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Fact-Check: Hamlin Injury NOT Caused By Vaccine

By: Daniel Young, student reporter

Damar Hamlin of the Buffalo Bills. Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Damar Hamlin, the safety for the Buffalo Bills, has received immense support regarding his recovery after suffering cardiac arrest during the Jan. 2 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. What is now attributed to a commotio cordis was initially spread as a cardiac injury due to the COVID vaccine in right-wing circles on social media and conservative news platforms.

The highly anticipated match by fans between the Bengals and Bills in the former’s city ended in tragedy before the end of the first quarter. The game quickly ended for the night after Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field after a direct hit from Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins.

Hamlin remained unconscious on the field before being taken to a nearby hospital and the game was canceled. The primary possible cause of Hamlin’s cardiac arrest has been identified as commotio cordis, but an official cause has yet to be determined. Hamlin has since recovered.

What is Commotio Cordis?

According to cardiologist Mark S. Link of the Cardiac Arrhythmia Service, commotio cordis is a cardiac event that happens when “a sudden blunt impact to the chest causes sudden death in the absence of cardiac damage.” Although it sounds like it would occur frequently, the phenomenon is pretty rare. 

As Dr. Christopher Maidas, also of the CAS, says, “It happens within a critical period within the cardiac cycle. We’re talking about 20 to 30 milliseconds within the cardiac cycle and the heart is vulnerable to this. And because of that, it’s such a rare event.” This mostly happens in adolescent sports players but is not unheard of to happen to adults. Without immediate treatment, this event can be fatal.

A notable case in national sports is the May 11, 1998, NHL playoff game where St. Louis Blues player Chris Pronger went into cardiac arrest against the Detroit Red Wings after a hit to the chest from a puck. Pronger survived.

Why the Vaccine?

Over the past year, right-wing figures have been undermining the safety of the COVID vaccine, or, “the jab”, by overhyping its adverse effects as responsible for many cardiac-related injuries and deaths. Any news of an athlete collapsing on the field due to any reason would soon be conflated as due either directly from the COVID vaccine or from an indirect vaccine complication such as myocarditis.

With news of Hamlin’s collapse on the field, right-wing pundits, meme accounts, and other personalities took to Twitter with their takes on how the vaccine caused Hamlin’s cardiac arrest. Once conservative pundit Charlie Kirk commented on the incident, others soon followed the next morning, garnering dozens of thousands of likes each.

Conservative commentator Charlie Kirk references Hamlin’s collapse: “This is a tragic and all too familiar sight right now: Athletes dropping suddenly.” Kirk had been one of many conservative voices alleging a trend between the COVID vaccine and sudden cardiac-related deaths.

Notably, there are no certain links to the vaccine beyond pure speculation. Even more so, there’s no acknowledgment of the circumstances around Hamlin’s collapse; only that he did.

Right-wing news hosts Tucker Carlson on FoxNews and Steve Bannon (of Breitbart fame) on Real America’s Voice also gave their own views of Hamlin’s incident and the vaccine. The former didn’t give a cause but gave credibility to the vaccine conspiracy link. Carlson mocked members of the media, saying they were spreading “propaganda” and entertained the thought that Hamlin’s collapse could have been due to the vaccine: “‘It could not have been the shot,’ they told you. ‘Shut up.’ They’re lying. They don’t know anything more than we know, which is effectively nothing.””

Noticing the Similarities

In response to the COVID vaccine injury claims, the Pronger incident came back into the spotlight. In both videos, it can be seen that both Hamlin and Pronger had initially appeared fine after contact, before collapsing on their respective fields.

Pronger himself shared a video of his incident while posting well-wishes for Hamlin’s recovery.

With the short time between Hamlin’s hit and his collapse, it is hard to classify his injury as a result of receiving the COVID vaccine, and more related to the hit itself. With no established link to the vaccine and easy-to-prove circumstances to other causes such as commotio cordis, Hamlin’s injury cannot be proven to be linked to the vaccine. But yet, the speculation around Hamlin’s collapse and the vaccine persists.Aside from his MSNBC appearance, Pronger has since then posted about his perspective concerning his 1998 cardiac arrest on Twitter in a thread, confirming his commotio cordis diagnosis.

March 3, 2023

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