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The Banality of VAERS
Revealing New FOIA'd Reports from VAERS Contractor General Dynamics
In December I wrote about some FOIA’d contracts between the CDC and private contractors it hired to process the anticipated deluge of COVID-19 VAERS reports. Recall they were expecting an increase from 1,000 reports a week to 1,000 reports a day, and even that turned out to be a colossal underestimate.
Just how colossal? The same anonymous source who obtained those contracts sent me FOIA’d reports from the main contractor, General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT), to the CDC’s immunization safety office. General Dynamics is a major defense contractor, and these monthly reports read like a casualty report from a battlefield or a way to keep track of the body count. The thing that strikes me the most is the antiseptic, bureaucratic tone of the whole thing, reminiscent of Hannah Arendt’s treatise on The Banality of Evil where she discusses the ways in which NAZI bean counters went about murdering millions during WWII with bureaucratic sterility. They are cataloguing a mass casualty event and the significance of the deluge of reports is reduced to a question of billable hours, adequate server space, and how to streamline the processing of this massive catalogue of human suffering. But hey, they’re just doing the job they were hired to do, right?
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Below I’ve pasted screenshots of some of the key bits, with my highlighting and brief commentary/summary. The full PDF of the reports is available at the bottom of the post. If you see anything else in the reports worth noting, please write in comments.
From the Jan 15 Report Covering Previous Month
Notice the typos in the paragraph above. Their contract for the year started at $9.45 million, but I guess they didn’t budget for a proofreader. She wrote “Pogram” but I assume she meant “Pogrom.”
Record reporting metrics meant they needed hire more people (aka reforecasting of staffing needs).
The Feb 15 Report
The “record setting metrics” continue apace:
Looks like they were getting so many reports they anticipated the need for another digit for VAERS IDs:
The March 15 Report
Still record-setting, and still need additional staffing, but slowing down a bit:
And here’s something interesting. Many reports to VAERS come from the manufacturers who are required to report AEs reported to them to VAERS, many of which come from foreign countries. Here they decided to accept the MedDRA coding of reports performed by the manufacturers instead of coding them themselves. So basically letting Pfizer and Moderna and Johnson & Johnson decide how to categorize the AE reports they were receiving:
That’s significant, because as people like Albert Benavides and Jessica Rose have shown many times, the information provided in the full reports is very often not coded well. So for example, if myocarditis is mentioned in the report text, it has to be coded in order to count as a myocarditis adverse event using on-line VAERS analysis tools such as the CDC’s WONDER or MedAlerts. Here they are relying on the manufacturers to do a thorough and accurate job coding the reports. (See here for more on how much significant data can be lost when relying only on pharma company coding.)
The April 15 Report
Whatever lull there was in February subsided. Even though staff processed over 60,000 reports (that’s about 2,000/day or 14,000/week), they still weren’t able to keep up with the surge in reports:
Though apparently they were making a dent in backlogged cases by hiring 90 new people to process backlogged reports:
But they hired and were training an additional 200 staffers to handle the backlog and process 25,000 reports per week:
The May 15 Report
Seems like they made a lot of progress plowing through the backlog in April:
Though apparently they had so many new reports coming in that in addition to the 12,000 or so backlogged reports they were able to process the week of April 19 (according to the figure above), they also processed almost 34,000 new that week and 38,500 the following week:
The June 15 Report
By the end of May, 2021 and ahead of schedule, they had finished working through the backlog in addition to processing some 66,000 incoming ‘surge’ reports:
That’s in addition to handling well over 30,000 new reports every week. I guess the 290 new staff they hired was able to handle the reports much faster, especially after they let the pharmaceutical companies code the reports.
The July 15 Report
In June, things were ‘back to normal’ and the good folks at GDIT could focus on incoming reports, which were still flooding in to VAERS in historically unprecedented numbers:
The rest of the reports are similar, though without tables and figures. By this point GDIT was sending daily reports to CDC, though these were not included in the FOIA request. In the September report, they note “a significant increase in the number of covid eVAERS manufacturer reports received.” They report a decline in the number of reports since August, which continues through the fall — and in October their quota of reports drops from 25,000 reports/week to 18,000.
Here’s the PDF with all monthly reports from November 15, 2020 to August 15, 2022: