No evidence US infant mortality spike related to Covid vaccines

The infant mortality rate in the United States rose in 2022 for the first time in 20 years, but there is no evidence the uptick is linked to Covid-19 vaccination, despite claims circulating on social media. Experts say a lack of access to affordable health care is one of main contributors, and studies have shown coronavirus infection -- not the jabs -- pose a risk for preterm and stillbirths.

"But the CDC said to vaccinate, that the vaccine is safe for PREGNANT WOMEN," says a November 1, 2023 Facebook post, one of many sharing articles about a rise in the US infant mortality rate to question the safety of Covid-19 vaccines.

Other posts include a collage of CNN headlines about inoculation recommendations for pregnant people, linking them to a November 1 story about the uptick in infant deaths (archived here).

<span>Screenshot of a Facebook post taken November 16, 2023</span>
Screenshot of a Facebook post taken November 16, 2023
<span>Screenshot of a Facebook post taken November 16, 2023</span>
Screenshot of a Facebook post taken November 16, 2023

The image spread across Facebook, Instagram and X, formerly known as Twitter, after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the infant mortality rate saw its first annual rise since 2002.

The report from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) documented 20,538 infant deaths in 2022, or a "provisional infant mortality rate" of "5.60 infant deaths per 1,000 live births." That figure -- which includes any child who does not reach their first birthday -- is three percent higher than in 2021 (archived here).

Sandy Chung, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), says on the group's website that there are many different reasons for what she calls a "shockingly high" infant mortality rate in the United States.

"We do know that families in poverty face many challenges including access to nutritious food and affordable healthcare," she says in the article (archived here). "Racial and ethnic disparities related to accessible healthcare -- including prenatal health services -- are just one of the many possible reasons for lower birth weights of babies and sometimes, infant deaths."

NCHS data indicate 1,300 of the deaths in 2022 were due to accidents or unintentional injuries. Mortality rates increased significantly for two of the 10 leading causes of death: maternal complications and bacterial sepsis of newborn, a condition that most often affects premature infants in the first 28 days of life.

Asked about a connection to Covid-19 vaccination, the CDC told AFP: "Scientific studies to date have shown no safety concerns for babies born to people who were vaccinated against Covid-19 during pregnancy."

The agency said in a November 15 email that it continues to monitor safety data, but "based on how these vaccines work in the body, experts believe they are unlikely to increase the risk for long-term health effects."

Vaccination recommended

AFP has repeatedly debunked claims that vaccination against Covid-19 during pregnancy poses a risk. The messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) shots from Pfier-BioNTech and Moderna are not associated with a rise in miscarriages, stillbirths or infertility.

The CDC has long recommended Covid-19 vaccination for those who are pregnant and breastfeeding -- a position that did not change following its report on infant mortality.

"Expectant mothers should remain up to date with Covid-19 vaccines to protect themselves and their newborns from serious illness and hospitalization caused by Covid-19," the agency told AFP, pointing to a study that found protection for infants born to those inoculated during pregnancy (archived here).

Similarly, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists told AFP it continues to recommend vaccination for pregnant individuals (archived here).

"There is no evidence of adverse maternal or fetal effects from vaccinating pregnant individuals with Covid-19 vaccine, and a growing body of data demonstrate the safety of such use," the group said in a November 14 email.

These recommendations are consistent with health organizations in Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union and Australia (archived here, here, here and here) -- all places where AFP has debunked false narratives about vaccination during pregnancy.

Infection risks

While studies have not found serious adverse events associated with Covid-19 vaccines received during pregnancy, research does show a risk from infection.

Victoria Male, an immunologist studying pregnancy at London's Imperial College, says in an explainer (archived here) that studies have shown "Covid infection causes preterm birth and stillbirth, and babies born to Covid patients are more likely to be admitted to the neonatal unit" (archived here).

There is also some evidence (archived here) that Covid-19 infection increases the risk of miscarriage, according to Male. However, not all studies have found this (archived here).

More of AFP's reporting on vaccine misinformation is available here.