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• A spokesperson at the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s office confirmed that Aaron died of natural causes and that his death was not linked to the COVID-19 vaccine.
• Just because Aaron died after receiving a vaccine doesn’t prove that the vaccine caused his death. To establish causation, experts look beyond isolated data points to studies of large groups of people to see if a negative symptom is more prominent in vaccinated people than in non-vaccinated ones.
• Safety data involving tens of thousands of people have proven the COVID-19 vaccines to be safe and effective.
Social media users are suggesting that the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine caused the death of baseball legend and civil rights advocate Hank Aaron.
"Hank Aaron - RIP - wanted to be an example and an inspiration to Black People by taking the COVID-19 vaccine. Unfortunately, he may have become a clear example to Black People of why this vaccine CANNOT be trusted," reads a Facebook post.
The post was published on Facebook and flagged as part of the company’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
Aaron passed away at the age of 86 on Jan. 22, 2021, two weeks after he had received the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
But posts like this one mislead by implying that the vaccine caused Aaron’s death. So far, there’s no evidence of a direct link, and vaccine experts told us to view these claims with caution.
A spokesperson at the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s office, which examined Aaron’s body after his death, told PolitiFact that his cause of death was natural and not linked to the COVID-19 vaccine.
The COVID-19 vaccines have been studied for months and have been proven to be safe and effective in tens of thousands of people. In addition, many of the users suggesting that the Moderna vaccine caused Aaron’s death are doing so without any evidence.
"Unfortunately, there are 86-year-olds who die every day. Thus, a single death in a person of that age group following a more than two-week interval from vaccination does not prove causation," said Dr. Walter Orenstein, associate director of the Emory Vaccine Center.
We don’t know specifically how Aaron died. USA Today has reported that Aaron died of a stroke in his sleep.
If Aaron did die of a stroke, that would make it even less likely that the vaccine contributed in some way to his death. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said that it would be "biologically implausible" for the COVID-19 vaccine to cause a stroke.
"The coronavirus can cause strokes, but the (Moderna COVID-19) vaccine only contains one protein of the virus, and there’s no evidence that that one protein is inducing inflammation of the blood vessels (which could cause strokes)," he said.
The most common way of assessing whether vaccines have negative side effects is by gathering safety data from two groups of people, a vaccinated group and a control group. If a particular symptom is significantly higher in the vaccinated group, then it’s likely that the vaccine causes that symptom. However, if a particular symptom occurs at a similar rate in both the vaccinated and control groups, then the most likely cause is coincidence.
Tens of thousands of people participated in clinical trials last year to make sure the vaccines were safe before rolling them out to the general public. To receive FDA emergency-use authorization, vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna had to follow up with at least half of participants for at least two months after they received their vaccinations.
U.S. health experts have been aware of the possibility that deaths following vaccination would be perceived as being linked to the vaccine. In December, Dr. Helen Keipp Talbot, a member of the U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, said that the likelihood of nursing home patients dying from other causes shortly after vaccination could erode public confidence in the safety of the vaccines.
"When you are vaccinating millions and millions of people, some will develop bad illnesses and death simply by chance," said Orenstein. "These would be illnesses and deaths that would have occurred anyway at that time even if the person was not vaccinated."
Social media users imply that Hank Aaron’s death was caused by a COVID-19 vaccine.
The Fulton County Medical Examiner’s office confirmed that Aaron’s death was not linked to the vaccine.
Just because someone dies after receiving a vaccine does not prove that the vaccine caused his death. The COVID-19 vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective in tens of thousands of people.
We rate these posts False.
Interview with Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Jan. 25, 2021
Interview with Walter Orenstein, associate director of the Emory Vaccine Center, Jan. 25, 2021
Interview with Fulton County Medical Examiner’s office, Jan. 26, 2021
Facebook post, Jan. 22, 2021
Food and Drug Administration, Briefing Document: Vaccines and related biological products advisory committee meeting, Dec. 17, 2020
NPR, "Health care workers, nursing home residents to be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccine," Dec. 1, 2020
PolitiFact, Norway deaths after COVID-19 shot were among very frail elderly, not proved to be caused by vaccine, Jan. 19, 2021
PolitiFact, Vaccine misinformation: preparing for infodemic’s ‘second wave,’ Dec. 21, 2020
USA Today, MLB Hall of Famer and baseball's former home run king Hank Aaron dies at 86, Jan. 22, 2021
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