On May 6, 2021, Fox News host Tucker Carlson said:

We all assume the risks are negligible. Vaccines aren’t dangerous. That’s not a guess, we know that pretty conclusively...Every flu season, we give influenza shots to more than 160 million Americans. Every year, a relatively small number of people seem to die after getting those shots. To be precise, in 2019, that number was 203 people. The year before, it was 119. In 2017, a total of 85 people died from the flu shot.

Every death is tragic, but big picture, we don’t consider those numbers disqualifying. We keep giving flu shots, and very few people complain about it. So the question is how do those numbers compare to the death rate from the coronavirus vaccines now being distributed across the country?...

Here’s the answer, which comes from the same set of government numbers that we just listed: Between late December of 2020, and last month, a total of 3,362 people apparently died after getting the COVID vaccines in the United States. Three thousand, three hundred and sixty-two — that’s an average of 30 people every day...The data we just cited comes from the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System — VAERS — which is managed by the CDC and the FDA...

It’s clear that what is happening now, for whatever reason, is not even close to normal. It’s not even close to what we’ve seen in previous years with previous vaccines.

Is Carlson's claim correct, that unusually many people are dying after receiving COVID-19 vaccines?

Full transcript

EDIT: This question is related but not the same as Have more deaths occurred after Covid-19 vaccines than from vaccine injuries in the previous 15 years in total?. For instance, this claim only says "unusually more." And the other top answer cites ages differences in COVID vs vaccines in general. That point wouldn't apply to the flu vs COVID comparison that the source made here.


This has been fact-checked extensively:

All following quotes are from the Washington Post.

It may be a stunning picture, but it’s also a highly misleading and cherry-picked one. The most crucial thing to note at the outset is that just because someone died after getting the vaccine doesn’t mean they died because of it.

So when Tucker Carlson says "a total of 3,362 people apparently died after getting the COVID vaccines in the United States" that can include people who died in a car crash, or who already had a terminal illness. He quotes no figures for "people who died because of the Covid vaccine." The statistics he is quoting are entirely irrelevant to the safety of the Covid vaccine.

The data is unreliable.

[...]data in the VAERS system is unverified. Anyone can submit claims about what happened to them or someone they know. The idea is to give the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tons of data to use and then evaluate potential links between vaccines and side effects. As The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss noted last month:"anti-vaccination activists routinely exaggerate the dangers of vaccines by misinterpreting and misusing data from EudraVigilance and from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), a U.S. government database that allows anyone to self-report “possible side effects or health problems” experienced after a vaccine, even minor ones such as soreness at the injection site."

In other words, the VAERS system contains any event that somebody, somewhere, with or without any medical or statistical training, with or without their own agenda, has reported as possibly being related to the Covid vaccines. It is intended as raw data that needs to be analysed, and the CDC has in fact done the analysis:

The CDC, for its part, says it has analyzed the reports of deaths after coronavirus vaccines through May 3 and found no connection between the vaccine and deaths. “A review of available clinical information, including death certificates, autopsy, and medical records has not established a causal link to COVID-19 vaccines,” it says.

The flu figures are much more restrictive, and only contain deaths if they occur after one of a specific list of adverse effects that occurs in a relatively short time window.

The figures Carlson quotes for Covid and flu vaccines are in no way comparable.

Even without this counter-information, 30 people dying per day is not alarming.

According to CDC data, an estimated 8,000 Americans die every day of all causes. That’s 1 in every 41,000 people, every day. If you apply that number to 135 million people who are vaccinated, you’d expect that more than 3,000 people who were vaccinated would be dying every day right now — again, of something. That’s significantly more than the 30 per day Carlson suggests is alarming.

We expect about 8000 people a day to die in the US, and with 135 million vaccinated we expect about 3300 people with the vaccine to die each day - almost all of things entirely unrelated to the vaccine, but still (as Carlson puts it) "after getting the vaccine". (8000*135/328=3292). So having 3000 people with the vaccine die in a few months is not in the slightest unexpected.

And the vaccinated population isn’t just a random sample of 135 million Americans; the earliest vaccine efforts focused on elderly people who were more susceptible to the worst of the virus — and were also more susceptible to dying of other causes. In other words, we’d expect more deaths from all causes of vaccinated people.

The figures for people dying after the flu vaccine are wrong.

There is no question that exponentially more than 203 out of 100 million people who got the flu vaccine in 2019 went on to die of something in the months that followed.

Specifically about 2000 people (3000 * 100/135, or 8000 * 100/328) are expected to die every day after they get the flu shot (virtually all for entirely unrelated reasons), which is hugely different from the figure of 203 per year that Carlson quotes. Carlson actually flips between saying his numbers are "after getting the flu shot" and "from the flu shot", another reason to not take his piece seriously. In any case, he is quoting two completely different measures for flu and Covid, and is being misleading by trying to compare the two.

Also please read Fizz's answer which explains why the reporting of deaths for Covid and flu vaccines are so different.

See also:

  • 27
    That last quote is a total mis-use of the word "exponential". – Hagen von Eitzen May 8 at 22:05
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    To be fair, those counted as "dead by covid-19" actually "died after being tested positive" and not "died because of effects of the virus"... if this makes sense for the illness, it makes sense for the vaccine. – Haukinger May 9 at 14:38
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    @Haukinger It is somewhat fair to compare "died after SARS-CoV-2 vaccination" to "died after testing positive for SARS-CoV-2", although worth noting that the latter is an under-count of the better and unknown statistic "died after contracting SARS-CoV-2". But that's not what is being compared, and not part of the claims in the answer or quoted in the question, and thus bears no relevance here. – Matthew Read May 9 at 17:23
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    People who are vaccinated are not representative of the total population. Vaccination campaigns in many countries started mostly with old people and risk groups. Therefore, we should expect vaccinated people to be more likely to die than unvaccinated people (at least for the first cohorts), even if the vaccine is a placebo. – gerrit May 9 at 20:31
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    "just because someone died after getting the vaccine doesn’t mean they died because of it." is ironic because it's the exact same argument these people are trying to use to pretend the COVID death count is fake! – user253751 May 10 at 9:25

Since this Q is going for a more direct comparison of deaths "after" Covid-19 vaccines vs deaths "after" influenza ones (per 1st para in the quote), as detailed in an answer to a linked question, which would have been more fitting to give here, the flu vaccines have a different mandatory reporting standard to VAERS, compared to Covid-19 vaccines. For the latter any death following a vaccination has to be reported by healthcare providers. This has been reiterated by the CDC in a recent publication:

Under EUAs for each COVID-19 vaccine, health care providers are required to report several types of adverse events to VAERS, including all deaths.

For the influenza ones, only deaths that follow as a complication of a small and time-limited number of adverse effects arising from anaphylaxis etc. are required to be reported. (There's no time window of limitation for the death itself, but there is one for the initial reaction, typically 7 days. If death occurs without it being preceded by a reaction from the list in that [usually small] window, there's no requirement to report the death through VAERS.)

  • 2
    That's extremely good information. May I steal it for my answer? – DJClayworth May 8 at 14:26
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    This makes a lot of sense - it's a brand new vaccine, you'd want to have a chance of spotting any random adverse effects, but we've got a pretty good idea of the flu shot's adverse effects now. Makes the risk comparisions almost impossible, but it tracks the things scientists are looking for, and is probably why we know about the risks of blood clots in younger people for the AZ/J&J vaccines now – lupe May 8 at 16:13
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    @DJClayworth It's not stealing if you use it under the licence terms, – Möoz May 11 at 0:57

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