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Death and double standards: Harder to attribute mortality to vaccine than to COVID?

Comorbidities are downgraded as causal factors in death when they overlap with COVID, whether the latter is verified or even merely suspected.

Published: May 29, 2021 12:32pm

Updated: May 29, 2021 10:43pm

Stephanie Dubois, a British model aged 39, and Lisa Shaw, a BBC radio presenter aged 44, died within a day of each other due to serious thrombotic episodes after receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Neither had underlying health conditions. 

Dubois' case has now been referred to the European Medicines Agency (EMA), as she lived in Cyprus, but she left her own account of her tragic decline on her Facebook page: 

May 6: "So I had the vaccination today! I hate needles, today was no exception ... And now I feel horrendous ... pizza and bed for me."

May 14: "Woke up feeling fine and then within an hour I had full body shakes, all my joints seized, and I was struggling to breathe and was cold to the bone with a persistent headache and dizziness … Mum and dad came to look after me and took me for a Covid test, which thankfully was negative ... but it still doesn't explain what the problem is. Maybe I'm having a prolonged reaction to my Covid jab last week." 

That same day she was admitted to the hospital.

May 18: "Done being ill now ... Couple more tests today! PS — I still don't like needles — feeling tired."

May 19: Dubois went into a coma.

Shaw's family said in a statement: "Lisa developed severe headaches a week after receiving her AstraZeneca vaccine and fell seriously ill a few days later … She was treated by the [Royal Victoria Infirmary's] intensive care team for blood clots and bleeding in her head." 

According to Britain's medical watchdog, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), there have been 332 cases of blood clotting leading to 58 deaths from the AZ vaccine. Statistically, that is very small compared to the estimated 23.9 million first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and 9.0 million second doses administered in the U.K. by the same date. 

The death of Dubois highlights how much harder it is to attribute deaths to the vaccines than it is to claim death by COVID. Deutsche Welle has even run a fact-check article on other cases titled "No links found between vaccinations and deaths." 

The German state broadcaster and publisher sought to debunk claims made in many other countries, including Italy, Austria, South Korea, Germany, Spain, Belgium and the U.S. In a case in a Norwegian nursing home, it quoted the EMA stating: "Pre-existing diseases seemed to be a plausible explanation for death. In some individuals, palliative care had already been initiated before vaccination."

Statens Legemiddelverk of the Norwegian Medicines Agency claimed, "Every day, an average of 45 people die in Norwegian nursing homes ... therefore, deaths that occur close to the time of vaccination is expected, but it does not imply a causal relationship to the vaccine."

Figures for deaths attributed to COVID, meanwhile, are not scrutinized to the same level. Comorbidities are downplayed as causal factors in death when they overlap with COVID — whether the latter is verified or even merely suspected.

According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) in the U.K., "Of the 50,335 deaths that occurred in March to June 2020 involving COVID-19 in England and Wales, 45,859 (91.1%) had at least one pre-existing condition, while 4,476 (8.9%) had none." The average age of COVID fatalities in the U.K. up to January 2021 was 81. 

Finding out if COVID was the dominant cause of death is hard to discern without a full autopsy, but the British government document "Guidance for Doctors Completing Medical Certificates of Cause of Death in England and Wales — FOR USE DURING THE EMERGENCY PERIOD ONLY" explains this is not required for COVID cases: "Covid-19 is not a reason on its own to refer a death to a coroner under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 ... Medical practitioners are required to certify causes of death to the best of their knowledge and belief." 

Even medical proof is not necessary under the guidance: "If before death the patient had symptoms typical of COVID- 19 infection, but the test result has not been received, it would be satisfactory to give 'COVID-19' as the cause of death … In the circumstances of there being no swab, it is satisfactory to apply clinical judgement."

And the death certificate can be signed by a doctor who has not treated the patient: "In an emergency period, any doctor can complete the medical certificate of cause of death (MCCD), when it is impractical for the attending doctor to do so." 

Although doctors are supposed to record if any of these special conditions apply for possible future reappraisal, the death will still have been included in the official COVID fatalities total.

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