Why the Vaccine Safety Reporting System should be renamed

VAERS, the federal health system for reporting “adverse events” after vaccination, is designed to assist in the early detection of complications and responsive action. But the flood of social media references to the system during the COVID-19 pandemic created confusion.

A new report from the Annenberg Public Policy Center examines misconceptions about the government’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, or VAERS. The report urges the government agencies that manage the system to change its name to a clearer alternative such as “Vaccination Safety Monitor” or “Vaccination Safety Watch,” and make additional changes to reduce the likelihood its information will be misinterpreted or misused.

preparing a shot at the vaccine clinic

“Minimizing Public Susceptibility to Misconceptions about the Effects of Vaccination: Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS),” is the first in a series of case studies produced by the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) in partnership with Critica, a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve public understanding and acceptance of scientific evidence and counteract health- and science-related misinformation.

The VAERS report’s findings were presented on May 24 in remarks by APPC Director Kathleen Hall Jamieson at the first day of the three-day Nobel Prize Summit on actively combating mis- and disinformation, hosted jointly by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Nobel Foundation as a hybrid meeting in Washington, D.C., and online.

“As we’ve seen during the pandemic, public susceptibility to misconceptions about vaccination is increased by confusion about the nature of events reported to VAERS,” Jamieson says. “For example, nearly three-quarters of the public does not know that deaths reported to VAERS are not confirmed to have been caused by the COVID-19 vaccine. The recommendations in our report would help to clarify what this reporting system is and does.”

There were few references to VAERS in digital media until November 2020, when the public learned that vaccines were on track to be authorized to fight COVID-19. After that point, web references to VAERS and public interactions with that content greatly increased.

Yet nearly two years later, there remained vast public confusion about what VAERS is and does. In a nationally representative August 2022 APPC survey, nearly two-third of U.S. adults were not sure whether deaths reported by VAERS were confirmed or not confirmed to have been caused by COVID-19 vaccination, and another 10% said, incorrectly, that VAERS deaths were confirmed to have been caused by COVID vaccination. Only a quarter of U.S. adults knew that VAERS deaths were not confirmed to have been caused by COVID vaccination.

Read more at Annenberg Public Policy Center.