VERIFY analyzed the data and found that many of the deaths listed were not among athletes or from cardiac arrest. There is scant evidence that many have even been vaccinated.
NBA superstar LeBron James’ son Bronny James has been hospitalized after going into cardiac arrest during basketball practice at the University of Southern California, a family spokesman said on July 25.
This has prompted unsubstantiated claims by Elon Musk and others online that James’s medical emergency may be related to the COVID-19 vaccine. Some people on Twitter shared a graph which allegedly shows 1,887 “cardiac arrests or serious problems” among athletes since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with 1,312 athletes having died, as a result of the COVID-19 vaccination.
The graphic comes from an online article that claims to list each of the athletes who suffered cardiac arrest or other “serious problems” after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
“While it is possible for this to happen to people who have not received a COVID vaccine, the sheer numbers clearly indicate the one obvious cause,” the article states.
Does the online graph represent athlete deaths linked to the COVID-19 vaccine?
The chart and associated online data is misleading. There is no evidence linking athletes’ cardiac arrests and subsequent listed deaths to the COVID-19 vaccine.
Some of the deaths included did not meet the website’s definition of an athlete, while others were attributed to factors such as cancer or heatstroke, not cardiac arrest or the COVID-19 vaccine.
WHAT WE FOUND
People who shared the graph online say it shows a comparison of athlete slumps, deaths, and the COVID-19 vaccine, but there are several reasons the data is flawed.
The graph uses data from a post on goodsciencing.com, maintained by anonymous authors claiming to be “truth seekers”. That post lists incidents that the website claims are athletes collapsing or dying from heart problems or other serious medical problems related to the COVID-19 vaccine, linking to news articles about individual cases.
The list is not based on academic research or public health data. Instead, it’s a hand-compiled list of media reports the author claims to have found from “research” and reader contributions.
In many of the reports there was no indication of whether a person on the list had received the COVID-19 vaccine. The list links to news stories about deaths, which often don’t include information about vaccination status.
Also, the site’s definition of “athlete” is not a professional athlete or even a college or high school athlete. Instead, the site defines an athlete as someone who “is reasonably fit, healthy, and athletically active, rather than an ‘unsuitable couch potato.'”
Even with this broad definition, many of the people listed do not meet the website’s athlete criteria. Some of the deaths have occurred among the elderly in their 80s or people who were experiencing prolonged illness.
One example is MLB legend Hank Aaron, who died of natural causes at age 86 in January 2021. Although the baseball star had received the COVID-19 vaccine several weeks earlier, the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office said there is no indication it was a contributing factor in his death.
Mississippi State University head football coach Mike Leach died in December 2022 at age 61 of complications from a heart condition.
Some of the people included in the list also died from the COVID-19 itself, not the vaccine. “Zo” Tatum of the Azores, a 16-year-old high school football player in Tennessee who is included in the list, died of the virus at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in August 2021, partner station VERIFY ABC24 reported.
Some of the others listed died of cancer or other causes such as heat stroke, not cardiac arrest or other medical issues that could be related to the vaccine.
Here are some examples:
- Nine-year-old Ayla Loseth died of sepsis due to a strep A infection in November 2022, family members told media. Goodsciencing.com lists her cause of death as “Sepsis Strep A.”
- Dallas Cowboys running back Marion Barber III died of heat stroke in June 2022, not cardiac arrest, WFAA partner station VERIFY reported. Goodsciencing.com lists his cause of death as “unknown”.
- Dwight Garner, a former football player at the University of California, Berkeley, has died at 58 from prostate cancer, as noted by Goodsciencing.com.
- Mixed martial arts fighter Anthony Johnson, 38, died in November 2022 following a prolonged illness. Some media outlets attributed Johnson’s death to complications from cancer, as Goodsciencing.com notes.
Is there a connection between cardiac deaths and the COVID-19 vaccine?
The article and social media posts suggest that it is abnormal for athletes, including many young people, to suffer cardiac arrest or die while playing sports.
But this is not a new phenomenon and occurred long before the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.
More from VERIFY: No, Sudden Adult Death Syndrome is not related to vaccines
A 2016 study published by the Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center found sudden cardiac death (SCD) to be the most frequent medical cause of sudden death in athletes. Based on estimates at the time, the injury rate was between 1 in 40,000 and 1 in 80,000 athletes annually.
“We’ve had athletes collapsing on the field for decades, long before COVID existed and certainly long before the COVID vaccine,” Payal Kohli, MD, a cardiologist and professor of medicine, told VERIFY. “So attributing this baseline rate of cardiac arrest happening in athletes to the COVID vaccine is really connecting two dots that are completely unrelated.”
Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), especially sudden arrhythmic death (SAD), “occurs at a substantial background rate in the population, even among children and young people,” said Jeffrey Morris, Ph.D., director of biostatistics for the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
There are approximately 1,000 cases of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests each day in the United States, according to estimates by the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation.
Myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart wall, can occur in rare cases after vaccination. In severe cases, it can lead to stroke, heart attack, heart failure or death, says the American Heart Association.
But medical experts say the risk of myocarditis is much higher in people infected with the coronavirus than in those who get the vaccine.
Although cases of myocarditis from COVID-19 infection and from the vaccine have been reported, a study published in August 2022 found that the risk of myocarditis in people infected with the coronavirus was more than seven times higher than in vaccinated people.
“I worry a lot more about the infection itself leading you to have some sort of arrhythmia or collapse, especially during competitive sports, than about the vaccine,” Kohli said.
While athletes sometimes experience sudden cardiac arrest, there is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine has increased the chances of this happening.
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