Speaking at the governor’s press conference Friday, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said eight Vermont deaths reported to the nation’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System were not likely attributable to COVID-19 vaccines, though the health department will be keeping an eye on it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention VAERS database was set up by the federal government in 1990 to report adverse reactions from vaccinations. Since then, the U.S. government has paid out more than $4 billion in vaccine-injury compensations through mid-2019.
Since January, the VAERS database has reported eight Vermonters, ranging from 63 to 98 years of age, who died soon after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. The residents — four males and four females — died between one and 21 days after getting vaccinated. Acute symptoms at the time of death ranged from anaphylaxis and cardiac arrest to brain bleed and aspiration. Six of the deceased received the Pfizer vaccine, while one received Moderna’s version and another received the Johnson & Johnson shot.
As Levine noted Friday, adverse reactions reported to VAERS are reports only, meaning they have not undergone a detailed investigation.
“These are deaths that individuals or health care providers have entered into the adverse event reporting system,” he said. “So, people are still free to look at that system and see that there are eight, but I wouldn’t want them to look at details of the cases because they have not been determined to be vaccine-associated deaths.”
Coronavirus deaths reported to the CDC are also presumed to be related to the virus and are not investigated. As widely reported last summer, the CDC admitted just 6% of all COVID-related deaths occur from the virus alone. A full 94% of COVID deaths involve an average of two or more other serious medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or obesity.
Levine said if it becomes suspected that any deaths in Vermont were caused by vaccines, his department will use VAERS data to investigate further.
“We’ll make sure that we convey that to the public,” he said. ” … We have no reason to believe that these deaths were associated with the vaccine, and we’ve also done our own investigation with our medical examiner’s office as well.”
Questions about effectiveness of masks
Levine also was asked about Vermont’s mask-wearing policies, which, as of May 14, have been ended for fully vaccinated Vermonters, but not for unvaccinated residents.
The commissioner was asked why Vermont continues to require masking when other states have long ended mask policies yet continue to see a significant reduction in daily coronavirus cases. Florida, for example, a large state that never required mask wearing, has seen its daily case count drop from a peak of almost 16,000 in January around 2,300 this week.
“Florida had a very different climate at the time that their cases started to go down,” Levine answered. “You may recall that when you look at the death rate in Florida compared to the death rate in Vermont, consistently they’ve been very, very different.
“States that have had mask mandates that have been in place have had differences within the state when different counties have mask mandates and different counties don’t — that really has added to the volumes of data indicating that mask have been very effective.”
In other COVID-related updates shared Friday, Vermonters will still be advised to receive COVID-19 vaccines into the foreseeable future, as both the shots and getting the virus itself are estimated to provide immunity for a year.
“People who were vaccinated but were never infected will most likely need a booster eventually, and probably after a longer period of time than we might have thought previously,” Levine said.
Dan French, secretary of the Agency of Education, indicated that future education policy regarding COVID-19 restrictions will be voluntary once the formal declaration of emergency by the governor is lifted.
“We feel this memo [to guide schools on going forward] is necessary because our current guidance documents for schools derive their authority from the governor’s executive order,” French said. “When the emergency is rescinded, then the current guidance for schools is also rescinded. After review by the health department team and their public health experts, we will strongly recommend that schools continue to follow the prevention measures outlined in our Strong and Healthy Year Guidance for the remainder of the school year.”