If you were to believe mainstream media reporting, you might think that a new study of out-of-hospital cardiac deaths (OHCA) definitively proves that COVID vaccines do not cause cardiac deaths. The fact that the study proves nothing of the sort raises concerns about the media’s role in spreading misinformation and stoking polarisation on sensitive public health issues.
The claim that COVID vaccines cause sudden cardiac arrests is an anti-vax lie – so declared headlines announcing findings of the peer-reviewed study of Victorian OHCA registry data. Journalists emphasised the study’s finding of no increase in OHCA in young people throughout the pandemic, claiming this as evidence that COVID vaccines do not cause sudden cardiac deaths.
However, what the study actually shows is far less sensational. It is true that researchers from the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute found no increase in rates of overall OHCA in people under 50 years of age between 2019-2022. The researchers also found no difference in the underlying causes of sudden death in 38 people who died within 30 days of COVID vaccination when compared with previously published age-matched data. These findings led the authors to conclude that, “overall rates of OHCA in young people showed no signal for any relationship with the introduction of widespread COVID-19 vaccination or community rates of COVID-19 infection.
Media reports of the study’s findings ignored the lack of association for COVID infection and OHCA but gave intense focus to the lack of association for COVID vaccination and OHCA. This focus may stem in part from comments from the lead researcher, Dr Elizabeth Paratz, who said that the study can, “reassure people in the community about the safety of the vaccines with regards to out-of-hospital cardiac arrests and COVID-19 vaccination.” In an interview with The Age, Dr Paratz said, “Extrapolation can be the enemy when you say, ‘vaccinations may cause a cardiac issue, therefore, cardiac deaths are going to go up’… we’re not seeing that borne out.”
And yet, cardiac deaths going up is exactly what we are seeing borne out in Australian mortality data, which shows that cardiac deaths increased to 17 per cent above the baseline average in 2022. The country’s peak actuarial body, the Actuaries Institute, reports that ischaemic heart disease was the biggest contributor to total excess deaths in 2022, which clocked in at 15 per cent, or 25,000 above the historical average, the highest Australia has seen since World War II.
Internationally renowned cardiologist Dr Peter McCullough, who has over 60 published peer-reviewed papers on COVID alone to his name, says that the study was not designed in such a way to test the hypothesis that COVID vaccines are causing sudden cardiac deaths. “I am concerned that the large fraction of sudden deaths after vaccination do not present in Victoria in a manner that would allow capture in the out-of-hospital cardiac arrest database,” says Dr McCullough, pointing out that the study does not report survivors versus those who died despite resuscitation, nor does it indicate what cardiac and sudden death events qualified for inclusion in the study versus those that didn’t.
Cardiologist and president of the Australian Medical Professionals’ Society, Dr Chris Neil, agrees. “There appears to be the underlying assumption that ‘anti-vaxxers’ have a solitary concern regarding sudden cardiac death,” says Dr Neil. “The truth is that those paying attention to pharmacovigilance databases have a plethora of concerns, relating to both mortality and morbidity and covering multiple specialities in medicine because under-tested shots were rolled out en masse.” Dr Neil suggests that these kinds of concerns are best evaluated with patient-level data and with dates of vaccine dose exposures, in large data sets capable of detecting unexpected deaths and new diagnoses of interest.
It is also unclear what methods were used to determine the causes of death in the 38 people whose sudden deaths were assessed in the study, or whether autopsies were performed. “Schwab and Chaves have found in autopsy studies that 70-80% of those found dead after vaccination have a confirmed fatal vaccine injury syndrome,” says Dr McCullough, underscoring the necessity of thorough autopsies in accurately identifying the cause of death post-COVID vaccination.
The researchers acknowledge that the limitation of a 30-day window for capturing post-vaccination deaths will exclude deaths that occur in the medium or long term. Dr McCullough told Umbrella News earlier this year that COVID vaccines can create scarring and subclinical damage to the heart, which can subsequently cause complications, and fatalities, months or even years later.
It is a bitter irony that this OHCA study did not capture the COVID vaccine death of 21-year-old Natalie Boyce, who died of myocardial infarction with subacute myocarditis in the Alfred Hospital, the very same hospital that the Baker Institute is based out of, five weeks after her Moderna booster. Boyce’s mother, Deborah Hamilton, testified in a Senate committee hearing last week that her daughter suffered “medical negligence” at the hands of medical professionals who did not appear to understand the nature or severity of Boyce’s catastrophic reaction to the vaccine. The Therapeutic Goods Administration has officially acknowledged that Boyce’s death, on 27 March 2022, is linked to the Moderna COVID vaccine.
