Claims linking sudden death of athletes to COVID-19 vaccines do not come under scrutiny


Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndrome, also known as SADS, has been studied for years. The syndrome is caused by undetected genetic heart disease and often occurs in young adults.

But since the release of COVID-19 vaccines in late 2020, people have continually suggested that injections make SADS more common.

Articles and social media posts have highlighted cases of young athletes collapsing during games, saying the rate of such occurrences has increased dramatically since vaccines came on the market.

Take this Instagram post: “SADS – according to data from the International Olympic Committee, an average of 29 athletes under the age of 35 suffer sudden death per year from 1966 to 2004. From March 2021 to March 2022, 769 athletes died or suffered suffered a cardiac arrest.”

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat fake news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Learn more about our partnership with Facebook.)

There are a number of issues here. First: the data itself. While the study which the message describes as ‘data from the International Olympic Committee‘ only reflects sudden deaths, the figure of 769 it is compared to incorporates deaths and episodes of cardiac arrest that did not result in death. . PolitiFact’s review of some of the reports that were counted in this figure also revealed that the count included case reports that did not involve any emergency medical episodes.

Second, the study that the Instagram post claimed looked at sudden cardiac deaths in athletes from 1966 to 2004 was not, as it suggested, conducted by the International Olympic Committee. Rather, the results were presented at a December 7, 2004 committee meeting by researchers affiliated with the University Hospital Center in Lausanne, Switzerland.

We were unable to reach the researchers involved in this study for further details or updated figures, and the International Olympic Committee told us that it does not track this type of data.

The 769 figure, meanwhile, comes from an April 2022 segment on One America News Network, a conservative cable news service that has in the past shared problematic claims related to COVID-19.

In the clip, journalist Pearson Sharp explained how tennis players Jannik Sinner and Paula Badosa had to drop out of the Miami Open in 2021. Sharp then said the women were just two of “over 769 athletes who have collapsed in a game on the pitch in the past year, from March 2021 to March this year.” However, Sinner and Badosa did not go down in any match. Tennis officials confirmed that Sinner suffered from blisters on his feet and that Badosa had a viral illness at the time.

We contacted Sharp about the data it used to derive the figure. He told us the deaths and injuries were taken directly from headlines collected over the past year around the world and sent several examples.

But PolitiFact — and others — have repeatedly investigated the incidents cited in those claims. The details of these episodes show that vaccines do not cause athletes to collapse, nor are they linked to other sudden death episodes.

A review of articles sent by Sharp also showed that the reports are not consistent. Some cite medical professionals who have ruled out vaccination as a cause. Others do not include any information about the athlete’s vaccination status. And some involved athletes who neither collapsed nor suffered a cardiac event.

One example is Gilbert Kwemoi, a gold medal-winning middle-distance runner from Kenya who collapsed in his home and died in August 2021. None of the reports of his death we reviewed indicate that he was vaccinated against COVID-19 or if it was a cardiac event that caused his death. His brother told the media that Kwemoi had developed an “illness” in a training camp.

Another is French footballer Franck Berrier, who died of a heart attack in August 2021 while playing tennis. But Berrier, before vaccines were on the market, had admitted that he suffered from heart disease.

Berrier was quoted in 2019 for saying his heart was only ‘70% functioning’

“There’s no danger in everyday life,” Berrier said, “but if I put too much pressure on, there’s the risk that the blood won’t be pumped fast enough and I’ll have a heart attack.”

Sharp cited stories about the deaths of Ahmed Amin, an Egyptian footballer, and Avi Barot, an Indian cricketer. But they don’t mention whether the men received a vaccine, or what their causes of death were.

Sharp also brought up the case of Kjeld Nuis, a Dutch speed skater. Nuis briefly developed pericarditis after receiving Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, but he hasn’t collapsed at any sporting events and he hasn’t said if his vaccination contributed to his heart problem or if it was related to his sporting activity. After experiencing flu-like symptoms and chest pressure, Nuis said he was checked by his sports doctor and cardiologist.

“Was able to leave immediately the next day and after cardiac film, ultrasound and MRI. Everything seems to be fine! Now in training camp,” the skater said on his Instagram page.

Another popular example of claims like the one on Instagram is the collapse of Danish footballer Christian Eriksen. But Eriksen, according to his team manager, was not vaccinated against COVID-19 when he suffered cardiac arrest during a game in June 2021.

“To date, I am not aware of a single cardiac complication related to the COVID vaccine in professional sports,” said Matthew Martinez, a sports cardiologist who works with the National Football League, National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and Major League Soccer and who is the director of sports cardiology at Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey told us in December. Martinez reaffirmed that observation when we recontacted him in June.

The same goes for Jonathan Kim, associate professor of medicine and chief of sports cardiology at Emory University in Atlanta. “I’m not aware of any reports that vaccines in athletes cause heart problems,” he said.

Vaccines do not increase deaths

According to a 2015 review, studies and scientific reviews have found no association between vaccination and death in anyone – adults or children – except in rare cases. More recently, following the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines, a 2021 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found no increased risk of death in people vaccinated against COVID-19.

According to the Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndrome Foundation, SADS conditions are genetic heart problems that can cause sudden death in young, apparently healthy people.

Warning signs of SADS conditions include a family history of sudden, unexplained death before the age of 40, fainting or seizures during exercise, excitement or startleness, and constant or unusual chest pain and / or shortness of breath during exercise, said the SADS foundation.

These conditions have been studied for decades, and the foundation told PolitiFact that there is “no evidence” to suggest that any of the COVID-19 vaccines cause people to develop SADS conditions, or make them more serious people’s conditions.

Dr. Michael J. Ackerman, director of the Long QT Syndrome Clinic and professor of medicine, pediatrics and molecular pharmacology at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, said there was not a “single signal” of increase in SAD events in diagnosed and treated patients who have been vaccinated.

“More than two years into the pandemic, there has been no indication in the world’s largest programs of an increase in deaths from these conditions,” Ackerman said.

Our decision

An Instagram post claims that an average of 29 young athletes suffered sudden death per year from 1966 to 2004, while 769 athletes died or suffered cardiac arrest from March 2021 to March 2022, suggesting that COVID vaccines -19 caused an increase in sudden deaths. .

A study published in 2006 found that an average of 29 young athletes suffered sudden death over a period of almost 40 years, but there are no comparable studies to compare it. The figure of 769 is based on a collection of articles that incorporate reports of athlete deaths, incidents of cardiac arrest, and various incomplete anecdotes that did not involve any emergency medical episodes or had any confirmed links. with vaccines.

Studies and scientific reviews have found no association between vaccination and sudden death, and officials from the SADS foundation, along with sports cardiologists, say there is no evidence to suggest that any of COVID-19 vaccines causes sudden death.

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