When a panel of medical experts were 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, 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 this 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, and anti-vaccine leader Robert F. Kennedy Jr. 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 report 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.
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.
Still, getting this vaccine is a risk, and if the idea makes you uncomfortable, skip it. But 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 — clearly is a lot higher than that.