I’ve long written about the penchant among antivaxxers for claiming that there is a “vaccine holocaust” due to mass vaccination campaigns. Although not new to the COVID-19 pandemic, this narrative of mass death is a different, more radical form of common antivaccine narratives that before the pandemic would liken “vaccine-induced autism” to the Holocaust, a narrative peddled by antivaxxers like Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and “Dr. Bob” Sears for many years, and in which antivaxxers would co-opt symbols of the Holocaust to liken themselves to Jews living in Hitler’s Third Reich. It’s a misappropriation of the Holocaust that I consider Holocaust denial. Since COVID-19 vaccines started rolling out in December 2020 (and, actually, even before that), the “vaccine holocaust” narrative—often also called the “depopulation agenda“—that blames mass death on COVID-19 vaccines has risen to greater prominence than ever before in popular culture and politics.
What once was a fringe narrative even among antivaxxers has become a key go-to talking point in which antivaxxers seemingly vie to justify eye-popping ever-increasing numbers of dead due to the vaccines, plausibility be damned. Of late (and I’m not sure why), this narrative has reached a fever pitch, hence my decision to revisit the COVID-19 “vaccine holocaust”/”depopulation” conspiracy theory and where the antivax narrative has gone with it. I’ll give you a few examples. First, here’s a video claiming that COVID-19 vaccines have killed 20 million people worldwide in under two years:
Here’s an excerpt:
These numbers are best estimates, at this point in time, using government data for the global consequences of the clot shot in terms of death and morbidity … Now, these numbers are beyond staggering. To contrast that with history, vaccines have typically been pulled from the market – the last one, the bird flu vaccine – was pulled with only 35 — three, five deaths.
I hope people can appreciate the scale of what is going on here. An unimaginable carnage WHICH ISN’T OVER because that number – first of all, is the current estimate. It does not include future deaths of a similar type, which will be cumulative on top of that.
It does not include stillbirths. It does not include those avoidable deaths due to having had a one-disease healthcare system for two and a half years, with people not being treated or investigated for cancer or treated for cancer, for example. Those numbers are not included. The numbers from the lockdowns, the suicides are not included. And also not included are the future deaths that we’re anticipating from a rapid increase in the rate of cancer presentations and fatal infections because of immune suppression induced by the clot shot. Those factors are IN ADDITION TO those jaw-dropping numbers that I just mentioned.
Let’s just do a little reality check on this number, as The Real Truther did sarcastically:
Before I elaborate in my usual inimitable fashion on what’s meant by the question above, though, a little background is in order, particularly given that the claim that’s been going around with this claim of over 20 million dead in less than two years is that there have also been over 2 billion “vaccine injuries” from COVID-19 vaccines, as touted on an antivax Substack—but I repeat myself—by someone going by the ‘nym The Vigilant Fox, who proclaims 20 Million Dead from the Jab, 2.2 Billion Injuries – Analyst Estimates, noting that these “numbers are beyond staggering.” They would be if they were accurate. But where did this claim come from. The Vigilant Fox was just repeating a claim from a video, as was the Rumble video above. It turns out that this “analyst” is a financial analyst, not an epidemiologist, public health scientist/physician, or anyone with the relevant expertise to come to such an estimate and originated with an antivax Substack—but I repeat myself again—by someone named Peter Halligan entitled 20 million saved or 20 million killed.
What amused me about his post is that the estimate of 20 million dead appears to have been basically made up in order to match the claim of 20 million lives saved by COVID-19 vaccines that was estimated in a study published in June in Lancet Infectious Diseases that estimated that global vaccination campaigns against COVID-19 had prevented 19.8 million deaths in the first year after the vaccines had become available. This was a modeling study, which means that people who know epidemiological and modeling methodology might have some nits to pick with its design and methodology. Halligan is, of course, not an epidemiologist or a public health mathematical modeler, however, which means that his criticism of the study starts at the funding source:
A bright red flag is here:
“This work was supported by a Schmidt Science Fellowship in partnership with the Rhodes Trust (OJW), Centre funding from the UK Medical Research Council (all authors), grant funding from WHO (OJW, ABH, PW, and ACG), Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (JT and ACG), support from the Imperial College Research Fellowship (PW and ABH), and support from the National Institute for Health Research Health Protection Research Unit in Modelling Methodology and Community Jameel (all authors). We thank Sondre Ulvund Solstad from The Economist for developing excess mortality statistics and their help in interpreting these estimates.”
