‘Absurd conspiracy theory’ says misinformation expert on Hamlin-vaccine messages

Following the collapse of NFL player Damar Hamlin during a game, a flood of messages immediately blamed the COVID-19 vaccine for his medical episode.

There is just one problem with that idea, according to misinformation expert Timothy Caulfield.

“There’s absolutely no evidence that the vaccines are causing hundreds of deaths and thousands of severe reactions,” said Caulfield. “Put it in the category of absurd conspiracy theory.”

The Hamlin case is part of a growing narrative claiming thousand of athletes have died after receiving the vaccine. But Caulfield says much of the so-called evidence is either falsified or relies on skewed data.

“So you get into a car accident after you take the vaccine, did the vaccine cause the accident? A meteor hits you on the head after you had the vaccine, that doesn’t mean the vaccine caused that.”

But while the claims may be false, their impact is real. Caulfield estimates that eight per cent of Canadians subscribe to vaccine conspiracies, but that the falsified anecdotes impact perceptions beyond that fringe minority.


“The number of pregnant women getting vaccines has gone down. And you’ve probably heard the number of people having their kids vaccinated, that’s also going down,” explained Caulfield.

Caulfield adds these conspiracies continue to flow despite one key factor.

“You could make the argument that this is the most studied, the vaccine with the most oversight in human history and we’re still getting these absolutely ridiculous claims.”

Caulfield believes anti-COVID-19 conspiracies are likely to continue for decades. But he hopes this latest one – openly blaming medical episodes or deaths on the shot without evidence – will die down, in particular for those like Hamlin who have been targeted by those groups.

“It’s cruel to the family of the individuals who are suffering, it’s cruel to those who are going to be hurt by the lies, it’s just incredibly heartless so it’s difficult to not get angry when you see these kinds of things.”

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