Bills’ Damar Hamlin video calls team, coach describes emotion
Bills head coach Sean McDermott, the Bengals’ Tee Higgins and the Bucs’ Tom Brady express their thoughts on Damar Hamlin’s recovery.
Scott L. Hall, USA TODAY
The claim: Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest was caused by the COVID-19 vaccine
A Jan. 2 Instagram post (direct link, archived link) from bodybuilder Louis Uridel shows a screenshot of a tweet he shared that claims Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest was caused by the COVID-19 vaccine.
“24 year old elite athletes in the NFL don’t just have cardiac arrest in the middle of a prime time game,” reads the tweet. “This is squarely on the back of every single person who pushed that poison, required it, and shamed people who didn’t get it.”
The Instagram post generated over 12,000 likes in less than a week. The tweet generated over 1,000 likes.
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Our rating: False
Hamlin’s agent told USA TODAY there is no known link between the COVID-19 vaccine and the athlete’s injury, calling the baseless claim “ridiculous.” Multiple medical experts also said it is unlikely the vaccine caused Hamlin’s cardiac arrest, given the long history of cardiac issues in other athletes predating the COVID-19 vaccines.
No link between COVID-19 vaccine, Hamlin’s injury at this time
The 24-year-old safety for the Buffalo Bills Buffalo went into cardiac arrest after tackling Cincinnati Bengals player Tee Higgins only minutes into the first quarter of the Jan. 2 Monday night game. Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart abruptly loses its normal rhythm and stops pumping blood.
Hamlin was resuscitated on the field and rushed to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center in critical condition. He was released from the hospital on Jan. 11.
In the meantime, misinformation about a link between Hamlin’s medical emergency and the COVID-19 vaccine has been widespread. Some claims linking the two without evidence emerged within minutes of his collapse.
But more than a week after Hamlin’s injury, there remains no proof of any such connection.
Ira Turner, Hamlin’s agent, told USA TODAY in a direct message that attempts to connect Hamlin’s sudden cardiac arrest to the COVID-19 vaccine are “ridiculous.”
Doctors said a connection is highly unlikely given the list of cardiac issues that have long been observed as causing such incidents of cardiac arrest in athletes.
“Could it (the vaccine) be a rare cause of a rare event? Sure. It could but probabilistically that’s just less likely,” Dr. Michael Ayers, a sports cardiologist at the University of Virginia Health told USA TODAY.
Fact check: False claim pilots started training for sudden death mid-flight in 2022
A 2021 research study found that cardiomyopathy, an acquired or inherited disease of the heart muscle, accounts for nearly half of the sudden cardiac arrest and death cases in college and professional athletes.
Sudden cardiac arrest can be caused by underlying cardiac problems such as abnormalities of the heart’s muscle or electrical system, acquired factors such as myocarditis, which is the inflammation of the heart, or a phenomenon in which someone is struck very hard in the chest, Dr. Rachel Lampert, a sports cardiologist at Yale University, told USA TODAY.
“Among the causes that I have given you, knowing that this type of phenomenon long precedes the COVID vaccines, I think the thought that this is related to the vaccine would be pretty much at the bottom of the list,” Lampert said.
Myocarditis linked to mRNA vaccines in extremely rare cases
Patients have experienced myocarditis following COVID-19 vaccination, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the condition only happens in about one out of 100,000 people who get one of the mRNA vaccines, so it’s very rare, as USA TODAY previously reported.
Dr. Patrick Jackson, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Virginia, told USA TODAY that’s very unlikely to lead to an event like Hamlin’s.
“Myocarditis leading to cardiac arrest is incredibly, vanishingly rare, even among the kind of this universe of a very rare complication of the vaccine,” Jackson said.
According to Lampert, it is also wrong for the post to claim that 24-year-old athletes “don’t just have” cardiac arrests, as there are examples of elite athletes who have suffered such medical emergencies, even before the COVID-19 vaccines became available. A 2006 research study found more than 1,000 examples of athletes who had experienced “sudden cardiac death.”
Fact check: Viral post makes invalid comparison on sudden cardiac death in athletes
For example, 22-year-old Spanish soccer player Antonio Puerta collapsed mid-game in 2007, according to Reuters. He died three days later from complications due to “prolonged cardiac arrest.”
Likewise, former Canadian ice hockey player Christopher Robert Pronger collapsed mid-game in 1998 after getting hit in the chest, causing commotio cordis, a form of cardiac arrest, KSDK-TV reported. And former English soccer player Fabrice Muamba suffered a cardiac arrest on the field in 2012, according to The Guardian.
USA TODAY reached out to the social media user who shared the claim for comment.
PolitiFact and Factcheck.org also debunked the claim.
Our fact-check sources:
- Ira Turner, Jan. 5, Text message exchange with USA TODAY
- Dr. Rachel Lampert, Jan. 5, Phone interview with USA TODAY
- Dr. Patrick Jackson, Jan. 5, Phone interview with USA TODAY
- Dr. Michael Ayers, Jan. 5, Phone interview with USA TODAY
- British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2021, Aetiology and incidence of sudden cardiac arrest and death in young competitive athletes in the USA: a 4-year prospective study
- CDC, Sept. 27, Myocarditis and Pericarditis After mRNA COVID-19 Vaccination
- Canadian Medical Association Journal, Nov. 21, 2022, Observed versus expected rates of myocarditis after SARS-CoV-2 vaccination: a population-based cohort study
- USA TODAY, Jan. 12, Fact check: Viral post makes invalid comparison on sudden cardiac death in athletes
- USA TODAY, July 11, Fact check: False claim that sudden arrhythmic death syndrome is linked to vaccine
- USA TODAY, Jan. 3, What is cardiac arrest? What to know after Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin’s hospitalization
- Reuters, Aug. 28, 2007, Sevilla’s Puerta dies three days after collapse
- KSDK-TV, Jan. 4, Chris Pronger remembers 1998 on-ice collapse
- The Guardian, March 24, 2012, 78 minutes in the life (and near death) of Fabrice Muamba
- PolitiFact, Jan. 4, Damar Hamlin remains in hospital as anti-vaxxers speculate about his collapse
- Factcheck.org, Jan. 3, NFL Player Damar Hamlin’s Cardiac Arrest Triggers Unfounded Social Media Claims
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