The claim: Miscarriages have increased by 366% because of the COVID-19 vaccine
While vaccines are generally considered safe for pregnant women and new mothers, this group’s exclusion from COVID-19 vaccine trials has left health care professionals with no clear data to guide their patients.
But a new study released by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in late March found that the vaccines based on messenger RNA, or mRNA, conferred good protection against the virus to both pregnant and lactating women, and likely their newborns.
These encouraging results come on the heels of social media buzz claiming that, instead of protection, the COVID-19 vaccines are causing pregnant women to miscarry.
“Miscarriages skyrocket 350% in six weeks due to k*vid vacsines (sic),” writes one Facebook user in a March 29 post.
“Hmm… & y’all said it was safe. y’all said it was just ‘conspiracy theories’ when talking about the effect it would have on women’s fertility,” writes another user in a March 30 post that includes a screenshot of a headline from Natural News, a known conspiracy theory site, asserting the same claim as the March 29 post but with a figure of “366%.”
Fact check: Nursing newborns are not having reactions to COVID-19 vaccine
USA TODAY has reached out to both posters for further comment.
Miscarriage claim based on UK data
This is not the first time claims of miscarriages following COVID-19 vaccination have circulated on social media. Earlier this year, several viral posts on Facebook and Instagram claimed a Tulsa-based physician’s miscarriage was linked to the vaccine despite the fact it actually happened weeks before her first vaccination, Business Insider reported.
Similar claims have been addressed by independent fact checking organizations like the Agence France-Presse. Claims that the COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility in women have been debunked by USA TODAY.
So where does this 350% or 366% figure cited in the Facebook posts come from?
The source appears to be London-based alternative news site The Daily Expose, which, according to its website, markets its mission as “to report the facts that the mainstream refuse to.”
In late March, The Daily Expose claimed that data from the U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency’s Yellow Card Scheme (the British equivalent to the U.S. Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) showed an increase in miscarriages over a six-week period.
“Using data inputted to the MHRA Yellow Card Scheme (from Dec. 9, 2020) up to 24th January 2021 a total of 4 women had suffered a miscarriage as a result of having the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine,” that article claims, including two more after vaccination with AstraZeneca’s vaccine.
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After Jan. 24 to March 7, the total count goes up to 28 miscarriages for both vaccines which, accordingly, is a 366% increase. USA TODAY was able to verify the exact numbers provided in the January and March reports (here and here for Pfizer; here and here for AstraZeneca).
But the data is missing important context
While the Daily Expose’s arithmetic isn’t wrong, its conclusion isn’t exactly right.
“There is no pattern to suggest an elevated risk of miscarriage related to exposure to the COVID-19 vaccines in pregnancy,” said the MHRA in a statement to Reuters.
The agency explained the number of women vaccinated between December to March had to be considered alongside the expected frequency of miscarriage in a population.
“The numbers of people who have received a 1st dose COVID-19 vaccination increased from 1,340,043 to 4,322,791 for the same time frame. At least half of these would be expected to be women, so the number of women of child-bearing age (taking the vaccine) is estimated to have increased from 665,424 to 2,146,866 for the same time frame,” said the MHRA.
It is estimated that as many as 26% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, with nearly 80% of early miscarriages happening in the first 12 weeks, or first trimester, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Given this, the MHRA acknowledged “some miscarriages would be expected to occur following vaccination purely by chance.”
The Daily Expose article also claims two separate incidences of a premature birth and a stillbirth following vaccination. The MHRA explained that in the U.K., around eight in 100 births are premature so some would be expected to happen after vaccination also “purely by chance.”
The MHRA, however, disputed the claim of the stillbirth, telling Reuters some events can be incorrectly reported. It confirmed “no actual stillbirths” were reported to the agency at the time of its statement to Reuters in late March.
It’s important to note the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have stated there is no evidence the COVID-19 vaccine is unsafe during pregnancy, although both caution there is still little data.
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A data review released last month by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices did find that over 30,000 pregnant women have been safely vaccinated for COVID-19. The review looked at data collected between December and January by the CDC’s V-safe monitoring system and VAERS. While there were reports of miscarriages, stillbirth or other adverse pregnancy-related outcomes, they did not occur any more frequently than would be expected in the general population.
Our rating: Missing context
We rate this claim MISSING CONTEXT because without additional context it might be misleading. Claims of miscarriages increasing by 366% over a six-week period originate from a U.K.-based alternative media site, The Daily Expose, citing data from the U.K.’s regulatory body, Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. While the total counts of miscarriages are accurate, The Daily Expose article fails to take into account the increased number of women being vaccinated over the six-week time period (from December 2020 to March) alongside the expected frequency of miscarriages in the general population, which is around 26%. The MHRA has stated there is no cause-and-effect association between COVID-19 vaccinations and the incidence of miscarriage.
Our fact-check sources:
- USA TODAY, March 28, “Pregnant women ‘didn’t have the data’ – until now: COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, even for babies, study shows”
- Vox, June 25, 2020, “Facebook’s war against one of the internet’s worst conspiracy sites”
- Business Insider, Feb. 9, “Anti-vaxxers are using a doctor’s miscarriage to claim the COVID-19 vaccine affects pregnancy – but the doctor lost her baby before getting the shot”
- USA TODAY, Dec. 15, “Fact check: A false post on social media claims COVID-19 vaccine causes infertility in women”
- AFP, Feb. 18, “Miscarriage reports are not proof of Covid-19 vaccine danger to pregnancy”
- The Daily Expose, March 21, “Number of women to lose their unborn child after having the Covid Vaccine increases by 366% in just six weeks”
- Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency via WayBack Machine, Feb. 5, “Covid-19 mRNA Pfizer- BioNTech vaccine analysis print”
- Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency via WayBack Machine, Feb. 5, “COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca analysis print”
- Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency via WayBack Machine, March 21, “Covid-19 mRNA Pfizer- BioNTech vaccine analysis print”
- Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency via WayBack Machine, March 21, “COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca analysis print”
- Reuters, March 31, “Fact Check-There is no evidence to suggest COVID-19 vaccines increase the risk of miscarriage”
- STATPearls, Jan. 29, “Miscarriage”
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 3, “COVID-19 Vaccine Monitoring Systems for Pregnant People”
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 1, “COVID-19 vaccine safety update”
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