Back to Africa Check

Covid vaccines caused huge spike in medical conditions? No, bad US military data exploited by ‘little-known’ attorney

IN SHORT: A poorly maintained US military database under-reported medical conditions in its forces in the five years before Covid vaccines were rolled out. When correct numbers were recorded, they seemed to indicate a huge increase. But this is just bad data. These massive post-vaccine “spikes” don’t occur anywhere else in the US, or the world.

“We did it! We finally beat Covid!” reads the sarcastic header of a graphic posted on the public Facebook group page “South Africans Against the Nwo” in August 2022. 

NWO is short for New World Order, a common theme in harmful and often antisemitic conspiracy theories.

The graphic includes a screenshot of a tweet that lists alarming “spikes” in medical conditions:

  • 279% spike in Miscarriages
  • 487% spike in Breast Cancer
  • 551% spike in Guillain-Barre syndrome
  • 269% spike in Myocardial Infarction
  • 468% spike in Pulmonary Embolism

The graphic ends with: “This is what success looks like.”

The original tweet, from the Twitter account of a person who claims to be a medical doctor, appears to have been deleted. But the list is circulating elsewhere on Twitter, as seen here, here and here

And it’s clear that Covid vaccines are blamed for the claimed massive spikes.

The list has also appeared on Instagram, on blogs and on websites. Some list even more spikes in what are called “vaccine injuries”.

Others include the odd line item of “1048% SPIKE in the Nervous System”, which doesn’t make sense. (The nervous system is simply a part of the human body. It can’t spike. Saying “1048% SPIKE in Stomach” would be just as puzzling.)

The list is wrong.

It doesn’t show the global side-effects of Covid vaccines, which have been safely rolled out across the world. 

The percentages are calculated from a single dodgy US defence department database of medical conditions among that country’s military.

The US military database – the Defense Medical Epidemiology Database, or DMED – was poorly maintained. A glitch in its system under-reported medical conditions in military personnel in the five years from 2016 to 2020. In 2021, as the US defence department started vaccinating its staff, their medical conditions were accurately recorded on the database.

But this allowed conspiracy theorists to claim the apparently astonishing spikes. The huge increases in medical conditions were calculated from an incorrect low base.

BeatCovid_False

How are percentage changes calculated?

Percentage changes are often cited in news reports. But it’s important to understand how one number is calculated to be an increase (or decrease) on another.

Percent reduces compared numbers to a hundred – “per” meaning “for every” and “cent” standing for 100, as in century.

We get this from school marks, for example. If we get 70%, then an average of seven out of 10 of our answers were correct.

But a problem with percentages is that they reduce many different sets of numbers to a single score, and so may distort reality. A student who got 280 questions right in a test with 700 questions would score 40%. But a student who got two questions right in a test with five questions would also score 40%.

Say a shop sold 20 apples in a month, but wrote in its records that it had only sold two. The next month it also sold 20 apples, and recorded all 20 sales.

The record would indicate that apple sales had risen by 900%. But the increase would be wrong, because it was calculated from an incorrect first number.

That’s what’s going on here.

US lawyer uses vaccine disinformation to boost profile

The claim originated with Thomas Renz, a lawyer from the midwestern US state of Ohio. A Washington Post profile describes Renz as “once a little-known attorney” with “limited litigation experience” who “boosted his profile with lawsuits challenging coronavirus vaccines”. Renz, 44, passed the Ohio bar exam in 2019 on his fifth attempt.

In January 2022 Renz joined an unofficial panel discussion hosted by Ron Johnson, a known conspiracy theorist and a conservative Republican senator for the US state of Wisconsin. The panel was titled “Covid-19: A Second Opinion”. It heard the opinions of scientists and doctors who had been previously criticised for spreading false information about Covid.

In Renz’s brief submission to the panel, he claimed he had information from “some whistleblowers” at the US defence department. He said his data came from “DMED, the defence medical database”.

This is where the list comes from.

“Miscarriages increased by over 300% over the five-year average,” Renz says in a video of his statement to the panel.

“We saw an over 300% increase in cancer over the five-year average.”

He goes on: “This one’s amazing. So, neurological. Neurological issues which would affect our pilots. Over a thousand percent increase. A thousand!”

Johnson interjects to say “that’s 10 times, a 10 times rate”. (This, again, doesn’t make sense.)

Renz continues: “83,000 per year – I’m sorry – 82,000 per year, to 836,000 in one year. Our soldiers are being experimented on, injured, and possibly sometimes killed.”

Vaccines save lives – and not all lists are equal

Thomas Renz has a website, Renz Law. A page on the website is headed: “Renz Whistleblowers DMED DATA Reveals Incredibly Disturbing Spikes in Vaccine Injuries Across the Board”.

It lists this:

  • 279% SPIKE in Miscarriages
  • 487% SPIKE in Breast Cancer
  • 1048% SPIKE in the Nervous System
  • 155% SPIKE in Birth Defects
  • 350% SPIKE in Male Infertility
  • 369% SPIKE in Testicular Cancer
  • 2181% SPIKE in Hypertension
  • 664% SPIKE in Malignant Neoplasms
  • 680% SPIKE in Multiple Sclerosis
  • 551% SPIKE in Guillain-Barre Syndrome
  • 468% SPIKE in Pulmonary Embolism
  • 302% SPIKE in Tachycardia
  • 452% SPIKE in Migraines
  • 471% SPIKE in Female Infertility
  • 437% SPIKE in Ovarian Dysfunction
  • 269% SPIKE in Myocardial infarction
  • 291% SPIKE in Bell’s palsy
  • 467% SPIKE in Pulmonary Embolism

But Renz’s claims have been shut down by the facts, and by fact-checkers.

First, none of these supposed side effects of Covid vaccines have been reported in any population, anywhere in the world. The massive increases only come from bad data in a single US military database.

The DMED website now has this disclaimer on its home page: “Welcome to the New and Improved DMED 5.0. Please read the instructions carefully to learn about the significant changes that have been made.”

Second is another list. 

Here – from the first page of a Google query – are a few of the many fact-checks that debunk Thomas Renz’s false claims about Covid vaccines.

Vaccines help prevent disease. People who falsely claim that vaccines are harmful put other people’s lives at risk.

For publishers: what to do if your post is rated false

A fact-checker has rated your Facebook or Instagram post as “false”, “altered”, “partly false” or “missing context”. This could have serious consequences. What do you do?

Click on our guide for the steps you should follow.

Publishers guide

Africa Check teams up with Facebook

Africa Check is a partner in Meta's third-party fact-checking programme to help stop the spread of false information on social media.

The content we rate as “false” will be downgraded on Facebook and Instagram. This means fewer people will see it.

You can also help identify false information on Facebook. This guide explains how.

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
limit: 600 characters

Want to keep reading our fact-checks?

We will never charge you for verified, reliable information. Help us keep it that way by supporting our work.

Become a newsletter subscriber

Support independent fact-checking in Africa.