Oh, no! The study was funded by a trifecta of evil in antivax eyes, the World Health Organization, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health! So automatically it’s nonsense to antivaxxers, because, you know, Bill Gates and the WHO. Then Halligan cites an article published by the libertarian-leaning astroturf “think tank,” the Brownstone Institute, written by a retired chemist named Roger Koops, who similarly doesn’t have relevant expertise, given that he lists his expertise as having worked in the “Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology Industry for over 25 years” with “12 years as a Consultant focused on Quality Assurance/Control and issues related to Regulatory Compliance.” (I’m not sure why he capitalized all those words, probably just to make them look more important.) Unsurprisingly, Koops is also affiliated with the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), the “free market think tank” where the founder of the Brownstone Institute, Jeffrey Tucker, had served in the leadership before leaving in 2021 to found his “spiritual child of the Great Barrington Declaration,” the “let ‘er rip” strategy that sought to reach “natural herd immunity” before there were even any vaccines available. Anything to change a COVID-19 holocaust into a “vaccine holocaust,” I guess.
Halligan’s criticisms of the study boil down to JAQing off, and I’m going to start with the most vile and brain dead of them, just to give you an idea:
By the time the vaccines were introduced in December 2020, the most susceptible people for serious disease and death had already succumbed to the disease. The elderly people who did become infected and survived during 2020 now had natural immunity working for them. As with any yearly infectious disease epidemic, you get years of high mortality followed by years of lesser severity simply because the most susceptible people succumb early while others go on.
December 2020 was only one year after the virus had first been identified as a new disease in Wuhan, China. As we know from the subsequent course of the pandemic, by December 2020 far from “everyone” had been infected, much less that most or all of the “most susceptible people” had already succumbed to the virus. I can’t help but note how much Brownstone flacks squawk when I (and others) call the Great Barrington Declaration eugenicist (which it is), even as its flacks also publish articles like the one by Koops that demonstrate blatantly eugenicist thinking like the passage above.
His other reasons are little better. Actually, they’re no better, for instance:
By the time the vaccines were introduced in December 2020, the next variants were emerging (“Delta”). The natural evolutionary course of viruses is towards less lethality. Increased transmissibility is certainly possible since these tend to the viruses that survive.
Add that to the fact that the vaccines were only designed to deal (partially at that) with the original source virus of Covid, and you have the vaccine not even entering into the equation.
This is, of course, nonsense. There’s no good evidence that the Delta variant was significantly less lethal than the original Wuhan strain (and some evidence suggesting that it might even have been slightly more lethal), and the evidence is mixed whether Omicron variants were less lethal. Moreover, the natural evolutionary course for pathogenic viruses is not necessarily toward less lethality, particularly when the infection fatality rate of the original is already relatively low, as it was for SARS-CoV-2. Rather, in such a case the selection pressures on the virus are for higher transmissibility and the ability to evade immune responses from infections with previous strains, which is largely what drove the evolution of the Omicron variants, and immunity from vaccines.
The rest of Koops’ “reasoning”—such as it is—is no better. Apparently living in a fantasy world, Koops claims:
By the time the vaccines were introduced in December 2020, physicians the world over had learned how to deal with the most severe cases of Covid. The vast majority of people still experienced mild disease and were in little danger but the more serious cases could be handled by effective treatments and by avoiding the dangerous actions such as ventilation.
What planet is Koops living on? Also, note his invocation of the dangerous conspiracy theory that doctors were “killing patients” by putting them on ventilators too fast, which has no evidence to support it, no matter how eminent of a scientist parroted the claim early in the pandemic. As for what treatments were available in December 2020, given that Paxlovid hadn’t been approved yet, I can only assume he’s talking about convalescent plasma, monoclonal antibodies, and, of course, the favorite ineffective repurposed drugs of the antivaccine movement, hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. Koops also invokes “natural immunity” and claims that the authors didn’t take into account the higher lethality of SARS-CoV-2 in older people, but right in the methods we see:
Our vaccine impact estimates were dependent on the assumed level of immune escape shown by the delta variant and the assumed relationship between age and the IFR. In the scenario in which the epidemic wave caused by the delta variant was comparable to previous waves and neither reached herd immunity nor resulted in health-system capacity being breached, our estimates of vaccine impact were unchanged regardless of the assumed level of immune evasion associated with the delta variant (appendix p 21). However, in scenarios in which the introduction of the delta variant produced a significantly larger wave that resulted in herd immunity being reached in the counterfactual, increased immune escape associated with the delta variant resulted in an increased number of averted deaths due to the larger effective size of the susceptible population. In sensitivity analyses in which the relationship between age and IFR was changed, we estimated that vaccine impact would be greater in scenarios with higher IFRs, reflecting the higher number of deaths that could be averted by vaccination (appendix p 22).
