December 16, 2021

An article from an anti-vaccine website claims that thousands of fetuses died after their mothers were administered the COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy.

“2,809 Dead Babies in VAERS Following COVID Shots as New Documents Prove Pfizer, the FDA, and the CDC Knew the Shots Were Not Safe for Pregnant Women,” reads the headline from Health Impact News, which has spread misleading information about vaccines in the past.

The article was shared on Facebook and was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The article claims that a government database that collects information about negative health events that occur after people get vaccinations is proof that the COVID-19 vaccines are not safe for pregnant women, and that federal public health authorities knew this.

This is not accurate.

Health Impact News got its numbers through an anti-vaccine organization, the National Vaccine Information Center, which offers its own search tool for data from the federal government’s Vaccine Adverse Effects Reporting System, or VAERS.

VAERS collects information from the public and health care providers about health conditions that occur after vaccination. Vaccine providers are encouraged to report any significant health problem following vaccination to VAERS, whether or not they believe the vaccine was the cause.

The reports become accessible to the public in VAERS, without the government verifying whether the vaccine was the cause of the event described in the report.

As PolitiFact has reported, the database is a tool for researchers to detect patterns that warrant further study, but its data is frequently misused to spread misinformation.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which runs VAERS with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, warns users of its search engine that the data alone cannot be used to establish a causal relationship between a vaccine and a particular adverse event, and that people who get vaccines may have health events or develop illnesses in ways that have nothing to do with the vaccines. People who use the NVIC’s search tool instead of the CDC’s, however, are shown a link that leads them to the government’s disclaimers and warnings about the data. But they are not required to read it or to check that they have read and understand these limitations before accessing the data, as is required of people who search the original federal database.

As for the safety of the vaccine in pregnant women, the CDC and doctors who focus on maternal health and pediatrics recommend that pregnant women receive the vaccine.

The CDC recommends COVID-19 vaccines for pregnant people, and says that scientific evidence shows that the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination outweigh any known or potential risk during pregnancy. The CDC cites studies that show that the vaccine is effective in pregnant people, and that there is no increased risk of harm to mothers or their babies.

The CDC also warns that pregnant and recently pregnant people who are infected with COVID-19 are at a greater risk for severe illness compared with nonpregnant people, though the overall risk is low. “Additionally, pregnant people with COVID-19 are at increased risk for preterm birth and stillbirth and might be at increased risk for other pregnancy complications,” according to the CDC.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that pregnant people be vaccinated, and said that a CDC registry of pregnant people who were vaccinated did not report any neonatal deaths. This finding is based on a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine of nearly 4,000 pregnant people who were vaccinated. “There is no evidence of adverse maternal or fetal effects from vaccinating pregnant individuals with COVID-19 vaccine, and a growing body of data demonstrate the safety of such use,” according to the ACOG.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and other organizations of health care providers urged vaccination for pregnant women in a joint statement released in August: “Maternal care experts want the best outcomes for their patients, and that means both a healthy parent and a healthy baby. Data from tens of thousands of reporting individuals have shown that the COVID-19 vaccine is both safe and effective when administered during pregnancy. The same data have been equally reassuring when it comes to infants born to vaccinated individuals.”

PolitiFact also found in August that claims about COVID-19 vaccines leading to miscarriages are not based in science.

Our ruling

A headline from Health Impact News says, “2,809 Dead Babies in VAERS Following COVID Shots as New Documents Prove Pfizer, the FDA, and the CDC Knew the Shots Were Not Safe for Pregnant Women.”

The claim is based on reports to the government’s VAERS database. Those reports are not verified, and they are often used to spread misinformation about vaccines. They do not prove that the shots are dangerous to babies or pregnant women.

The CDC and health care providers who work with pregnant patients and infants recommend vaccination, based on scientific studies of people who have been vaccinated and the risks associated with COVID-19 infection during pregnancy.

We rate this claim False.

This fact check was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for this fact check here and more of their fact checks here.

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Jill Terreri Ramos is a staff writer for PolitiFact New York and the Buffalo News.
Jill Terreri Ramos

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