The Anti-Vaxxer Mission to Promote Nonexistent COVID Vaccine Deaths
In the days since the US started adopting coronavirus vaccines, many Americans have searched for information on when, where, and how they and their loved ones can get a sting. The question of who comes first and why is inevitable.
But a small, vocal minority has been desperate to find something grimmer and non-existent: evidence that these vaccines against COVID-19 have killed people.
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"Comprehensive List of COVID Vaccine-Related Deaths?" A Reddit user recently posted on a forum focusing on conspiracy theory. "Has anyone put one together yet?"
"Pick a date and time that the first recorded death of someone who had the vaccine was recorded," wrote another user. "As a bonus, what news site will it be announcing?"
The anti-Vaxxer rhetoric has led some Americans for many months to mistakenly believe that COVID-19 vaccines will kill people, that the powers that be, will suppress them, and that they must chase this alleged outrage and exchange evidence. Experts on anti-Vaxxer rhetoric and conspiracy theories fear that this savage hunt for death and disaster could lead sensible but concerned people into conspiratorial rabbit holes and ultimately hamper efforts to contain this nightmare pandemic.
The current search for deaths has gotten so out of hand that even some vaccine skeptics of the old guard are distancing themselves from the frenzy.
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"I've heard reports of anaphylaxis in England so far with two deaths [resulting]," a Reddit user who refused to give his real name told The Daily Beast why he made a call to the Update published had on suspected deaths from vaccines.
The user, who posted debunked discussion points about how vaccines that require cold storage contain antifreeze, said he saw other people on social media saying the few cases of anaphylaxis related to COVID-19 vaccine doses treated quickly and effectively. resulting in zero deaths.
This is true. But "these are the rumors I'm trying to avoid," added the phantom deathhunter, posting a call for more death stories.
Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, the only ones currently approved in the U.S. for emergency use, can have some side effects, such as pain at the site of the sting and mild fatigue and fever symptoms that can last a day or two. They also, as Peter Hotez, a vaccinologist at Baylor College of Medicine, told The Daily Beast, produced "an above-expected number of allergic reactions." The CDC recently reported that as of December 18, six people had anaphylactic episodes shortly after receiving a dose, an allergic reaction that can be fatal if left untreated.
However, health authorities are aware of this low risk and are ready to address it. No official body - or anyone removed from the world of radical disinformation against Vaxxer - has yet recorded a single case of death from, or related to, a COVID-19 vaccine.
"The vaccines appear to have a good overall safety profile," said Hotez.
Of course, it was practically inevitable that anti-Vaxxers, which have a long track record of falsely associating vaccines with death, would go on the hunt for deaths from COVID-19 vaccines. Some seem to have started looking for big stories and promoting them once the vaccination trials started.
Joseph Prezioso / AFP via Getty
As early as April, posts appeared on social media claiming that one of the first participants in vaccination trials by AstraZeneca and Oxford University had died after a dose. She did not. It wasn't even clear whether she, as a random study participant, had received a dose of the vaccine or the placebo. Clearly false claims surfaced in the spring and summer of COVID-19 vaccines, killing people in Guinea, children in Senegal and four children in an unspecified part of the world.
Anti-Vaxxers tend to engage in hand presses that rely on cores of established truth. That spring and summer, completely unsubstantiated deaths took a back seat to contemplation of Moderna and Pfizer's use of novel mRNA vaccination techniques that were, in fact, unproven technologies. Some anti-Vaxxers claimed they could somehow mutate people. That shifted in the last month to the fear of paralysis risks associated with the Pfizer vaccine, which was triggered when some people developed Bell's palsy after the bite. (Bell's palsy is usually a temporary condition, and these cases aren't really intrinsically linked to vaccinations.)
However, in the run-up to FDA approval of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, stories of allergic reactions in study participants and of deaths during studies sparked a new wave of highly concentrated scare tactics. The Facts: Two people who received Pfizer's vaccine and six people who received Moderna's vaccine died during their respective trials. However, they all seemed to die of entirely unrelated causes.
In the past few days, Anti-Vaxxer have also relied on the CDC report mentioned above, which found that out of the over 110,000 Pfizer vaccine doses they studied as of December 18, over 3,000 people had reactions that they had "Were unable to perform normal daily activities." Anti-Vaxxers have suggested that this proves the reaction risks associated with the vaccines are incredibly dangerous - and will cause more deaths than COVID-19, which affects at least 326,000 Americans were killed.
The CDC did not respond to requests for comment on this report or anti-Vaxxer readings. However, Hotez found that these 3,000+ reactions likely consisted mostly of mildly severe feverish symptoms and other mild and normal vaccine reactions.
