Damakant Jayshi

While health officials nationwide acknowledge that COVID-19 vaccines are not completely without risk, data collected on adverse reactions show the benefits overwhelmingly outweigh the danger.

Although the daily 14-day average of deaths has decreased by 21% in the U.S., 2,346 people died of complications from COVID on Wednesday alone.

Health officials now say there is clear evidence that non fully-vaccinated people in Wausau and Marathon County, like elsewhere in the country, are affected far more frequently in terms of COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Though serious complications are rare, COVID-19 vaccines are not completely without risk, the data show.

More than 553 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered in the U.S. from Dec. 14, 2020, through February 22, 2022. During this time, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, a national vaccine safety surveillance program that aims to detect adverse effects for a wide variety of vaccines, received 12,775 preliminary reports of death (0.0023%) among people who received a COVID-19 vaccine, the data show.

Of those, VAERS has so far “identified nine deaths that have been caused by or were directly attributed to TTS following J&J/Janssen COVID-19 vaccination.” TTS, or thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome, is a rare but serious syndrome “that causes blood clots in large blood vessels and low platelets (blood cells that help form clots).”

Of the 18.4 million doses of the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine administered in the U.S. until Feb. 24, the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have identified 57 confirmed reports of people who developed TTS after receiving the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine.

According to CDC officials, anaphylaxis – a severe type of allergic reaction that might occur after any kind of vaccination – is also potential reaction related to the COVID-19 vaccine, but has occurred in approximately five people per 1 million vaccinated nationwide. That condition can be treated effectively when detected immediately, health officials say.

The FDA requires healthcare providers to report any death after COVID-19 vaccination to VAERS, even if they are unclear as to whether the vaccine was the root cause.

“Reports of adverse events to VAERS following vaccination, including deaths, do not necessarily mean that a vaccine caused a health problem,” CDC officials say.

While COVID-19 vaccines have been very effective in preventing or reducing severe side effects, hospitalizations and deaths, they have not been able to fully prevent fatalities. But reports of death after COVID-19 vaccination are also uncommon, says the CDC.

Long-term impacts of infection are also a concern, in some surprising ways. A study published in The BMJ last month found that within a year of being infected with COVID-19, patients were significantly more likely to be diagnosed with new psychiatric disorders than people who did not get infected. 

“I would say everyone is experiencing adjustment disorder to a degree,” said Rachael Frederick, MSW, LCSW, Aspirus Health Clinical Therapist. “On top of that we’ve seen more anxiety, depression and even forms of PTSD from those who have recovered or lost a loved one to COVID-19.”

At least two Marathon County supervisors have raised concerns about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines and have asked for a briefing on “vaccine injuries” by the Marathon County Health Department on the impact of the vaccines in the county.

During an educational meeting of the Marathon County Board of Supervisors on Feb. 17, Dist. 30 Supervisor Richard Gumz requested Board Chair Kurt Gibbs to arrange for a briefing. Five days later, Dist. 36 Supervisor Bruce Lamont sought VAERS data for Marathon County “so that we could have more information about vaccine injuries…serious side effects.”

Marathon County Health Officer Laura Scudiere, at the request of Dist. 4 Supervisor John Robinson, said she will seek information from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to satisfy the supervisors’ questions.

“We hope to have report at some future meeting,” Robinson said.

That intended future meeting might be a while away.

“Following the Feb. 22 meeting of the Marathon County Board of Supervisors, I inquired with DHS on the availability of data at the county level and whether someone would be available to make a presentation to the County Board and the Board of Health on VAERS,” Scudiere told Wausau Pilot & Review. “At this time, DHS has indicated that they do not have staff resources available for a presentation in the near future and cannot provide VAERS data at a more granular level than what is already publicly available.”

Scudiere added that she would inform the chairperson of the Marathon County Board and Board of Health if she “learn(ed) of additional capabilities in the future.”

DHS officials confirm that vaccine adverse events are reported directly to the CDC through VAERS.

“As part of the CDC and FDA’s multi-system approach to post-licensure vaccine safety monitoring, VAERS is designed to rapidly detect unusual or unexpected patterns of adverse events, also known as ‘safety signals’,” Jennifer Miller, a DHS spokeswoman, told Wausau Pilot & Review. “If a safety signal is found in VAERS, CDC can conduct further studies in safety systems such as the CDC’s Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD) or the Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment (CISA) project”

Miller also pointed out what CDC and other federal agencies have emphasized about VAERS, referring to a relevant portion from the CDC website: “While very important in monitoring vaccine safety, it is important to note that VAERS reports alone cannot be used to determine if a vaccine caused or contributed to an adverse event or illness. 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.”