Medical Center, noted, public polling data “is very different from medical facts.”

He added that the way the questions are posed in a poll is significant too. For example, the Rasmussen poll asks participants if they have experienced “major side effects,” but as Mayhew points out, the poll never defines what a major or minor side effect is. “Those are going to be defined differently by different people,” he said.

A claim that lacks common sense

According to that poll, “7% of those reported major side effects,” which the poll says means about 12 million people. More generally, experts say this simply isn’t logical.

Here’s some figures to contextualize these numbers.

As of October, 613 million doses of the mRNA vaccines had been put in arms in the U.S., at the average rate of 30,000 doses a day.

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If the 7 percent number were indeed true, that would mean around two to three thousand hospitalizations per day from the covid vaccine and booster shots, given the sheer number of people in the U.S. who have received them, said Peter Hotez, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. “This would obviously raise red flares all over the place,” Hotez said, “and you’d be talking about 50 million hospitalizations.”

Hotez added that “there is no common sense associated” with the claim.

A kernel of truth: side effects and reactogenicity

Tacked on to his claim about V-SAFE data, McCullough also said that reactogenicity — or the tendency to cause side effects after vaccination — goes up about 80 times from shot one to shot two of initial covid vaccinations, and then rises even further on shot three. Another false claim.

According to the CDC, side effects for the first and second doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines are roughly similar, with similar side effects after a third booster dose.

Hotez explained that relative to other vaccines, the mRNA vaccines are relatively reactogenic. That is, they do have some side effects, but they are usually mild by medical standards — a bit worse than what most people experience after a flu shot, but in line with side effects from shingles vaccines given to the elderly. In general, reactogenicity isn’t particularly unusual in a lot of adult vaccines.

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Typical reactions to the mRNA covid vaccines might include arm soreness, arm redness, low-grade fever, achiness or malaise. But he emphasized that these reactions are “a far cry from a typical adverse event.” To be clear: These are not the kind of side effects that land someone in the hospital.

“Fever, injection site pain, tiredness and headaches are commonly reported in the days after vaccination,” a spokesperson for the CDC told Grid. “This includes reactions reported after receiving a second shot or booster. Most side effects after a covid-19 booster were mild to moderate, temporary and like those experienced after routine vaccinations.”

The most serious side effect of the mRNA covid vaccines — those made by Moderna and Pfizer — is myocarditis. But this is a rare side effect. “That number has been put between 1 in 12,000 and 1 in 16,000,” Hotez said. “What the anti-vaccine activists are trying to do, is anyone basically who has another serious effect that’s temporarily related to vaccination they want to ascribe cause and effect, when that’s actually not the case.”

Hotez described this kind of misinformation, which exaggerates the vaccine’s side effects, fails to mention that side effects occur even with a placebo, and never mentions the benefits of the vaccine as “weaponized health communication.”

This article has been updated. Thanks to Brett Zach for copy editing this article.

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