That’s what modelers do. They vary their assumptions that go into their models and calculate the impact of changing different inputs, all to test the robustness of their models They also take into account the uncertainty and variability in the data used as their inputs, again, to test how much they alter the outputs calculated using their mathematical model.
There are some other howlers in Koops’ “critique” too, including the claim that it is “almost impossible to predict mortality (future or past), especially with common respiratory viruses.” (Influenza would like a word with Koops, given how many decades of data we have estimating just that from year to year.) As a cancer doctor, I also laughed out loud at this analogy:
Even with more established diseases such as cancer, predicting mortality can be a tricky thing. That is why estimates are given for survival based upon stage of diagnosis and treatments, but they are only estimates. Under no circumstance does any medical professional state that by using radiation treatment we save X number of lives each year from cancer.
Funny, but oncologists and cancer scientists have been estimating exactly that for literally decades for cancer treatments like radiation therapy and chemotherapy. (I could cite many more references.) Yes, they are “estimates,” but we can indeed estimate—and estimate fairly accurately, at that!—that by using, for example, more X much more radiation therapy we will save Y number more lives each year. Oncologists literally state this sort of thing all the time. Koops’ ignorance of basic epidemiology is staggering, leading to this hilarious passage:
I could also write a program that predicts mortality based upon what style of shoe a person wears or what kind of car they drive. For example, younger people may be more inclined to wear a particular style of sneaker and since younger people are least likely to die from Covid, I could calculate that wearing that type of sneaker saves lives.
Confounders. Has Koops never heard of correcting for confounders? Yes, he could do something like that, but, given that he fails even to mention confounders (e.g., socioeconomic status, which most definitely influences the cars people drive and the clothes they purchase), the results of such an exercise by him would do little more than provide an amusing exercise for Epidemiology 101 students to dissect to find the errors and identify the missed confounders.
Whatever the level of uncertainty in the estimates of how many deaths were prevented by COVID-19 vaccines, it’s a large number in the tens of millions range, and Koops’ foolishness doesn’t change that. But where did the antivax estimate of 20 million dead due to vaccines come from? This is apparently how, courtesy of Halligan, we get the latest “vaccine holocaust”:
The Lazarus Report showing less than one in 100 vaccination injuries are reported – see page 6 of 7 here that states “..fewer than 1% of vaccine adverse events are reported. Low reporting rates preclude or slow the identification of “problem” drugs and vaccines that endanger public health.”
Electronic Support for Public Health–Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (ESP:VAERS) (ahrq.gov)
Using a one in 100 under-reporting factor (URF) would make the injections horribly deadly and injurious (1.4 million deaths and 85 million injuries for the 600 million doses administered).
A more recent attempt at estimating the URF is around 40, here:
Determining the VAERS Under-Reporting Multiplier (healthimpactnews.com)
So, EU+US deaths = 13,972 + 46,999 = 60,971 deaths
and EU+US injuries = 854,084 + 6,089,773 = 6,943,857 (multiple per person, half of which are “serious”).
Multiply by 40 for URF and then by 8 to “globalize”
Global deaths are around 19.5 million SO FAR and global injuries are around 2.2 billion.
You can see all the assumptions here, the first and most important of which is that that every death reported to VAERS was actually caused by the vaccine. As I’ve described in multiple posts, you have to consider the baseline rate of deaths that occur every day in the US to compare any VAERS estimate to. I explained this in detail over a year and a half ago, but, in brief, according to the CDC the yearly number of deaths in the US in 2019 was 2,854,838, for a rate of 869.7 deaths per 100,000 population. In other words, less than 1% of the US population dies every year, but that’s still a big number. Immediately before the pandemic around 7,821 people died each and every day. If you start vaccinating millions of people in a short period of time, by random chance alone and the law of large numbers, there will be a fairly large number of people who die within, say, 30 days of being vaccinated even if the vaccine has absolutely nothing to do with their deaths. That’s why VAERS numbers, divorced from baseline rates, are utterly meaningless, and, as the VAERS website itself states, VAERS cannot reliably determine incidence and prevalence of an adverse event (AE) after vaccination. That’s not what it was designed to do. Rather, it was designed as an early warning system to generate safety signals that produce hypotheses of specific possible AEs after vaccination to be investigated further, and that’s how the CDC uses it.
But what about Halligan’s claim that “only 1%” of vaccine injuries are ever reported to VAERS? First of all, it’s not accurate. Rather, it’s a hoary old antivax trope dating back a very long time, as Dr. Vincent Iannelli noted years ago:
Have you heard the claim that only 1% of serious vaccine reactions are reported to VAERS?
That’s not true.
