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Betting on science: How New Zealand fought disinformation

Betting on science: How New Zealand fought disinformation

The arrival of Covid-19 in New Zealand came along with an “infodemic”: a rapid and far-reaching spread of both accurate and inaccurate information across society. But in New Zealand, both the content and impact of the “infodemic” has been different. The country has...

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No, young athletes are not collapsing after vaccination

Katherine Hignett
Health Studio
United Kingdom

Videos of young athletes collapsing and even dying are spreading fast on social media. The falls, many users falsely suggest, are the result of sudden, serious heart problems brought on by Covid-19 jabs. Designed to scare, these claims are being used to undermine the safety of vaccines. But they have no basis in fact.


What do conspiracy theorists claim?


Anti-vaccine activists say jabs have caused serious health problems in numerous athletes. Lists of the alleged incidents can be long, with one Telegram post linking to twenty-six serious health events in mostly young men: a frightening message for anyone unsure about getting a jab.

But  such messages are highly misleading. Health Studio has investigated every incident on the Telegram post and found no mention of vaccination in any reliable news coverage of the athletes’ problems.


Athletes vaccine disinformation

A Telegram post lists 26 “athlete collapses” it implies were preceded by Covid-19 vaccination. Health Studio has found no evidence jabs were behind any of the health incidents listed. (Telegram)


Take the case of Danish footballer Christian Eriksen, who collapsed during a Euros game in June. Eriksen was rushed to hospital after having a cardiac arrest, where doctors successfully implanted a device to help regulate his heart rhythm. He was discharged a few days later.

Eriksen’s case was covered extensively by the international media. But no reliable reports seen by Health Studio link his collapse to a Covid-19 jab. Eriksen hadn’t even received a shot at the time of the incident, according to his team’s director, Giuseppe Marotta. But that hasn’t stopped anti-vaccine activists using his collapse to spread false, frightening rumours about jabs.

Legitimate explanations are readily available for many of the other falls described in the post. British tennis star Jack Draper, for example, reportedly fainted because of very hot and humid weather in Florida, where he was competing in the US Open. Atletico Madrid footballer Moussa Dembele is thought to have fainted after a temporary drop in blood pressure. Basketball referee Bert Smith collapsed because of an undiagnosed lung clot. And the tragic death of 16-year-old high school soccer player Ethan Jovani Trejo was caused by a heart defect he was born with

Some examples in the list do not actually involve on-pitch collapses. American football player Vinny Curry, for example, withdrew from this year’s season after being diagnosed with a rare blood disorder. And former hockey player Jimmy Hayes died of a drug overdose.

Other incidents took place before vaccines were widely available. One such example is the tragic death of Brazilian footballer Alex Apolinario, who collapsed while suffering a cardiac arrest during a football match. Although Apolinario’s vaccination status is not readily available, it is unlikely he would have recieved a shot before his death because his country of residence — Portugal — only began its vaccination campaign 12 days before.

Videos of athletes having heart trouble can be distressing to watch. But there’s no evidence to suggest that vaccines were behind any of the clips and news stories shared by conspiracy theorists. 


What does the science say?


Expert cardiologists told Health Studio there are zero known cases of athletes having collapsed or died because of a Covid-19 vaccine. 

Hector Bueno, a professor from the Spanish National Centre for Cardiovascular Research in Madrid and a spokesperson for the European Society of Cardiology, said: “To the best of our knowledge, there has been no publication reporting such cases in PubMed, one of the most widely used search tools for biomedical and life sciences publications, or in any other reliable scientific source.”


Very rare, mild side effect


It’s likely that conspiracy theorists are exploiting concerns about a real but typically mild side effect to push their frightening narrative. There have been a small number of cases of myocarditis — heart inflammation — among recipients of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab.

“In a recent study performed in more than 2.5 million persons receiving the vaccine, 54 cases of myocarditis were described with 76% presenting as mild forms,” Prof Bueno explained. “The global rate was estimated at 2.13 cases per 100,000 vaccinated persons, with a peak of 10.7 cases per 100,000 vaccinated persons among young individuals aged 16 to 29.”

Those few patients who do experience heart inflammation after receiving a vaccine tend to have mild symptoms and make a full recovery, according to Dr Elliot Pearson, a  board-certified paediatric cardiologist at KIDZ Medical Services in South Florida. But it can be a different story for those who catch Covid-19.

“There is robust data on the impact of the disease on the heart. You are at least four times more likely to have myocarditis from Covid-19 infection than from the vaccines,” he explained. “Also, heart disease from Covid-19 infection is more severe and may require a longer, more involved recuperation. 

There’s some evidence to suggest that inflammation caused by Covid-19 can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes, according to Prof Bueno. The disease itself may also lead to clots that can block critical blood vessels.

Dr Pearson added: “Researchers and cardiologists generally agree that the vaccine is a safer option, when compared to the cardiac risks of getting the Covid-19 infection itself.”


Vaccines “prevent a much greater risk”


For those concerned about vaccination, Prof Bueno explained it’s important to think about the risks in the context of everyday life.

“These should be viewed in the same way as we view risks… such as driving a car, taking a bus, or flying in a plane. We know there are risks but we consider these too low to be concerned about them,” he said. “The difference with the Covid-19 vaccine is that we use them only to prevent a much greater risk, the deadly infection by the SARS-Cov-2 coronavirus, which has already killed millions of persons worldwide, collapsed our healthcare systems, and is suffocating our economies.”

Dr Pearson added that talking to a doctor can help clear up confusion. “Nowadays, there is a lot of misinformation in social media which can be misleading or confusing,” he said. Your doctor, on the other hand, “should be able to answer most questions about the vaccine and help you to determine which option is best for you.”

Katherine Hignett -
Health Studio
United Kingdom

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