No link between COVID-19 vaccine and 4 Utahns who died after shots, medical examiner says

National database has not shown patterns ‘that would indicate a safety problem with COVID-19 vaccines,’ federal officials report.

(Courtesy University of Utah Health) A vial of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19.

Among the more than half a million Utahns who have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, 154 people had bad reactions that have been reported to a federal database.

The reporting includes the deaths of four Utahns after they got a shot.

Health experts caution that a person dying shortly after being inoculated does not mean vaccine caused that person’s death. Federal health officials say they found “no evidence that vaccination contributed to patient deaths” in the cases reported to the database after COVID-19 inoculations.

To date, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states on its website, the database “has not detected patterns in cause of death that would indicate a safety problem with COVID-19 vaccines.”

The state also has looked into each of the four January and February deaths of Utahns reported to the federal database, and “it has not been determined that the vaccine played a role in any of those deaths,” a spokesman for the Utah Department of Health said in Tuesday.

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Utah’s reported deaths

Bad outcomes after any vaccine — anything from a flu shot to the COVID-19 vaccine — can be reported to the CDC, said state health department spokesperson Tom Hudachko. The CDC compiles that information into a database called VAERS, for Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.

VAERS is not a perfect tool, said Dr. Erik Christensen, the state’s medical examiner.

“Anybody can report something — family, next of kin, doctors. Anybody can get in there and make a report of any kind of adverse reaction that they have,” Christensen said. “It’s not a scientifically assessed adjudicator, or in any other way moderated. … It’s, ‘I think this happened, so I tell you about it.’”

The database is useful, Christensen said, for researchers to find cases and follow up to determine whether they’re valid.

Neither the CDC nor UDOH releases information about individual patients, because of medical privacy laws. But this much can be gleaned from the VAERS database about the four Utahns whose deaths were reported on it:

• A woman, age 65 or older, received the Pfizer vaccine in a senior living facility and died in January.

• A woman, age unknown, received the Pfizer vaccine from an unknown distributor and died in January.

• A man, 65 or older, received the Pfizer vaccine from a public distributor and died in February.

• A woman in her 30s received the Moderna vaccine from a private distributor and died in February.

The fourth description appears to match the Feb. 5 death of a 39-year-old Ogden woman whose family wrote in her obituary that she died “from apparent complications due to the 2nd COVID-19 vaccination.” A GoFundMe page for Kassidi Lyn Kurill says she died suddenly after she was transported by helicopter to Intermountain Healthcare in Murray, where “they did everything they could to save her.”

In an interview with KUTV-Ch. 2, her father, Alfred Hawley, described taking Kurill to an Ogden emergency room on Feb. 4 after she received a second dose of vaccine on Feb. 1. “They did a blood test and immediately came back and said she was very, very sick, and her liver was not functioning,” Hawley told KUTV.

Intermountain Healthcare spokesperson Jess Gomez declined to comment Tuesday. Christensen said he could not comment on individual cases, because of privacy rules, but repeated that his office has not determined that the vaccine has caused any deaths in Utah.

After 92 million doses, no confirmed vaccine deaths

From Dec. 14 through March 8, VAERS received 1,637 reports of people dying after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the CDC. That covers all 50 states, several U.S. territories, and Americans living abroad.

More than 92 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered in the United States during that time, the CDC noted.

“CDC and [Food and Drug Administration] physicians review each case report of death as soon as notified and CDC requests medical records to further assess reports,” it said.

“A review of available clinical information including death certificates, autopsy, and medical records revealed no evidence that vaccination contributed to patient deaths,” the agency said.

While media outlets have reported on a small number of deaths after COVID-19 vaccinations in the U.S. and around the world, a fact check by USA TODAY concluded the vaccine had been ruled out as a cause of death in many, while a few are still under investigation.

As of Tuesday, 1,990 Utahns and 527,482 people in the U.S. died from COVID-19, according to UDOH and the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, respectively.

Utah health officials have stressed the three federally approved brands of COVID-19 vaccine are “effective and safe,” as Dr. Angela Dunn, the state’s epidemiologist, said in a news conference last week.

“There was a time not so long ago where we weren’t even sure we would have one vaccine that was effective,” Dunn said last week. “So the fact that we have three means that we can end this pandemic sooner, and it’s going to take everybody getting the vaccine when it’s available to them. That’s how we will stop this pandemic and save lives.”