By Marcy Stamper
With almost 100 million Americans vaccinated against COVID-19 – and millions more vaccines administered around the world – it’s inevitable that there will be adverse events among people who’ve been vaccinated, even if those reactions aren’t connected to the vaccine, Okanogan County Coroner Dave Rodriguez said.
Particularly because the first people to receive the vaccine are elderly or have a medical condition that puts them at higher risk from COVID, these people also have an elevated risk of death from another cause, he said.
In Okanogan County, two people have died within a few days of receiving a COVID vaccine, although these people clearly died from other medical conditions and had not been healthy, Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez has been tracking reports of complications from COVID vaccines. The only link that’s been documented is an anaphylactic response. Allergic reactions happen very quickly – within 15 minutes or an hour of the vaccine, not days, Rodriguez said.
Deaths from an allergic reaction are exceedingly rare. The most recent data Rodriguez reviewed showed five deaths after some 2 million vaccines were administered.
Because he’s fairly isolated in Okanogan County, Rodriguez raised the issue at a March meeting of the Washington Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners, which has developed standardized protocols that include reporting COVID vaccinations.
Since the COVID vaccines are all so new, the long-term effects can’t be known yet. Any time there’s a reaction to a vaccine – any vaccine, even one that’s been in use for a long time – a health care provider reports it to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).
VAERS is a national early-warning system to detect possible safety problems in vaccines licensed in the United States. The system is co-managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. VAERS can identify unusual or unexpected patterns that might indicate possible safety problems.
Health care providers report clinically significant adverse events to VAERS, even if they aren’t sure that vaccination caused the event. The system is also used by individuals to report their own vaccine reactions and those of family members. VAERS data are available to the public.
Medical examiners and coroners are strongly encouraged to report deaths occurring after COVID-19 vaccine administration to VAERS, irrespective of attribution to vaccination.
Whether a deceased person has recently been vaccinated is just one piece of the investigation, Rodriguez said. After determining whether the death is natural, Rodriguez examines the condition of the body and talks with family and friends about the person’s medical history and how the individual was feeling before the death. He consults with health care providers and inspects medical records, and looks at items in the home such as prescription medications.
As part of this process, if the individual had COVID symptoms, Rodriguez performs a nasal swab, which is sent to a lab for confirmation. If he learns that the person recently had a COVID vaccine (or any vaccine), he completes the VAERS form.
For more information on VAERS, visit vaers.hhs.gov.