This article was originally posted in the Montreal Gazette.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. There’s this idea out there that young men, especially athletes, have been dying after getting vaccinated. The idea has been bouncing around the internet for more than a year and seems to have started when Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest during a Euro 2020 match. Bloggers then speculated that the vaccine was to blame.
The story grew in size and scope with claims that more than 100 young athletes had died. The fact that Eriksen actually survived and recovered didn’t seem to bother anyone sharing the story.
While cases of young athletes dying during sports events do occasionally happen, it is often due to a genetic condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
But the idea that young athletes were dropping like flies was repeated by people like U.S. Senator Ron Johnson and former basketball player John Stockton. Their original comments were that these young men, all professional athletes, were dying on the soccer pitch, or basketball court, or baseball field. Tellingly, different versions of the story attributed the deaths to different sports. But the fact that no one could agree on the sport did nothing to lessen enthusiasm for repeating this particular piece of misinformation. The NFL and other sporting groups have stated publicly that the claims are not true. When people fact-checked lists purporting to show that young athletes had died, they often contained names like Hank Aaron, who died last year at the ripe old age of 86, or Alex Stalock, who developed myocarditis, but from a COVID infection in November 2020 prior to the vaccines becoming available. He is still alive.
The story of young athletes dying was probably partly inspired by reports of myocarditis, principally in young men. Although the risk of myocarditis was very low, and the cases were generally mild and resolved without complications after a few days, people were understandably scared. However, much of the risk was probably driven by the shorter four-week interval between the first and second doses that was used initially in other countries, and data from the United States and Israel shows that the risk is lower after booster doses. In the United States, the CDC reviewed data on 2.8 millions teens who got boosters. There were 64 preliminary reports of myocarditis, of which 32 were confirmed after chart review. What is more, all the cases recovered and there were no deaths. The Israeli data showed a similar result, with lower rates of myocarditis post booster compared to the second dose. Overall, both studies found about one to five cases per 100,000, which is similar to the background rate of myocarditis. Also worth pointing out that both U.S. and U.K. data show that myocarditis is far more common after a COVID infection than after vaccination.
Unfortunately, a recent tweet by the Florida surgeon general has resurrected an issue that should have been put to rest long ago. This “report” claimed that cardiac death was increased in young men after vaccination. The problems with this report are numerous. First, they didn’t count any COVID-related deaths, which beggars belief if your goal is to genuinely study the risks and benefits of the COVID vaccine. Second, patient follow-up continued even after patients were dead, which is generally an odd statistical choice. Also, while cardiac deaths were higher in young men who were vaccinated, deaths overall were actually lower. So in reality, young men were less likely to die than unvaccinated ones, even in this truly methodologically bizarre study.
Some claim that the risk of vaccination in young men is a controversy that deserves debate. But it isn’t a controversy. It’s a hoax. A controversy is a point where reasonable people disagree. A hoax is just simply untrue. And it is untrue that young men are dying as a result of getting vaccinated.