Vaccine

A health care worker prepares a dose of COVID-19 vaccine to be administered at a vaccination clinic on Monday, March 15, 2021, at the Dee Events Center in Ogden.

The COVID-19 vaccine did not factor in the death of a West Point woman whose passing days after getting her second inoculation shot prompted questions from her family, according to health officials.

The Utah Department of Health and the Office of Medical Examiner, or OME, issued a statement Thursday saying it had investigated the deaths of people who had recently taken the vaccine. After conducting the probes, the statement said, investigators found no links between the vaccine and any deaths.

“The OME has determined there have been NO DEATHS caused by the COVID-19 vaccines to date in Utah. The OME is committed to investigating any deaths that fall under its jurisdiction where decedents had recently received the COVID-19 vaccine,” the statement read.

The death last month of Kassidi Kurill of West Point after her second and final COVID-19 vaccination shot has prompted coverage in some Utah media outlets, including the Standard-Examiner, but the statement didn’t single out any specific cases due to privacy laws. Perhaps in light of the attention the Kurill case received, though, state health officials went on in the statement, touting the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines. “The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. They are how we will end this pandemic,” it said.

Kurill’s death on Feb. 5, four days after getting her second and final COVID-19 vaccination shot, prompted concerns from her family that the vaccine factored in her passing. She was 39 and otherwise healthy, according to Al Hawley, her stepfather.

Hawley on Thursday declined comment on the news from the Utah Department of Health and OME, citing the sometimes critical public response sparked by news reports about his stepdaughter’s passing. He says he doesn’t plan to reveal any more details about his stepdaughter’s autopsy. “It saddens me, the ugly things that got said by people who clearly didn’t know her,” he said.

Thursday’s statement seemed to reference the news stories about Kurill, warning against reporting on such things prematurely. “To that end, we call on members of the media to wait for all the facts to be known prior to reporting information that could lead to undue diminished confidence in these life-saving vaccines,” said the statement.

The Utah Department of Health and OME statement said officials will investigate reports of serious side effects. “Public confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine is critical, and providing absolute transparency on the vaccine’s side effects is our goal,” it said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states on its website that available clinical information like death certificates and autopsies reveals no evidence that vaccination has factored in any deaths.

At the same time, the U.S. Federal Drug Administration requires that vaccination providers report any deaths after COVID-19 vaccinations to the federal government’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. The CDC noted that more than 109 million COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered in the United States between Dec. 14 last year and last Monday, with 1,913 reports of death on the VAERS system, a minuscule fraction of the total, just 0.0018%.

Even so, just because a death is in the VAERS system, like Kurill’s and three other Utahns’ who were older than 80, doesn’t mean the COVID-19 vaccine caused it, the CDC notes. “To date, VAERS has not detected patterns in cause of death that would indicate a safety problem with COVID-19 vaccines,” the CDC website reads.

The safety of COVID-19 vaccines has been a focus of debate for some given the relatively short time period it took to develop them and their widespread distribution to contain the pandemic. The CDC, though, said their production and use has been closely monitored and that they are safe.

“COVID-19 vaccines were evaluated in tens of thousands of participants in clinical trials. The vaccines met FDA’s rigorous scientific standards for safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality needed to support emergency use authorization,” says the CDC.

The Utah Department of Health reported Thursday that 1.08 million vaccines had been administered in the state, with 714,049 people having received at least one dose.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!