On 22nd of September 2021, the member of the Austrian National Council Dr. Dagmar Belakowitsch made a statement during a speech in front of the national council where she talked about the side effects of the Covid-19 vaccination and said: “I mean those who have strokes after the vaccinations. This is a very common side effect.” Both the results of medical studies and the opinion of numerous experts clearly show that this statement is false.
Dagmar Belakowitsch is a member of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) and currently chairs the Committee for Health Affairs. Before she became a board member of the local party in Vienna, she studied medicine at the University of Vienna and Graz. Herbert Kickl, the leader of the Freedom Party published a video on Facebook which showed parts of Belakowitsch´s speech in which she made her comments about the side effects of the vaccination, the video got over 100.000 views. In her speech she also said that she thinks there is hardly anyone in Austria who does not know someone who has side effects after this vaccination. And that doesn´t include people who have a cough or runny nose, it´s about the people with serious side effects like a stroke.
Getting a stroke after the vaccination?
Every year around 25.000 people in Austria are suffering a stroke. A stroke is a disease that affects the arteries leading to and within the brain. It occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts. When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood it needs, so it’s brain cells die. In Austria, strokes are the third most common cause of death in Austria after cardiovascular diseases and cancer. So, if the over 7.7 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines which have been used till now would cause more cases of strokes that would have some serious effects on the health condition of people worldwide.
So, are strokes really a common side effect of the vaccination?
The answer to that question is a clear ‘No’. Wolfgang Serles, the President of the Austrian Stroke Society explained that a post-vaccination stroke is a blockage of the cerebral veins. However, he said that this is a very rare occurrence. Xabier Urra, neurologist at Hospital Clinic de Barcelona and a fellow of the European Stroke Organisation, adds
: “This is 99% false. Can Covid-19 vaccines cause stroke? Yes, this has been seen and described. But we are talking about a very rare stroke, it is cerebral venous thrombosis with vaccine-induced platelet thrombosis. A stroke is any brain problem caused by an acute alteration of circulation. The most common are ischemic strokes, they are more than 80%. It has now been discovered that there are some vaccines, such as AstraZeneca or Johnson, that can induce venous thrombosis by an immune-mediated mechanism. This is true, but it is very rare, we are talking about a case within ten thousand diagnosed. It is very uncommon and not a public health problem. Here at the Clinic, we have seen two or three cases, it is true, but there is no epidemic of cases caused by the vaccine.”
Moreover, there is also a study which got released by the university of Oxford with the data of more than 29 million people. The study showed that there were for every ten million people vaccinated with the Biontech/Pfizer vaccine 143 additional cerebral arterial occlusions with a possible connection to vaccination – almost twelve times less than with a Covid-19 infection. Therefore, the risk of getting a stroke or other serious diseases which are related to strokes after the Covid-19 vaccination are much lower than getting it after an infection with Covid-19, you can also see that in the graph below which is a summary of the Oxford study.
To further prove that strokes are not a very common side effect as Dagmar Belakowitsch stated, we went through a report by Austrian Federal Office for Safety in Health Care because they record suspected side effects of vaccines. In their report there is no data about strokes as a side effect after a Covid-19 vaccination due to their rare occurrence.
Belakowitsch did not mention a concrete number, she only said very common, a term which can be interpreted differently by everyone. But although there is no concrete number, the opinions of various experts and the data and statistics regarding the side effects of the vaccination clearly show that the claim is false. There were some cases of strokes linked to the vaccination but these were so few that it´s nowhere near to a “very common side effect”. We also tried to reach out to Dagmar Belakowitsch and asked her about the sources her claim was based on, but our request was left unanswered.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Marta Vidal and Nicolas Lendl
Cross-national fact check by Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain and University of Applied Sciences for Management and Communication, Vienna, Austria during an Erasmus exchange at AP University College Antwerp, Belgium
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