When a panel of medical experts was setting up the priority list for the COVID-19 vaccine, some of them opposed giving it to elderly nursing home residents first.
Their reasoning, eventually overruled, was that giving the shot to people in frail health could undermine public confidence in the vaccine, because some of the residents, by virtue of their advanced age and medical condition, were likely to die soon afterward.
Sure enough, some opponents of all vaccines are pointing to the deaths of elderly people who got the COVID-19 shot as proof that the vaccine is dangerous.
The most prominent example is Hank Aaron, baseball’s home run king. On Jan. 5, Aaron and other civil rights leaders made a public event out of getting the first of two vaccinations in Atlanta. They wanted to send a message to other Black Americans that they believed the COVID-19 vaccines are safe.
Then the 86-year-old Aaron died in his sleep 17 days later. Anti-vaccine leader Robert F. Kennedy Jr., son of the U.S. senator assassinated in 1968 while running for president, wrote that this was part of “a wave of suspicious deaths among elderly closely following administration of COVID vaccines.”
The Snopes.com fact-checking website disputes Kennedy’s claim that there is a wave of suspicious deaths among the elderly. And a Jan. 18 story on the Bloomberg.com website contains comprehensive information about vaccine reactions, making clear that there is no evidence the shot is directly responsible for any deaths.
For starters, Snopes points out that, according to Social Security’s actuarial tables, an 86-year-old man like Aaron stands a 10% chance of dying within a year — whether or not he got the COVID-19 vaccine.
The most deaths reported among people who received the vaccine were in Norway and Germany. But Bloomberg said all who died were elderly, and some were terminal patients who had only a short time to live.
People around the world have reported fever, a headache or pain in the shot area after receiving the vaccine. But by far the biggest concern is a condition known as anaphylaxis.
This is a serious allergic reaction that causes inflammation and tissue swelling, and it was a known risk of the vaccine. It often is treated with a combination of antihistamines and an adrenaline injection. It’s for this reason that those who receive the shot are asked to hang around for 15 minutes afterward so that they can receive immediate medical attention should the condition develop.
Snopes rules the claim that Aaron died of the COVID-19 vaccination as “unproven” — because while there is no evidence that the shot took his life, there still is no evidence to the contrary. However, the medical examiner’s office said there was no indication the vaccine was a contributing factor in his death, and the Morehouse School of Medicine, where Aaron got the shot, said he had no side effects from it.
Certainly, getting the vaccine is a risk, but it is a minutely small one. Bloomberg says that as of Jan. 19, there have been 8.3 cases of anaphylaxis per 1 million doses of the vaccine administered in the United States. The chance of getting the virus — or dying from it — is a whole lot higher than that.