Hamlin’s collapse spurs new wave of vaccine misinformation

Jan 4, 2023, 3:47 PM | Updated: Jan 6, 2023, 9:54 pm
A person leaves flowers for the display set-up for Buffalo Bills' Damar Hamlin outside of Universit...

A person leaves flowers for the display set-up for Buffalo Bills' Damar Hamlin outside of University of Cincinnati Medical Center, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, in Cincinnati. Hamlin was taken to the hospital after collapsing on the field during the Bill's NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

(AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Unfounded claims about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines proliferated in the hours and days after Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed during Monday’s game, revealing how pervasive vaccine misinformation remains three years after the pandemic began.

Even before Hamlin was carried off the field in Cincinnati, posts amassing thousands of shares and millions of views began circulating online claiming without evidence that complications from COVID-19 vaccines caused his health emergency.

While cardiac specialists say it’s too soon to know what caused Hamlin’s heart to stop, they’ve offered a rare type of trauma called commotio cordis as among the possible culprits. Physicians interviewed by The Associated Press say there’s no indication Hamlin’s vaccine status played a role, and said there’s no evidence to support claims that a number of young athletes have died as a result of COVID vaccinations.

Peter McCullough, a Dallas cardiologist and outspoken vaccine critic, amplified the theories on a Fox News segment hosted by Tucker Carlson on Tuesday, speculating that “vaccine-induced myocarditis,” may have caused Hamlin’s episode. While the Bills have not said whether Hamlin was vaccinated, about 95% of NFL players have received a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the league.

In his Tuesday segment, Carlson claimed McCullough and another researcher found that “more than 1,500 total cardiac arrests” have occurred among European athletes “since the vax campaign began.”

But Carlson was citing a letter in which the authors’ evidence was a dubious blog that lists news reports of people all over the world, of all ages, dying or experiencing medical emergencies. The blog proves no relationship between the incidents and COVID-19 vaccines; it also includes in its count reported deaths from cancer and emergencies of unknown causes.

“It’s not real research, but he quotes it as if it’s real research,” said Dr. Matthew Martinez, director of sports cardiology at Atlantic Health System in Morristown Medical Center. “Anybody can write a letter to the editor and then quote an article that has no academic rigor.”

Many social media users have also shared deceptive videos that purport to show athletes collapsing on-field because of COVID-19 vaccines. However, several of the cases shown have been proven to be from other causes.

Though anti-vaccine influencers have insisted that sudden cardiac arrests during sports games are unprecedented, cardiologists say they’ve observed these traumatic events throughout their careers, and long before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There have always been cases of athletes having sudden cardiac death or cardiac arrest,” said Dr. Lawrence Phillips, sports health expert and cardiologist at NYU Langone Health. “I have not seen a change in the prevalence of them over the last couple of years versus earlier in my career.”

In fact, Phillips said, these rare medical emergencies are the main reason that doctors and activists have spent years campaigning for defibrillators to be on standby at sporting events.

That push, and the implementation of emergency action plans, has improved outcomes after cardiac events on the playing field, even as the number of such events has remained “remarkably stable,” Martinez said.

Martinez, who has worked for the National Football League, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and Major League Soccer, said he has investigated but not seen any signal that COVID-19 or vaccines are causing an increased incidence of cardiac events among athletes.

His research shows that among professional athletes who have had COVID-19, rates of inflammatory heart disease were about 0.6% — showing no increased risk compared to other viruses.

Online posts mentioning Hamlin and vaccines soared into the thousands within one hour of Hamlin’s collapse, according to an analysis conducted for the AP by Zignal Labs, a San Francisco-based media intelligence company.

It’s not surprising that misleading claims about COVID-19 vaccines surged following Hamlin’s cardiac arrest, given how much vaccine misinformation has spread since the pandemic began, said Jeanine Guidry, a Virginia Commonwealth University professor who researches health misinformation and vaccine hesitancy.

High-profile public events like Hamlin’s collapse often create new waves of misinformation as people grasp for explanations. For people concerned about vaccine safety, Hamlin’s sudden collapse served to affirm and justify their beliefs, Guidry said.