That claim is based on an old study about drug reactions and was not specific to vaccines.
We also know that underreporting is less common for more severe adverse reactions than for those that are more mild. For example, one study found that up to 68% of cases of vaccine-associated poliomyelitis (a table injury) were reported to VAERS, while less than 1% of episodes of rash following the MMR vaccine were reported.
That’s not to say that only severe or serious adverse reactions should be reported.
Moreover, the more serious the AE—and death is obviously the most serious and dramatic of all AEs—the less underreporting is a problem. Think about it this way. If you get a sore arm or a transient fever after a vaccination, you’re far less likely to go to the trouble of reporting it to VAERS than if, for instance, a relative dies after a vaccination. The more serious the AE, the more likely it is to be reported. Moreover, it’s certainly not true that only 1% of deaths after vaccination are reported to VAERS, and, because VAERS is designed to look at unusual patterns of reports, even if reporting is less than 100% VAERS still works pretty well to identify even uncommon AEs. Moreover, although antivaxxers love to misrepresent VAERS as the be-all and end-all of vaccine safety monitoring (mainly because VAERS is easy to game and misinterpret), there are other more reliable systems tracking AEs after vaccination, such as the Vaccine Safety Datalink project, the Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment Network, and the Vaccine Analytic Unit.
I also note that that “underreporting factor” of >40 was a number made up by none other than Steve Kirsch, the tech bro turned rabid antivaxxer who based his estimate on a lot of handwaving and BS. None of that has stopped Kirsch’s estimate of a 41-fold underreporting rate for serious vaccine injury to VAERS from becoming gospel in antivaxland. Finally, note how casually Halligan takes estimates (as massively flawed and misleading as they are) derived from supposed underreporting in VAERS and applies them to the European Union database (EUDRA) numbers as though an estimate from VAERS could even reasonably be extrapolated to a completely different reporting system. To say that this estimate is nonsense is an understatement. It’s basically a clueless incompetent twit handwaving and cherry picking estimates that allow him to come up with estimates for vaccine injuries and deaths that are as high as he can make them. Unsurprisingly, antivaxxers have now amplified this number. I’m only surprised that I don’t recall having seen it in August when Halligan first estimated it.
Another useful technique to evaluate numbers such as the ones Halligan “estimated” for vaccine injuries and deaths is even simpler. All it takes is some common sense and knowing which numbers to find to compare to the estimates. So let’s critically examine the claim that 20 million people died because of COVID-19 vaccines in a mere 20 months (as of August). The first question to ask is: How many people die every year worldwide? It’s not as though those statistics don’t exist, and, in fact, around 55 million people died worldwide in 2019. I’ll keep this next part simple and say that 20 million deaths over 20 months would equal around 12 million extra deaths per year. It defies credibility to claim that public health authorities would not have quickly noticed a more than 20% increase in the death rate—all of it associated with vaccination—particularly in wealthier countries, where the vaccines rolled out first that also not coincidentally have much more extensive public health infrastructure and record keeping capabilities. To “explain” such a number going unreported—unnoticed, even!—antivaxxers resort to inventing all sorts of conspiracy theories about governments and the WHO (and, of course, Anthony Fauci and Bill Gates) covering up all those deaths.
Then there’s the even more unbelievable claim that there are 2.2 billion “vaccine injured.” Think about that number. The population of the entire world is currently estimated to be just under 8 billion people. That means that 2.2 billion people represent around 27.5% of the entire world’s population! Again, it should strain credulity of even the most credulous antivaxxer to believe that public health authorities wouldn’t very quickly notice such a massive number of “vaccine injuries.” Again, the only way antivaxxers can explain it is by invoking conspiracy theories to cover up The Truth, while trying to blame every unexpected death of anyone who is not extremely elderly and frail on COVID-19 vaccinations. (Sometimes, they even blame the deaths of frail nonagenarians on COVID-19 vaccines; e.g., Betty White and Queen Elizabeth II.)
Unfortunately, invoking the Holocaust to portray vaccines as causing another “holocaust”—a “vaccine holocaust”—is an old antivax narrative. Back in the day, when I was but a newbie countering antivax misinformation, the claim that vaccines were killing huge numbers of people and that the CDC (along the WHO, Bill Gates, etc.) was covering up the carnage was considered fringe even among antivaxxers. Now it’s mainstream, even as antivax influencers seemingly vie with each other to crank up the numbers as high as possible, even beyond the realm of even retaining a hint of plausibility. I don’t doubt that soon an antivaxxer somewhere will come up with an estimate that vaccines kill more people every year than the number of people who actually die every year. It’s coming. I just know it.