Anti-fascists take advantage of sudden deaths to spread Covid jab lies

Dolores Cruz looks at a college with pictures of her youngest son, Eric Cruz (Image: AP)

The cause of six-year-old Anastasia Weaver’s tragic death may not be known for weeks.

However, it only took the anti-inflammatories hours after family and friends said their final goodbyes at her funeral to baselessly attribute it to the Covid vaccine.

A rich Twitter account posted Anastasia’s name above a photo of her smiling for a dancing portrait with a syringe emoji.

One even sent a message to the grieving mother of Jessica Day Weaver, from Ohio, calling her a “murderer” for vaccinating the child.

In fact, Anastasia had lifelong health problems from her premature birth, including epilepsy, asthma and frequent hospitalizations for respiratory viruses.

“The doctors didn’t give us any information other than her chronic conditions,” Jessica said.

“There was never any thought that it could come from the vaccine.”

Andrew Weaver, from left, Caitlin Weaver and Jessica Day-Weaver hold a ceramic handprint of their daughter, Anastasia, at their home Thursday, Feb. 2, 2022, in Boardman, Ohio.  (AP Photo/Nick Cammett)

Andrew Weaver, Caitlin Weaver and Jessica Day-Weaver (Image: AP)

Jessica Day Weaver and Caitlin Weaver hold a ceramic impression of their daughter, Anastasia, at their home Thursday, Feb. 2, 2022, in Boardman, Ohio.  (AP Photo/Nick Cammett)

Jessica and Caitlin hold up a ceramic print of her daughter Anastasia (Image: AP)

But those facts didn’t matter online, where Anastasia quickly joined a growing list of hundreds of children, teenagers, athletes and celebrities whose unexpected deaths and injuries have been wrongly blamed on the stabbing.

Using the hashtag #diedsuddenly, conspiracy theorists have flooded social media with news stories, obituaries and GoFundMe pages in recent months, leaving grieving families to struggle with lies.

There’s the 37-year-old Brazilian TV presenter who collapsed live on air due to a congenital heart problem.

The 18-year-old unvaccinated bull that died of a rare disease. The 32-year-old actress who died of complications from a bacterial infection.

The use of “died suddenly” — or a misspelled version of it — has increased more than 740 percent in tweets about vaccines in the past two months compared to the previous two months, media intelligence firm Zignal Labs found in an analysis conducted for the Associated Press.

The phrase’s explosion began with the late November debut of an online “documentary” of the same name, giving strength to what experts say is a new and damaging shorthand.

“It’s kind of a language within the group, like a wink, a nudge,” said Renee DiResta, technical research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory.

“They’re taking something that’s a relatively common way to describe something — people, in fact, dying unexpectedly — and then, by hashtagging it, they’re bringing all these incidents together in one place.”

The campaign is causing damage beyond the internet, said epidemiologist Dr. Katelyn Jetelina.

Tragedy hackers with #diedsuddenly to spread lies

Using the hashtag #diedsuddenly, conspiracy theorists have flooded social media with news stories, obituaries and GoFundMe pages in recent months (Image: Getty)

“The real risk is that it eventually leads to real-world actions like not vaccinating,” said Dr. Jetelina, who tracks and analyzes COVID data for her blog, “Your Local Epidemiologist.”

Hundreds of millions of doses of the Covid vaccine have been administered worldwide, with rigorous study and real-world evidence showing that it is both safe and effective.

Vaccination-related deaths are extremely rare, and the risks associated with not vaccinating are far greater than the risks of vaccinating.

But that hasn’t stopped conspiracy theorists from debunking a variety of falsehoods about vaccines.

The film “Died Suddenly” features a montage of titles found on Google to make the baseless claim that sudden deaths “have never happened like this before.”

It has amassed more than 20 million views on an alternative video-sharing site, and its accompanying Twitter account posts more deaths and injuries daily.

An AP review of more than 100 tweets from the account in December and January found that claims about the vaccine-related cases were largely unsubstantiated and, in some cases, contradicted by public information.

Some of the participants died from genetic disorders, drug overdoses, complications from the flu, or suicide. One died in a surfing accident.

The filmmakers did not respond to specific questions from the AP, but instead issued a statement referring to an “increase in sudden deaths” and a “PROVEN rate of excess deaths,” without providing evidence.

The number of total deaths in the US has been higher than expected since the start of the pandemic, in part due to the virus, overdoses and other causes.

Covid-19 vaccines prevented nearly 2 million deaths in the US in their first year of use alone.

Some deaths exploited in the film predate the pandemic.

California writer Dolores Cruz published an essay in 2022 about grieving her son, who died in a car accident in 2017. “Died Suddenly” used a screenshot of the film’s title, depicting his death as related to the vaccine.

Dolores Cruz poses next to a painting by son Eric (Image: AP)

A photo of Erik Cruz as a five-year-old preschooler rests on a table (Image: AP)

“Without my permission, someone took his story to show one side and I don’t appreciate that,” she said in an interview. “His legacy and memory are tarnished.”

Others involved in the film survived – but were forced to watch clips of their medical emergencies doctored around the world.

For Brazilian TV anchor Rafael Silva, who collapsed while reporting due to a congenital heart defect, the online misinformation caused a wave of harassment even before the film used the footage.

“I got messages saying I should have died to serve as an example to other people who were still thinking about getting the vaccine,” Silva said.

Many of the online posts do not mention any evidence other than that the person who died had been vaccinated at some point in the past, using a common misinformation strategy known as the post hoc fallacy, according to Dr. Jetelina.

“People assume that one thing caused another simply because the first thing preceded the other,” he said.

Some claims about those who have suffered heart problems also weaponize the kernel of truth – that vaccines can cause rare problems of heart inflammation, myocarditis or pericarditis, especially in young men.

Medical experts say these cases are usually mild and the benefits of vaccination still far outweigh the risks.

The narrative has also tapped into high-profile moments such as the collapse of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin as he went into cardiac arrest during a game last month after taking a hard hit to his chest.

But sudden cardiac arrest has long been a leading cause of death in the US – and medical experts agree the vaccine did not cause Hamlin’s injury.

For some families, the misinformation represents a sideshow to their real focus: understanding why their loved ones died and preventing similar tragedies.

Jessica Day-Weaver poses next to a photo collage made for her daughter, Anastasia, at her home, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2022, in Boardman, Ohio.  (AP Photo/Nick Cammett)

Jessica poses next to a photo collage of her daughter (Image: AP)

Clint Erickson’s son, Tyler, died in September just before his 18th birthday while golfing near their Florida home. The family knows his heart stopped, but they still don’t know exactly why.

Tyler was not vaccinated, but his story was featured in the movie “Died Suddenly.”

“It bothers me that he’s being used this way,” Clint said. But “the biggest personal issue I have is trying to find an answer or closure to what caused it.”

Jessica said it was upsetting to see people capitalize on her daughter’s death when they knew nothing about her.

They didn’t know that she loved people so much that she would hug strangers at Walmart, or that she had just learned how to pull.

However, she said: “I wouldn’t wish the loss of a child on anyone. Even they.”

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