COVID-19 vaccine did not cause the death of a Portuguese woman, contrary to social media posts’ suggestions
The launch of COVID-19 vaccination campaigns in Europe and the U.S. has led to social media articles and posts making unsupported claims about alleged adverse reactions to the vaccine, including facial paralysis and death. Except for rare cases of anaphylaxis in people with a history of severe allergic reactions, there is currently no evidence showing that COVID-19 vaccine causes severe adverse effects like death. Safety data from clinical trials and vaccination of thousands of people worldwide indicate that the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer is safe, and serious reactions are rare.
Misleading: Nurse Sonia Azevedo’s autopsy revealed that her death was unrelated to her receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, contrary to social media posts suggesting that it was an adverse effect of the vaccine.
Inadequate support: In a large population, a certain number of deaths and other adverse events are expected solely by random chance independently of vaccination.
On 4 January 2021, the Portuguese newspaper Correio da Manhã reported the sudden death of Sonia Azevedo, a 41-year-old operational assistant at the Portuguese Institute of Oncology (IPO) in Porto. Azevedo’s death occurred on 1 January 2021, two days after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, which led some social media users and outlets like the Daily Mail to suggest that it was the vaccine that caused the woman’s death. Similar claims that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine caused facial paralysis and death were found to be unsupported, as Health Feedback explained in this previous review.
For instance, an article posted on the website ZeroHedge refers to Azevedo’s death as “suspicious” and promotes conspiracy theories about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. Other posts (including this one from WION) use headlines such as “Portuguese nurse dies two days after getting the Pfizer Covid vaccine” that mislead readers into thinking that the vaccine caused the nurse’s death. These posts received over 26,000 interactions on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter altogether, according to the social media analytics tool CrowdTangle.
In a note sent to the Portuguese newspaper Expresso, the IPO said that Azevedo “received the vaccine on 30 December 2020, not reporting any adverse effect either at the moment of vaccination or in the following days”. Although the IPO did not specify which COVID-19 vaccine Azevedo received, only the COVID-19 vaccine developed by BioNTech/Pfizer was authorized for use in the European Union at that time. Therefore, this was most likely the vaccine that the IPO administered to Azevedo and other healthcare workers during a vaccination campaign, which started in early January 2021.
In a press release published on 5 January 2020, the Portuguese Ministry of Justice informed the public that preliminary data from the autopsy showed “no evidence of a causal relationship between her death and the vaccine she received.” However, the Ministry did not reveal the specific cause of death, citing the “secrecy of justice”.
Simply because an adverse event occurred after a person received a vaccination does not necessarily demonstrate that the vaccine caused the adverse event. Deaths and incidental illnesses occur daily solely by random chance, even without vaccination.
At the time of this review’s publication, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Commission authorized the emergency use of two COVID-19 vaccines, one developed by BioNTech/Pfizer and the other by Moderna. Data from Phase 3 clinical trials indicate that both vaccines are safe, and serious reactions are rare. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the European Medicines Agency will continue monitoring COVID-19 vaccines for safety, even after the vaccines have been authorized for use among the public.
In summary, the suggestion that Azevedo’s death was due to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is inaccurate, based on the autopsy results. Portuguese authorities who conducted the autopsy found the woman’s death unrelated to her receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
Snopes also reviewed this claim and found it to be Partly False.
- 1 – Polack et al. (2020) Safety and Efficacy of the BNT162b2 mRNA Covid-19 Vaccine. New England Journal of Medicine.