What is the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS)?
The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, better known as VAERS, is one of two vaccine safety monitoring systems put into place in 1990 as a result of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA) of 1986. The VAERS system was designed to allow anyone to file a report about events which happened within proximity to a vaccination. This system was designed to be used with the Vaccine Safety Datalink, a collaboration between the CDC, Kaiser Permanente, HealthPartners Institute, Harvard, and Marshfield Clinic). The VSD system combines the medical records of more than 7 million individuals, so even rare adverse events should occur within the dataset (such as events which only occur infrequently, like 1:1,000,000).
The VAERS system isn’t designed to show a relationship between the vaccine and the event, it’s only a mechanism for possible correlations to be submitted for further analysis on large datasets (like the VSD). This allows individuals the accessibility of submitting concerns to be investigated, we call these “signals,” which we then investigate with the access available through complete medical records (primary care, specialists, and hospitals).
Kaiser Permanente, Harvard, Marshfield Clinic, and HealthPartners each have complete access to medical records to their patients. Each of them include insurance systems along with primary care, urgent care, and hospitals; and many have been pioneers and early adopters of electronic health records systems. Harvard specifically is where Meditech started (and is still used in most/all of their hospitals). Meditech is the EHR behind a large number of small hospitals (and used to be quite a few large hospitals) and the Veterans Administration’s VISTA medical records system. Kaiser Permanente was an early adopter of Epic’s EHR, which they implemented across all of their hospitals and clinics. This implementation is what pushed Epic from an outpatient focused EHR to a complete and complex medical health record. If I remember correctly, Marshfield Clinic was an early adopter of GE’s EHR – Centricity.
We wrote about one of the newer vaccine safety monitoring systems here along with some of the limitations with VAERS:
The VAERS system doesn’t require authentication of the submitted data, it doesn’t require the submission of the medical record for the individual , nor does it provide a system to consistently follow up with what is submitted. The CDC does attempt to follow up on all reports which have significant consequences, but there isn’t a mechanism to guarantee that this follow up can be completed (you can anonymously submit events).
So if the system doesn’t require the complete picture, nor is there any mechanism to validate the events submitted, why is VAERS so commonly used as a “source” for those who are against vaccines? The simplest answer is that it is the most available system they have access to (they won’t get access to CISA, VSD, PRISM, or PCORnet as they don’t have the need to see millions of people’s health records) and they can manipulate the system to support their own conclusions in an attempt to give themselves credibility.
So, whenever an individual tries to convince you with “data” from the VAERS system, just remember that those who know how to analyze vaccine safety data don’t use VAERS, they use the systems with full medical records (VSD/PRISM/CISA/PCORnet). It’s also highly likely that they don’t even know (or they’ll deny that they know) that there are other vaccine safety monitoring systems in the US. The reason why they aren’t aware of or deny the existence of multiple other vaccine safety systems is that these systems don’t support their conclusions, and show that vaccines are exceptionally safe with relatively few exceptions.