“This happened to a person in the prime of their life, on primetime television, and the people watching didn’t immediately know why,” she said. “We like to have clear answers that make us feel safer. Especially after the last three years, I think this is coming from fear and uncertainty.”

Similarly unfounded claims about vaccine injuries surged last month following the death of sports journalist Grant Wahl, who died of a ruptured blood vessel in his heart while covering the World Cup in Qatar. His death was not related to vaccines.

___

Associated Press writer Angelo Fichera in Philadelphia contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


              Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin (3) lies on the turf after making a tackle on Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins, blocked from view, as Buffalo Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (49) assists at the end of the play during the first half of an NFL football game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, in Cincinnati. After getting up from the play, Hamlin collapsed and was administered CPR on the field. (AP Photo/Joshua A. Bickel)
            
              Buffalo Bills fans and community members gather for a candlelight vigil for Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)
            
              A person leaves flowers for the display set-up for Buffalo Bills' Damar Hamlin outside of University of Cincinnati Medical Center, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, in Cincinnati. Hamlin was taken to the hospital after collapsing on the field during the Bill's NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

AP

Andy Thibault, Editor and Publisher of The Winsted Citizen, carries the first bundle of papers off ...
Associated Press

Newspapers dying? Ralph Nader’s giving birth to one

NEW YORK (AP) — At age 88, Ralph Nader believes his neighbors in northwest Connecticut are tired of electronics and miss the feel of holding a newspaper to read about their town. So at a time that local newspapers are dying at an alarming rate, the longtime activist is helping give birth to one. Copies […]
11 hours ago
Andy Thibault, Editor and Publisher of The Winsted Citizen, carries the first bundle of papers off ...
Associated Press

Newspapers dying? Ralph Nader’s giving birth to one

NEW YORK (AP) — At age 88, Ralph Nader believes his neighbors in northwest Connecticut are tired of electronics and miss the feel of holding a newspaper to read about their town. So at a time that local newspapers are dying at an alarming rate, the longtime activist is helping give birth to one. Copies […]
11 hours ago
A patient, center, is placed into an ambulance while being evacuated from Signature Healthcare Broc...
Associated Press

Fire at Massachusetts hospital forces some evacuations

BROCKTON, Mass. (AP) — A fire at a Massachusetts hospital’s electrical transformer forced an undetermined number of evacuations on Tuesday morning and power was shut off to the building for safety reasons, officials said. “We are removing some critically ill and injured patients” out of Signature Healthcare Brockton Hospital to other facilities, Brockton Fire Chief […]
11 hours ago
FILE - In this image taken from security camera footage provided by the Omaha, Neb., Police Departm...
Associated Press

Shooting at Nebraska Target highlights gaps in gun laws

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — In the last three years of his life, Joseph Jones was repeatedly sent to psychiatric hospitals because of his schizophrenia and delusions that a drug cartel was after him. The Nebraska man once lay down on a highway in Kansas because he wanted to be run over by a truck, but […]
11 hours ago
Associated Press

UK holds ceremony replete with tradition to consider coins

LONDON (AP) — A jury sat solemnly in a gilded hall in central London on Tuesday, presided over by a bewigged representative of the crown in flowing black robes, but there were no criminals in the dock. Britain’s coinage was on trial. In a ceremony that dates back to the 12th century, the jury filed […]
11 hours ago
In this photo supplied by the Mozambican Presidency, Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi, left, shake...
Associated Press

Mozambique’s extremist rebels kill aid worker in north

MAPUTO, Mozambique (AP) — Extremist rebels in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province have killed a worker for the international charity Doctors Without Borders, shortly after a former vice president of the organization was asked to produce a report into the humanitarian situation in the conflict-hit region. Mozambique’s Islamic extremist insurgency, which started in October 2017, […]
11 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Fiesta Bowl Foundation

Celebrate 50 years of Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade magic!

Since its first production in the early 1970s, the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe has been a staple of Valley traditions, bringing family fun and excitement to downtown Phoenix.
(Desert Institute for Spine Care photo)...
DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Why DISC is world renowned for back and neck pain treatments

Fifty percent of Americans and 90% of people at least 50 years old have some level of degenerative disc disease.
...
Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
Hamlin’s collapse spurs new wave of vaccine misinformation