A Facebook post incorrectly claims that Microsoft founder Bill Gates called for all Covid-19 vaccines to be withdrawn.
The post includes a screenshot of a headline saying “Bill Gates Regrets Promoting Covid-19 Vaccine, Calls For Its Withdrawal…” alongside text claiming that Mr Gates had called for all Covid-19 vaccines “to be taken off the market immediately”.
Mr Gates did not say anything contained in the post. The quotes are taken from an article by The Exposé, which makes clear it is intended as satire. However, the blog also states: “when we first published this article we should have made it clear at the beginning that it was satire rather than at the end. We did not do this and we apologise.”
This context is not included in the Facebook post.
Reported reactions are often not caused by the vaccine
The post’s caption also quotes the Exposé article in saying that the US Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) had reported 13,000 deaths and half a million adverse events, but then goes on to say that the reporting system is a “sham” and “captures only around one percent of what’s going on”.
It’s true that between December 2020 and 2 February 2022, VAERS received 12,122 preliminary reports of death among people who received a Covid-19 vaccine. As the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says: “FDA [US Food and Drink Administration] requires healthcare providers to report any death after COVID-19 vaccination to VAERS, even if it’s unclear whether the vaccine was the cause. Reports of adverse events to VAERS following vaccination, including deaths, do not necessarily mean that a vaccine caused a health problem.”
As for all events, including deaths, there have been 753,482 reports detailing 3,241,006 events, as of 4 February 2022, so slightly more than the post claims.
However, these VAERS reports are not verified, and the conditions they describe may not be caused by the vaccines. As the VAERS website itself says, “The reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable.”
“In large part, reports to VAERS are voluntary, which means they are subject to biases. This creates specific limitations on how the data can be used scientifically. Data from VAERS reports should always be interpreted with these limitations in mind.”
What about underreporting?
We do know that underreporting is an issue, although we can’t say for sure if the post is correct that VAERS reports only capture around 1% of what’s going on. The VAERS website itself says “underreporting refers to the fact that VAERS receives reports for only a small fraction of actual adverse events”, although it adds that the “degree of underreporting varies widely”.
For example, it says that very few episodes of a vaccination causing soreness are reported to VAERs, while more serious and unexpected medical events are probably more likely to be reported even if they may be coincidental.
VAERS reports are valuable as they can provide an early warning of a safety problem in a vaccine, for example if the number of ailments reported afterwards is higher than it would be normally. For example, in the UK, the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) reviewed reports of a serious and rare type of blood clot alongside low platelets following the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine and concluded that a link between them was likely. This led to people under 40 being advised to have an alternative vaccine if possible.
Overall, the MHRA has found that “the expected benefits of the vaccines in preventing COVID-19 and serious complications associated with COVID-19 far outweigh any currently known side effects in the majority of patients.”
Bill Gates has been a repeated target of misinformation throughout the pandemic including claims he owns a patent for the Covid-19 virus and that he is using Covid-19 vaccines to reduce the population of the world.