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COVID-19. Vaccine and cardiac arrest in athletes. Beware of the false claim

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According to recordings circulating on the web, the COVID-19 vaccine is allegedly the reason for a large increase in the number of heart attacks in young athletes. Be warned: this message is misleading, there is no scientific justification.

The COVID-19 vaccine is allegedly responsible for increasing the number of cardiac arrests in young athletes – such a claim was circulated in the second half of January on Polish Twitter. The proof of this is to be a little over two minutes long video. It’s about a fragment of the American talk show “Tucker Carlson Tonight”. Its host, Tucker Carlson, says: “Cardiologist Peter McCullough and researcher Panagis Polykretis looked at this trend in European sports leagues. They found that before the COVID-19 vaccines in European sports leagues there were approximately 29 cardiac arrests per year. Since the start of the vaccination campaign in these There have been more than 1,500 cardiac arrests in the league, two-thirds of which were fatal. As he says these words, the bar at the bottom of the screen reads: “Dramatic increase in the number of heart attacks in young athletes.” After this introduction, Carlson goes on to talk to the aforementioned doctor, Peter McCullough.

“Pre-mRNA vaccine 29 cardiac arrests per year in sports, post-vaccine 1,500 in one year” – Jan 10 he stated one of the Polish Twitter users who shared the recording. The video post has been viewed over a thousand times.

Misleading tweet from January 10, 2023Twitter.com

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McCullough and Carlson have misrepresented vaccinations before

The material from the popular tweet is actually an excerpt from the “Tucker Carlson Tonight” program on Fox News. A slightly longer, four-minute fragment of the program is available on the station website. The episode aired on January 3 this year. Why was one of his topics about heart attacks among athletes allegedly caused by the COVID-19 vaccine? The previous day, during an American football game, one of the Bullalo Bills players, 24-year-old Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest in front of the fans in the stadium and millions of spectators. Some Internet users speculated that the COVID-19 vaccination contributed to this.

Carlson’s guest was Dr. Peter McCullough – an American physician known for making misleading claims about COVID-19 and vaccines. They were described by fact-checking editorial offices: Health Feedback, FactCheck.org, Full Fact, Associated Press (AP) and AFP. Recently we verified conclusions drawn by Internet users on the basis of a recording of a fragment of an interview with McCullough that is popular on the Polish Internet.

Recall that Tucker Carlson, an American TV personality and conservative political commentator, has repeatedly misrepresented COVID-19 and vaccines on his shows. More than once he misinformed his viewers about other topics as well. He convinced that no one in the crowd that stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021 had firearms; claimed that during the recent US presidential election in one of the counties in the state of Georgia allegedly took place serious electoral fraud. His words were repeatedly verified by American fact-checking editorial offices, including Politifact.com and FactCheck.org.

Carlson on Fox News says over 1,500. cases of cardiac arrest since the start of COVID-19 vaccination, two-thirds of which are fatal. He then asked McCulloughan to talk about his research on the subject.

“The concern here is that professional athletes, Tucker, are carefully screened for the causes of heart disease. The leading cause of sudden death on the field of play is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Athletes are being screened for this There are rare situations, genetic abnormalities in heart rhythm that can occur, but sudden cardiac death should be a very unusual occurrence,” McCullough said.

Misleading narrative and dubious data

Are we really dealing with a situation where COVID-19 vaccines cause a dramatic increase in the number of fatal cardiac arrests in athletes, as Carlson and McCullough argue? In early January, this theory was verified by English-language fact-checking editorial offices: Associated Press (AP), FactCheck.org, Politifact.com, LeadStories.com, AFP and Logically.ai.

It turns out that Carlson, when talking about the dramatic increase in the number of cardiac arrests in athletes, was really referring not to scientific research but for a letter to the publisher, which was published on December 21, 2022 in the Scandinavian journal “Scandinavian Journal of Immunology”. Its authors are the aforementioned McCullough and Panagis Polykretis.

The letter states that between January 2021 and the end of 2022, “1,598 athletes suffered cardiac arrest, of which 1,101 ended in death.” The source of this data is supposed to be a page called GoodSciencing.com, where a full list of cases has been published (at the time of publication of this article, there were 1,676 cases on the website). Good Science is a blog run by anonymous contributors. We are a small team of investigators, news publishers, journalists and truth seekers. As they then add, “it doesn’t matter who we are.”

As checked by fact-checking editorial offices, the list is available on the website GoodSciencing.com it is not a reliable or scientific source of data. First, incidents from all over the world (e.g. India, Brazil, Russia and Malaysia) were included, and these involved people of all ages – some were over 70 or 80 years old and could not have been active athletes. These figures are therefore not exclusive to athletes in “European sports leagues”, as Carlson claims. Secondly, information about incidents does not come from scientific studies and hospital statistics – they are based on media reports.

Third, the list included deaths that, even according to media reports, were not related to cardiac arrest, including former baseball player Hank Aaron, who died of natural causes at the beginning of 2021 at the age of 86; Gary Tiller, a 62-year-old curling player from Canada, has died after a “short battle with cancer”. College softball star Lauren Bernett also made the list she committed suicide and Jake Ehlinger, an American football player who died from it drug overdose.

Even so, McCullough and Polykretis in their letter compare the dubious figure of 1,598 cardiac arrests with study from 2006, published in the “European Journal of Preventive Cardiology”. It reviewed the literature for reports of sudden cardiac death among athletes under 35 years of age. Sudden cardiac death is unexpected death caused by cardiac arrest. In the analyzed period of 38 years (1966-2004) 1,101 such cases were detected, an average of 29 per year. The paper also noted that its findings are limited because the number of sudden cardiac deaths “in young athletes, as reported in published and researched works, is certainly underestimated.”

“This is not real research”; “It’s complete misinformation”

Comparing a dubious, unscientific source with research has little to do with science, said experts interviewed by foreign fact-checking editorial offices. “This isn’t real research,” Dr. Matthew Martinez told the AP. director of the sports cardiology department at Atlantic Health System at Morristown Medical Center. “Anyone can write a letter to the editor and then cite an article that has no academic rigor,” he added.

It would be “incorrect” to draw conclusions from comparing the 2006 study and the blog data, Dr. Neel Chokshi, medical director of the Penn Medicine Sports Cardiology and Fitness Program at the University of Pennsylvania, told the AP. ‘Typically, research and scientific data are peer reviewed through a fairly rigorous process to evaluate the methods used to obtain the data and conduct the analysis,’ he explained. This is important for several reasons, including ensuring that the data is accurate, free of unforeseen biases and potential confounders.”

“There is no increase in sudden cardiac arrests or deaths in athletes due to COVID-19 or COVID-19 vaccinations. This is complete misinformation,” he said. FactCheck.org Jonathan Drezner, a sports cardiologist at the University of Washington and editor-in-chief of the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Similarly in an interview with PolitiFact Dr. Matthew Martinez also spoke.

Author:Gabriela Sieczkowska





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