Does a list of athletes from around the world who have died or collapsed help parents of athletic children to weigh the risks and benefits of their child receiving the COVID-19 vaccine? No, that's not true: While this list does enumerate many incidents, in only a few does it mention if the person was even vaccinated, and it does not offer a definitive cause or link between COVID vaccinations and these athletes' fates.
Several lists of athlete deaths and collapses have been circulating on social media. One example appears in a Facebook post on December 7, 2021. The caption implies that the choice to be vaccinated played a direct role in what happened to each person on the list. It reads:
If you have an athletic child being pressured to take the 💉 please consider the actual risks vs. benefits for them.
Athletes, known to be fit and healthy, who chose to get it...
This is what the post looked like at the time of writing:
(Image source: Facebook screenshot taken on Wed Dec 15 18:51:18 2021 UTC)
This screenshot of the Facebook post only shows the first 30 of 91 entries on the list in the actual post.
Most entries include the age, sport, name, sometimes the location and brief description of what happened. This list, while shorter, has considerable overlap with another list of over 300 incidents involving athletes from around the world that was published on an anti-vaccine blog called goodsciencing.com titled "311 Athlete Cardiac Arrests, Serious Issues, 178 Dead, After COVID Shot." Most entries in the goodsciencing.com list also include a link to a local news story and the date of the incident. Both lists and linked articles rarely provide information about medical findings or link the cause to a COVID vaccine, and lack information on whether these athletes were even vaccinated.
Another list was published in November 2021 by Real Time News in Hebrew. This list, like the others, includes incidents from around the world and has athletes from over 20 different sports. This list was cited in other blogs and videos with headlines suggesting the list was only composed of FIFA players and coaches. Lead Stories has already debunked this. When asked for comment, a FIFA spokesperson responded on November 29, 2021:
FIFA is not aware of a rise in episodes of cardiac arrests as indicated in your email and no cases have been flagged in relation to individuals receiving a COVID vaccine. Generally speaking, FIFA is in regular contact with leading research centres and experts to do research on a variety of medical topics.
An article about sudden cardiac arrest on fifa.com explains some of the initiatives that FIFA has implemented since 2006 to save lives and raise awareness, both for soccer players and the general public. This covers first aid and prevention through medical assessments. From 2014-16 FIFA conducted a Sudden Death Registry to investigate causes and regional patterns of sudden death in soccer players.
The journal Sports Medicine published a September 13, 2021, article by the chief medical officer of U.S. soccer, Dr. George Chiampas, and Dr. Abiye L. Ibiebele titled, "A Sports Practitioner's Perspective on the Return to Play During the Early Months of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Lessons Learned and Next Steps." It recommends vaccination along with "six pillars" for an organization to restart events (measures such as testing, masking and contact tracing) as well as appropriate nutrition for optimizing the immune system. The article also includes protocols for health care professionals evaluating athletes after COVID infection and before they return to play.
Lead Stories reached out to Parent Heart Watch, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting youth from sudden cardiac arrest and preventable sudden cardiac death. Executive Director Martha Lopez-Anderson, whose organization tracks such cases up to age 25 in the U.S., replied by email on December 15, 2021:
Sudden cardiac arrest/death has been affecting our youth and athletes for many decades prior to the COVID pandemic. A recent study quotes over 23,000 pediatric cases (under age 18) of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest in the United States. Most cases are due to heart conditions that go undetected until the sentinel event. Parent Heart Watch was founded in 2005 to address the issue of sudden cardiac arrest in youth.
Given COVID infection can affect the cardiovascular system and may be a risk factor for sudden cardiac arrest, Parent Heart Watch strongly recommends that parents ensure that their student athletes get a preparticipation physical evaluation that includes a comprehensive cardiac risk assessment, which can include an electrocardiogram and/or other cardiac diagnostic tests to make sure, in addition to other health conditions, that their heart is safe to play. The medically recommended guidelines for Return to Play in youth with COVID infection should be followed. Families should discuss COVID vaccination and physical activity post COVID infection with their physicians.
The study that Lopez-Anderson referenced regarding 23,000 pediatric cases was based on 2016 data, with the report published in 2020.
There are many medical articles written about rare cases of sudden cardiac death in athletes going back years before SARS-CoV-2 or the vaccines for COVID-19 came on the scene. Just because a young athlete suffers an unexpected cardiac event does not mean that this was caused by a COVID-19 vaccine or COVID. An April 2016 article published in Methodist Debakey Cardiovascular Journal, titled, "Sudden Cardiac Death in Athletes" concludes with these key points:
Though exercise is, in general, health-promoting, it is associated with an increased risk of sudden cardiac death for a small number of individuals who harbor cardiac conditions.
Sudden cardiac death is the most common medical cause of death in athletes, with an incidence of around 1 in 40,000 to 1 in 80,000 athletes per year according to the most recent estimates.
The risk and causes of sudden cardiac death vary based upon the athlete population. Male gender, black race, and basketball participation all place an athlete at higher risk. Sudden cardiac death in younger athletes (< 35 years) is commonly due to inherited cardiac conditions, while in older athletes (> 35 years) it is most often due to atherosclerotic coronary artery disease.