If you have spent any amount of time online lately, you may have noticed a “Pfizer Safety Report” floating around the internet, specifically on social media. Although there isn’t anything particularly ‘new’ or ‘scary’ about the document itself, the way that it has been misrepresented has it reading more like a tale from the Cryptkeeper than an actual Safety Report and it is causing some unnecessary confusion and fear.
You may be wondering what we mean, exactly, when we say that the data has been “misrepresented”? Well, let’s take a look!
Part of the mix up comes from a general misunderstanding of the term “adverse events”. Adverse events, which we will call AE’s from here on in, are not side effects. We repeat, AE’s are not side effects! So, what are they, then? Well, in the medical world, AE’s may or may not be related to a treatment that someone receives – in this case, the COVID-19 vaccine.
AE’s are monitored in both treatment groups (those who receive the vaccine) and non-treatment or “placebo” groups (those who have not yet received the vaccine) and every single AE from either of those groups is documented. For example, if a trial participant swallowed a penny, that would be documented as an AE, even though it’s clear to both you and I that the vaccine doesn’t make you swallow pennies. Still, it is an event that occurred following the treatment and must be documented. So, even though swallowing a penny is listed as an AE following the vaccine – common sense tells us that there is not a link to receiving the vaccine and swallowing a penny. Some people would refer to this as an instance where “correlation does not equal causation” – which, basically, means that just because “A” happens after “B” does not mean that “A” happens because of “B”.
However, it is worth mentioning that these lists of AE’s are actually pretty useful tools that can help signal any possible related side effects. Unfortunately, that’s about where their value ends when it comes to this report, as it only uses voluntary data. Because data from everyone individual vaccinated is not included, we aren’t even able to tell how common an AE is. Think of it this way, 3 adverse events would seem like a lot if we only collected data from 100 people, but not so much if we collected data from 125 million people.
Another piece of information that isn’t even remotely accurate but is making its way to your Facebook feed, nonetheless, is the claim that on page 30 of the “Adverse Events of Special Interest” – or “AESI” – appendix, is a list of the hundreds of thousands of side effects recorded from the Pfizer vaccine. It’s not. In fact, AESI’s are actually developed before a treatment is even given. It is a list of possible events to be on the lookout for and alerted to ASAP if they occur. This goes to show us just how incredibly cautious Health Canada is when it comes to approving a treatment for Canadians. Come on, do you really think the same people that recall bagged salad across the entire country for a possible contaminant are going to somehow overlook the risk of a treatment that has over 158 thousand side effects? We think not.
Another tidbit worth noting is that the data shared in the document is from Feb 28, 2021 (more than a year ago, now!) Which makes it very much out of date in the medical world.
So, although it creates a great narrative for a futuristic sci-fi series on Showtime, the facts about the Pfizer Safety Report show that it really isn’t all that interesting, at all. Instead of getting ‘freaked out’ by the list of things that both the Pfizer pharmaceutical company, and Health Canada are watching out for, we encourage you to focus on the “Discussion” section of that same document, which reads: “The data does not reveal any novel safety concerns or risks requiring label changes and it supports a favorable risk profile.”
If you are looking for more information, Health Canada collects all of the data from the Pfizer report and it can be easily accessed by all Canadians at: COVID-19 vaccine safety: Weekly report on side effects following immunization – Canada.ca