A controversial radio show host and blogger misrepresented findings of a published case report to conclude that an 86-year-old man died as a result of being vaccinated against COVID-19. The case report’s lead author said the man died of bacterial pneumonia and “there was not any sign of vaccination side effect.”
A case report first published online in April was billed to be the “first case of postmortem study in a patient vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2” — the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. In the paper, the authors described the patient history of an 86-year-old male nursing home resident who died almost four weeks after he received his first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in early January.
For more than two weeks after vaccination, the man experienced no apparent symptoms but was hospitalized on the 18th day for worsening diarrhea. Seven days after hospitalization, he tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 — which he is believed to have contracted from his hospital roommate — and he died one day later.
Although the virus was detected in several of his vital organs upon examination, the authors said the man showed no signs of having COVID-19. They concluded the diarrhea had been caused by ischemic colitis, an inflammatory disease in the bowel, and the cause of death was bacterial pneumonia and renal failure.
The authors said the autopsy results “might suggest that the first vaccination induces immunogenicity,” or an immune response, “but not sterile immunity,” which is when the immune system is able to completely stop a virus from causing infection.
But some of the case report’s findings have since been misrepresented in a June 13 post headlined “‘Global Time Bomb’ First case of postmortem study of patient vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2; ‘viral RNA found in every organ of the body.'”
The post — which has more than 8,000 shares on Facebook, according to CrowdTangle data — was originally published by Hal Turner, a conservative internet radio talk show host and blogger, who has used white supremacist rhetoric and floated conspiracy theories.
“The vaccine, while triggering an immune response, DID NOT STOP the virus from entering every organ in the body,” he emphasized. “The viral RNA was found in virtually every organ in the body, which means the spike proteins as well.”
Turner, who acknowledged not being a doctor or scientist, said he consulted an infectious disease specialist in New Jersey who told him the autopsy findings indicate that everyone will eventually have adverse effects from being vaccinated, and that either the vaccine does not work or is causing the virus to spread faster in vaccinated people.
“This is a GLOBAL TIMEBOMB,” Turner quoted the unnamed specialist saying.
Later in his post, Turner concluded that the vaccine led to the man’s death.
“If one reads the entire article, the whole story is: Patient was given the vaccine, it got him hospitalized with ulcerative colitis due to blood clots, during his hospitalization he got infected by an asymptomatic hospital room mate, and died 4 days later,” Turner wrote. “My conclusion: the jab drove this elderly man to his end.”
However, in a statement to FactCheck.org, the lead author of the case report said Turner got several facts wrong.
“The conclusions made by Turner based on our case report are absolutely misleading and in particular nearly always completely contradictory to our suggestions,” said Dr. Torsten Hansen, who is with the Institute of Pathology, University Hospital OWL of Bielefeld University, Campus Lippe, in Detmold, Germany.
For starters, Hansen said the patient did not have vaccine-induced “ulcerative colitis due to blood clots,” as Turner claimed.
“The patient did not suffer from ulcerative colitis, but from ischemic colitis,” Hansen explained.
Ischemic colitis occurs when the blood flow to the large intestine is temporarily reduced, causing tissue damage in the colon. In this case, Hansen said the patient had a history of ischemic colitis and suffered from “severe arteriosclerosis,” which restricts blood flow to organs and tissues.
“In specific regions of the bowel such as the left colonic flexure these vessels are particularly susceptible for vessel damage by arteriosclerosis. Subsequently, the respective part of the bowel develops inflammatory disease, called ischemic colitis,” he told us.
“Moreover, in the patient’s history, we found a similar finding of ischemic colitis about 15 years ago (not described in the paper). In addition, we did not detect viral RNA in the tissue probes of the actual endoscopic investigation of the large bowel. Taken together, the ischemic colitis is the cause of the diarrhea and it is not induced by vaccination.”
In a follow-up email, Hansen said there “was not any sign of vaccination side effect” in the organs examined. He further stated that the patient died from bacterial pneumonia and that he and his coauthors “believe that there was not any significant viral effect.”
“Our patient, though being positive for SARS CoV2 did not die from COVID19,” he said, noting that Turner’s post incorrectly used the term COVID-19 to refer to both the virus and the disease. “We suggest immune response due to vaccination was able to prevent COVID19.”
Hansen made three other points:
- He said Turner “completely ignored” that the patient only received his first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and “it is well known that immunogenicity against SARS CoV2 is fully established not before two weeks after the second vaccination.”
- He said it is “simply wrong” that viral RNA was “found in every organ” of the patient’s body, as Turner’s post said multiple times. Hansen and his coauthors only analyzed nine organs known as pathways for viral spreading and detected virus in seven of them.
- Finally, Hansen said the results of the autopsy case study have to be interpreted carefully because the case report is about a single patient — which makes it difficult to draw general conclusions about the vaccines.
When notified that Hansen called Turner’s post a distortion of the case report, Turner — whose post conceded he “might be wrong” — stood by his own analysis.
“My story about ‘Global Time Bomb’ did not ‘distort’ anything,” he told us in an email. “My report came from the lead author’s report and my story provided a direct link to the full text for anyone to view themselves.”
Indeed, anyone who takes the time to read the complete case report of the patient history will likely notice its authors do not reach the same conclusions as Turner.
Editor’s note: SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over our editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation. The goal of the project is to increase exposure to accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines, while decreasing the impact of misinformation.
Hansen, Torsten, et. al. “First case of postmortem study in a patient vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2.” International Journal of Infectious Diseases. Volume 107, Pages: 172-175. 1 Jun 2021.
Hansen, Torsten. Institute of Pathology, University Hospital OWL of the University of Bielefeld, Campus Lippe, Detmold, Germany. Statement sent to FactCheck.org. 17 Jun 2021.
Hansen, Torsten. Institute of Pathology, University Hospital OWL of the University of Bielefeld, Campus Lippe, Detmold, Germany. Email interview with FactCheck.org. 18 Jun 2021.
“’Global Time Bomb’ First case of postmortem study of patient vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2; ‘viral RNA found in every organ of the body.’” Hal Turner Radio Show. 13 Jun 2021.
Turner, Hal. Email sent to FactCheck.org. 19 Jun 2021.