COVID-19 vaccination: Sammy Gyamfi’s use of WHO’s data on side effects misleading

On Wednesday, December 15, the National Communication Officer of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), Sammy Gyamfi, made a tweet to back his opposition to mandatory Covid-19 vaccination. His tweet suggested that after taking the COVID-19 vaccine, one is likely to suffer adverse side effects including death. His tweet cited data from VigiAccess on adverse drug reactions (ADR) reported by the general public on COVID-19 vaccines.

Sammy Gyamfi’s tweet followed the government of Ghana’s new COVID-19 protocols for international travels, which include mandatory vaccination for unvaccinated travellers.

Fact-Check Ghana has verified the data from VigiAccess and concludes that the National Communication Officer of the NDC’s claim is misleading.

VigiAccess says side effects does not mean vaccines caused them

VigiAccess was launched by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2015. It is a global database of reported potential side effects or ADRs of medicinal products of which the COVID-19 vaccines are part.

On its website, VigiAccess explains that the data is “intended as a useful starting point for people who wish to understand more about the types of potential side effects that have been reported in association with the use of medicinal products.”

It, however, cautions that “VigiAccess cannot be used to infer any confirmed link between a suspected side effect and any specific medicine.”

VigiAcces further gives the following explanation on its website:

“Information in VigiAccess on potential side effects should not be interpreted as meaning that the medicinal product or its active substance either caused the observed effect or is unsafe to use. Confirming a causal link is a complex process that requires a thorough scientific assessment and detailed evaluation of all available data. The information on this website, therefore, does not reflect any confirmed link between a medicinal product and a side effect.”

Thus, despite the ADR data on COVID vaccines reported by the general public, the fact that one suffered a particular side effect after taking a medicinal product does mean the side effect was caused by the medicinal product.

People are using our data on COVID-19 vaccines in misleading ways, VigiAccess tells Fact-Check Ghana

Fact-Check Ghana wrote to the Uppsala Monitoring Centre (UMC), WHO’s programme for International Drug Monitoring, who are also the managers of the VigiAccess data, for further explanation on the data on their website about COVID-19 vaccines adverse drug reactions (ADRs). Fact-Check Ghana cited Sammy Gyamfi’s tweet to the UMC for an explanation.

Maria Näsström, Internal Controller at the UMC, who responded to our request for a comment in an email said the growing misrepresentation of their data was worrying.

“Unfortunately, over recent months, we have seen countless versions of it shared on social media in highly misleading ways,” she said.

She further directed the team to a comment by Helena Skold, VigiBase Manager at Uppsala Monitoring Centre (UMC) to AP News, based in New York.

“Neither WHO or UMC vets the reports of suspected side effects in VigiBase (shown in VigiAccess) upon submission. The nature of spontaneous reporting, however, makes it very difficult to prove that reports are falsified as reporters are often anonymous,” Helena Skold told AP News.

“We only do a basic validation to confirm that the minimum required information is included,” she added.

Thus, from the information above, Sammy Gyamfi’s claim suggesting that COVID-19 is the cause of the side effects listed on the VigiAccess data is misleading.

This report is produced under the project: COVID-19 Response in Africa: Together for Reliable Information being implemented with funding support from the European Union.

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