Taking these concerns into account, along with an international call from the World Health Council for the removal of the COVID vaccines from the market due to excess mortality in all data reporting systems, Dr McCullough says that, “a study that failed to capture vaccine deaths should not be interpreted as authoritative or reassuring.”
The presentation in the media of a single study conclusively ‘debunking’ or determining anything is misinformation in and of itself, says UNSW economist and media commentator Professor Gigi Foster. Foster laments the “facile” reporting that is typical of mainstream coverage of complex issues, especially around politically charged topics like COVID and vaccines. “It’s entertainment, not news. They’re treating the audience like imbeciles,” says Foster, who has appeared on 60 Minutes and ABC’s Q+A.
The dumbing down of news as infotainment is not just insulting to audiences – it can be harmful to those who get caught in the crossfire. Foster copped a nasty backlash after inflammatory reporting of comments she made during media appearances. “People called me a ‘Death Cult Warrior, a ‘Granny Killer’. I got voicemails telling me I should die,” says Foster. Dr Paratz also received abusive emails following the publication of earlier research on cardiac deaths.
“It’s very dysfunctional because it’s a signal that we can’t talk to each other across aisles,”
says Foster, who believes that sensational and reductive reporting is exacerbating the breakdown of public discourse in Australia.
At the extreme, reckless media reporting, particularly around the risks of novel therapeutics, can be deadly. Natalie Boyce had a rare blood clotting disorder, making her a high-risk case for COVID vaccination. Hamilton told the Senate committee that despite there being warning signs of risks associated with COVID vaccines for people with immune conditions in late 2021 before her daughter had the booster in early 2022, this was not published and communicated to doctors and the public. “If I had have known this very real risk, Natalie would never have had another vaccine, and I believe she would be alive today, said Hamilton, reflecting that relying on mainstream media for information about the COVID vaccines had been a “fatal mistake.”
“A proper piece of investigative health journalism should not merely regurgitate the findings of any single research article,” says Foster. “Journalists should ask why concerns have arisen about cardiac deaths linked to COVID vaccines. When you have a lack of consensus in science and in public debate, then it’s indicative that a lot of people are still questioning what’s going on.” This is true both in academia, where leading cardiologists and scientists on both sides of the COVID vaccine debate are in strong disagreementandwithin the general public, with a number of surveys confirming that as many as one in four people believe that they know someone who died from a COVID vaccine.
Financial incentives and conflicts of interest should also be noted in all reporting of academic work, says Foster. While the OHCA study declares no direct conflicts of interest, media reporting ought to have informed readers that the Baker Institute receives funding from major COVID vaccine manufacturers including AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Moderna manufacturing partner Sanofi. Furthermore, the Baker Institute has also received funding to conduct an mRNA research project to tackle cardiovascular disease.
Dr McCullough suggests that there is also a personal element of conflict in the production of academic research related to COVID vaccines because many of the doctors and scientists who took the vaccines are now having, “psychological difficulties with the reality that they have mRNA and spike protein in their bodies known to cause tissue and organ damage. Now that both non-fatal and fatal vaccine injury syndromes are reported in the peer-reviewed literature in more than 3,000 papers, the doctors are in personal and professional denial,” says Dr McCullough.
Dr Neil notes the zero tolerance of debate in the medical profession during COVID times. “Just like the rest of the Australian population, specialists have mostly complied, sometimes against their principles and better judgement,” he says. “We have to acknowledge that it’s hard to double back on matters of such significance, especially when one’s professional reputation is on the line.”
Under these conditions, audiences will not easily find nuanced, rational discussions of a range of views on COVID-related topics in mainstream news reporting, says Foster, who recommends that audiences gather information from alternative and independent media sources, as well as the old-school method of simply talking to people. Most importantly, Foster warns, “Do not outsource your thinking to the media. History tells us, that’s incredibly dangerous.”
Dr Elizabeth Paratz did not respond to a request for comment.
Dr Neil is not currently practising due to an ongoing dispute with Australia’s professional regulator, AHPRA.