During the September 20 broadcast of Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson railed against the COVID-19 vaccination requirement for active duty service members, lying that thousands have died from the vaccine.
In a segment that included claims that the vaccination requirements are a ploy to weed out and expel “sincere Christians in the ranks, the free thinkers, the men with high testosterone levels, and anyone else who does not love Joe Biden,” and accusations that the U.S. military runs “P.R. for satanism,” Carlson claimed that a presentation given to members of the Army “falsely claims that only three people have died from taking the COVID vaccine.”
Carlson then told viewers that “reports collected by the Biden administration itself indicate that number is actually in the thousands.”
Carlson’s false claim that thousands are dying from COVID-19 vaccinations has been circulating online and on social media for months, and it’s based on a dishonest interpretation of data from the U.S. Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. VAERS gives the public open access to report incidents of possible adverse reactions to vaccinations. As explained by PolitiFact:
It’s designed so that anyone — parents, patients and health care professionals — can freely report any health effects that occur after a vaccination, according to the CDC, whether or not those effects are believed to be caused by the vaccine. The reports are not verified before they’re entered into the database. But anyone with a computer can search the data, download it, sort through the numbers and interpret them as they wish.
That makes VAERS fertile ground for vaccine misinformation that spreads widely on social media and elsewhere. Even though VAERS warns its users that reports should not be used on their own to determine whether a vaccine caused or contributed to a particular illness, many who tap into the system do that anyway, citing these government statistics to justify broader conclusions about what they consider the dangers of vaccines.
VAERS is intended to serve as a catch-all system that allows for minor complications to be identified while also dealing with a significant amount of statistical noise. VAERS’ own data guide states that “a report to VAERS,” including a report of death, “generally does not prove that the identified vaccine(s) caused the adverse event described. It only confirms that the reported event occurred sometime after vaccine was given. No proof that the event was caused by the vaccine is required in order for VAERS to accept the report.” VAERS requires users to acknowledge multiple disclaimers about the manner in which the data is gathered before allowing them access to the database.
This is not the first time Carlson has made claims of this nature. In May of this year Carlson claimed that “official government data” indicated dozens of people a day were dying after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
Carlson’s monologue helped mainstream a conspiracy theory that has become common in right-wing media. Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk claimed in July that as many as 1.2 million people may have been killed by the COVID-19 vaccine. One America News hosts repeated claims that the vaccine had potentially killed thousands of Americans.