(CNN)Under the guise of “just asking the questions,” Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin spread anti-vaccine misinformation on a right-wing radio show Thursday, questioning why efforts were being made to vaccinate the general US population, especially young people and those who had previously been infected with Covid-19.
Johnson, who tested positive for coronavirus last fall, said he was “sticking up for people who choose not to get vaccinated.” As of March, Johnson told CNN he had not yet been vaccinated because he previously had Covid-19.
In Thursday’s interview with conservative radio host Vicki McKenna, Johnson suggested there have been thousands of deaths connected to Covid-19 vaccinations and that receiving a vaccine could be particularly dangerous for those who had previously been infected.
Vaccinations and deaths
To defend his position and call into question the safety of Covid-19 vaccines, Johnson cited numbers from the federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), which allows anyone to submit a report. Johnson said that according to the system, “we’re over 3000 deaths after within 30 days of taking the vaccine,” suggesting these deaths were tied to Covid-19 vaccines.
Facts First: Johnson’s insinuation that these reported deaths are tied to Covid-19 vaccines is entirely false. VAERS is not an official, vetted report of vaccine-related incidents. Anyone can submit a report and, as the system’s website notes, “VAERS is not designed to determine if a vaccine caused a health problem” and “the reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable.” Instead, the system allows the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and US Food and Drug Administration to monitor for vaccine adverse events and conduct follow-up investigations.
Johnson’s senior communications adviser Alexa Henning told CNN in an email Friday evening, “The Senator is not suggesting the deaths were directly caused by the covid-19 vaccine,” adding that Johnson is instead calling for the submissions to VAERS to be taken “seriously and research what is going on.” Henning also noted Johnson’s support for the development of Covid-19 vaccines under the Trump administration.
As the CDC notes, health care providers must report any death that follows a Covid-19 vaccination. The agency, along with the FDA, investigate each death reported to figure out whether the death was caused by a vaccine.
From December 14, 2020, to May 3, more than 245 million doses of the vaccines have been given, the CDC website reports.
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