Fact check: False claim COVID-19 vaccines caused 1.1 million deaths – USA TODAY

Since COVID-19 vaccines first became available in late 2020, vaccine skeptics have twisted public health data to say the vaccines are actually harmful to recipients.
One such claim comes from a Nov. 24 article from The Expose, a website that has published multiple pieces of misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.
“Secret CDC Report reveals at least 1.1 Million Americans have ‘Died Suddenly’ since the COVID Vaccine roll-out & another Government Report proves the COVID Vaccines are to blame,” reads the article’s headline.
The piece was shared more than 700 times on Facebook in a month, according to the social media analytics tool CrowdTangle.
But the article is incorrect. The data source it cites does not list any cause for reported excess deaths in the U.S. Experts say COVID-19 infections make up most of those deaths.
Follow us on Facebook! Like our page to get updates throughout the day on our latest debunks
The Expose article is based on data collected by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development from publicly available CDC reports that show there were more than 1 million excess deaths during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report compares the average number of deaths in a given week from 2015-2019 to the period between December 2020, when vaccines first were authorized in the U.S., and the week of Sept. 25, 2022. It does show 1.1 million more deaths than would be expected historically.
There is, however, no publicly available evidence from the CDC or elsewhere to suggest those deaths were the result of the COVID-19 vaccines, according to Miguel Gorman, a spokesman for the organization, which compiles and tracks COVID-19 data.
“We don’t currently have information regarding cause of death to determine what caused the excess deaths,” Gorman said in an email.
Other experts pointed to COVID-19 itself as the culprit.
“The bulk of the excess deaths were a direct result of COVID-19 infections, but pandemics have major cascading impacts on all aspects of society,” Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told The Washington Post.
For example, Adalja suggested the pandemic could have indirectly led to a rise in drug overdoses, as drug users were less likely to seek treatment and more likely to be in isolation.
Cynthia Cox, a vice president with the Kaiser Family Foundation, said her organization is planning to look at excess deaths soon but also said COVID-19 was likely the biggest factor in the excess deaths.
A brief from the foundation said COVID-19 is likely to be the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2022 for the third year in a row. That report says the disease was responsible for 475,000 deaths in 2021 and 230,000 deaths in the first nine months of 2022. That’s the equivalent of two-thirds of the excess deaths identified in the CDC report.
Full data for 2022 is not in yet, but Cox said the opioid epidemic also significantly contributed to excess deaths in 2020 and 2021. She said it would not be surprising for it to be a significant part of the equation again in 2022.
Other research points to COVID-19 vaccines saving a significant number of lives.For example, a recent study from the Commonwealth Fund estimated the COVID-19 vaccines saved more than 3 million lives in the U.S.
The post from The Expose also points to data from the United Kingdom it says bolsters its claim that the vaccine is causing deaths instead of saving lives, but that analysis falls apart as well.
The article cites a July data set from the Office for National Statistics, the U.K.’s national statistical institute. The Expose claims the data show that vaccinated people are more likely to die than the unvaccinated across all age groups, then tries to apply what it says are death rates from the data to the excess deaths in the U.S.
But that analysis makes several mistakes, according to Sarah Caul, head of mortality analysis at the office. Among them is the same mistake made with the data aggregated by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development – the data doesn’t show a causal link between the vaccines and deaths.
A different Office for National Statistics data set shows just 59 deaths reported in England and Wales from March 2020 to November 2022 where vaccines were mentioned on the death certificate as an underlying or contributory cause of death. 
The Expose’s article is also inconsistent with which subgroups are used to represent each age group, particularly when it comes to how long it has been since the last dose of a vaccine, she noted. It does not account for factors such as the health of vaccine recipients and the size of the subgroups.
USA TODAY has previously debunked claims published by The Expose on public health, including baseless assertions that the CDC manipulated data about the miscarriage rate in vaccinated women and that monkeypox is a side effect of COVID-19 vaccines.
AFP and PolitiFact also debunked the claim that COVID-19 vaccines were causing excess deaths.
Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that COVID-19 vaccines caused 1.1 million excess deaths in the U.S. Public health data points to the disease as a major contributor to excess deaths, not the vaccine. Research shows the vaccines to be safe and effective at preventing deaths. The claim originated with a website that has repeatedly made false claims about COVID-19. 
Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.
Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.