As prayers for Damar Hamlin, the Buffalo Bills player who collapsed during a game Monday, began to roll in on social media after he received CPR on the field, so too did the inevitable conspiracy theories that somehow the cardiac arrest he suffered came from the Covid vaccine.
During the Bills game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Hamlin collapsed on the field seconds after being tackled with a hit in the chest. He was immediately helped by medical personnel and was taken off the field in an ambulance.
As Hamlin was still receiving care on the field, some far-right conspiracy theorists, like Charlie Kirk and Rogan O’Handley, used vague double speak to fan the flames of conspiracies, saying Hamlin’s injury was “all too familiar” in recent years, and that people would “wake up to the truth” about the vaccine, while other anti-vaxxers simply used the syringe emoji to imply that somehow Hamlin getting inoculated is to blame for his medical emergency.
It’s something that Dr. Paula Cannon, professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, is all too familiar with. Cannon says that since the vaccine was introduced two years ago, these unfounded theories have spawned from close to nothing, even after they have been proven time and again to be “extraordinarily safe.”
“What is it with these feeble-minded people who cannot hold unpleasant truths in life in their head for one minute, who have to turn everything into some magical alternative explanation?” Cannon tells Rolling Stone. “Of course, it’s not the vaccine. It’s the fact that he was hit in a football game.”
As of now, it’s unclear what exactly caused Hamlin to collapse, but experts told both CNN and NBC News that the collapse could have resulted from commotio cordis, which occurs when someone gets hit in the chest with a certain amount of force at a specific time during the heart cycle.
Cardiologist Khalid Aljabri explained on Twitter that the blow may have “triggered ventricular fibrillation” and caused the player to collapse.
“Damar Hamlin stood up for a few seconds then lost his consciousness. Is commotio cordis still the likely diagnosis? The answer is yes,” Aljabri wrote on Twitter. “Loss of consciousness starts about 8 seconds after the last heartbeat and circulatory standstill occurs after 10–15 seconds.”
For Cannon, the anti-vaccine theories surrounding Hamlin’s injury say more about those who spew these “vile” and “want to live in an alternative world.”
Cannon says that cardiac issues surrounding the vaccine are “vanishingly rare,” and that the only heart-related issue that has presented itself is myocarditis, inflammation of the heart, after receiving some forms of the vaccine. Not only does myocarditis not cause cardiac arrest, she says, “It’s massively more common for people who have Covid than for people who have the Covid vaccine.”
“Why do people look for zebras instead of looking at the fucking big horse that hits him?” she asks. “When somebody is [tackled] in a football game, and then seconds later keels over, you know that’s a big and very vanilla horse that hit him. It’s not an exotic, endangered spotted leopard.”
During Monday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Hamlin received CPR and his heartbeat was restored on the field. For Cannon, Hamlin’s on-field injury should be bringing up a different conversation: “It’s disappointing that we’re talking about a completely unrelated issue, a Covid vaccine, when we should be talking about the elephant in the room,” Cannon says, “which is concussion sports and how we’re still not making this sport safer.”