Jonathan Berman, a physician at the New York Institute of Technology who has studied anti-Vaxxer communities, told The Daily Beast that once anti-Vaxxers begin to engage in "what is known as anomaly hunting" they begin to engage in a theory employ. Basically, like most other conspiracy theorists, instead of questioning and testing a hypothesis, they simply look for and start promoting facts and narratives that support their idea.
Once people started raising specific concerns about vaccine deaths, the search for cases was on.
In the third week of December, anti-Vaxxers found screenshots of a Facebook chat from someone who claimed their aunt, an Alabama nurse, died within a day of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. These posts did not contain any verifiable details.
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Still, on December 16, the Alabama Health Department called every hospital in the state and confirmed that this story is not true. But this only caused the story to mutate in circles hungry for evidence of their doubts and beliefs. New narratives argued that the nurse in question was only from Alabama and was actually working in South Carolina when she died. Or that the story was actually about a nurse in Arizona and someone made a typo in a message. They insisted that their hunt had produced rich, red meat.
Health officials in Arizona and South Carolina told The Daily Beast that they have not registered anyone who has died after receiving a COVID-19 vaccination.
"When you're not busy, try to hold on to every little narrative support you can," Hotez said of the persistence of the rumor. "You blow it up."
In the past few days, in search of evidence to back up their suspicions, several other rumors along the same lines have surfaced anti-Vaxxers. Most notably on December 17, Sister Tiffany Dover of the CHI Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga, Tennessee, got a dose of vaccine at work and passed out 17 minutes later - all on camera. She explained that she sometimes faints in response to pain, a vasovagal syncope reaction that isn't unusual or dangerous.
"But it was a dramatic video," remarked Berman, which anti-Vaxxers, starving for evidence of the danger, could point out, claiming they lied and indeed had a dangerous reaction.
“People tend to believe their eyes and it's scary to see someone faint. It gives you a gut visceral response, ”said Berman. For anti-vaxxers selling a point, "this is a powerful tool."
So anti-Vaxxers followed Dover online, looking for possible evidence that something bad had actually happened to her. They claimed no one who passes out when they get a shot can become a nurse, which is absurd. They claimed the fact that she did not post on social media in the days after it was recorded was suspect - while tracking her accounts for some kind of testimony. Finally, on a record-finding website, they found a death certificate for someone with their name and age who lived in Higdon, Alabama, 28 miles from Chattanooga.
Dover is not dead. On Saturday, her employer tweeted that she was home and healthy but wanted to keep her privacy. On Monday, they discovered she was working one shift and showed a video of her and other employees. A Tennessee public health official told The Daily Beast that there was no record of anyone receiving a COVID-19 vaccine in the state who died from any vaccine-related cause.
Hardcore anti-Vaxxer conspiracy theorists looking for evidence to back their beliefs "don't want to take this tool away, however," Berman noted. Instead of resorting to Dover, the first named death that they have tried with some persistence to claim, they have instead said that they will not believe she is alive until she makes a statement of her own with a time and date evidence. They have also said that if she says she is okay, they will not believe her and they suspect she was paid. And many of them firmly believe that the video of her at work is either a deep fake add-in or a body double.
"Tiffany Dover's hair is a different shade and thickness, is folded differently on the head, has her mouth covered and her ice-blue eyes cannot be seen," argued a post on Telegram that criticized the Monday video. "You also pushed the crisis actor to the top [the group of nurses in the video]."
"This is further evidence of the cover-up on Tiffany Dover's death ... The vaccinations kill."
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None of the experts recruited by The Daily Beast have been able to trace the origins of these claims, and established vaccine-skeptical groups say they do not know where they are from. Some of these groups appear to be actively planning social media campaigns to exaggerate the side effects of vaccines and keep people away from them, according to a recent report. But even they haven't registered or advertised obituaries for vaccines, despite being open to the idea that those shocks could prove fatal.
For one thing, Rita Shreffler of the Robert F. Kennedy Jr.-headed Child Health Defense Department told The Daily Beast that they "believe the rumor of Tiffany's death is disinformation." We don't know where it came from. We suppress it whenever we see it. "
Gorski believes the search for and spread of death stories caused by COVID-19 vaccines is just beginning and will warm up as the vaccine reaches the broader population.
This is deeply worrying because even people who normally rely on vaccines are currently scared, thanks to the rapid and heavily politicized development of Moderna and Pfizer products. This fear and instability, Berman argued, leaves millions of Americans vulnerable to conspiracy theories that they might otherwise ignore.
Because of this, Berman says, we need to do more to acknowledge this growing type of misinformation and to provide it with compelling messages that reflect and reinforce real reality and "reach people before they go into conspiratorial rabbit holes."
It is much more difficult to convince them of the vaccine's safety once they take the plunge.
Read more at The Daily Beast.
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