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SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project

Posts Baselessly Link Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome to COVID-19 Vaccines


SciCheck Digest

Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome, or SADS, has been studied for decades and is caused by genetic heart problems. But social media posts suggest, with no evidence, that SADS is related to COVID-19 vaccines.


Full Story

Anti-vaccine commentators and conservative politicians have been sharing a tabloid story about a medical condition that has nothing to do with COVID-19 vaccines. But they’re baselessly suggesting that there is a connection.

The headline on the June 8 story from the British publication the Daily Mail said: “Healthy young people are dying suddenly and unexpectedly from a mysterious syndrome – as doctors seek answers through a new national register.”

There are some things to straighten out first, which we’ll explain in more detail below:

  • The story was about Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome, or SADS, which is not new.
  • It incorrectly referred to SADS as “Sudden Adult Death Syndrome.”
  • It claimed that there was a “new national register” for SADS cases in Australia, but the tracking program it referred to is based in one Australian state and it began in 2019.

The story didn’t say anything about vaccines. But Candace Owens, a conservative commentator who has been vocal about her opposition to the COVID-19 vaccines, shared the story with her 5.4 million Facebook followers with a message that said, “Just wanted to publicly state that my children are and will remain completely unvaccinated and that I truly wish my parents had made different decisions for me.” She then wrote, “In other news— have you read about how young adults are dying suddenly and it’s a complete mystery to doctors as to why that’s happening?”

Mindy Robinson, another conservative commentator who has frequently posted dubious claims about COVID-19 vaccines, also posted the story on Facebook. She wrote: “Young people are dropping dead and dying in their sleep for ‘no reason’ according to ‘experts’ just like we’ve said they’ve been doing since the unrolling out of that experimental injection (that cannot be mentioned by name negatively on Facebook.)”

Robinson, who is currently running for state assembly in Nevada as a Libertarian, was likely referring to Facebook’s policy aimed at discouraging misinformation about the vaccines and its partnership with fact-checkers who write about and correct false and misleading claims.

Likewise, Indiana state Rep. John Jacob, who won his seat in 2020 and has been critical of COVID-19 vaccination mandates, shared a link to the story and emphasized the headline. His post asked, “From global warming? What’s your guess?” The comments to Jacob’s post included dozens of variations on, “Covid vaccine.”

Similarly suggestive posts have been spreading in several languages on social media, including claims made in Swedish, Dutch and Polish.

Genetic Conditions Cause SADS

There is no link between SADS and COVID-19 vaccines, experts told us.

SADS is caused by one of several genetic conditions that disturb the heart’s rhythm and can lead to sudden death in young people who appear to be healthy.

Because the conditions are genetic, one of the best warning signs for SADS is a family history of sudden, unexplained death under the age of 40, according to the Utah-based SADS Foundation.

The foundation estimates that there are 4,000 deaths attributable to the syndrome in the U.S. each year.

Referring to two specific heart conditions that can cause SADS, Dr. Michael J. Ackerman, professor at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and chair of the SADS Foundation board of directors, said in a statement provided by the foundation to FactCheck.org, “There’s not a single signal of increased LQTS events or CPVT events among diagnosed and treated patients who’ve been vaccinated [against COVID-19].”

Long QT Syndrome, or LQTS, is the most common condition that causes SADS, according to the British nonprofit that advocates for SADS patients, Cardiac Risk in the Young. Estimates vary, but it is present in between 1 in 2,000 to 1 in 5,000 people and is characterized by a longer than normal interval between the Q and T waves on an electrocardiogram, indicating abnormal electrical activity in the heart. CPVT, or catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia, is less common, occurring in an estimated 1 in 10,000 people, according to the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. CPVT is characterized by an abnormally fast heartbeat brought on by physical activity or emotional stress.

“Over two years into the pandemic, there’s been no indication in the largest programs in the world of an increase in death from these conditions,” Ackerman said.

More generally, the SADS Foundation said in a statement to FactCheck.org, “There is no evidence suggesting that any of the available Covid-19 vaccines cause people to develop SADS conditions, or make people’s SADS conditions more severe.”

Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not observed any relationship between COVID-19 vaccines and SADS.

“To date, CDC has detected no unusual or unexpected patterns of SADS following immunization that would indicate COVID-19 vaccines are causing or contributing to this condition,” Dr. John Su, a medical officer in the CDC’s Immunization Safety Office, told us in an email.

“CDC continues to recommend that everyone who is eligible should get vaccinated,” he said.

The SADS Foundation also recommends that those with conditions related to SADS get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Australian Registry Launched in 2019

As for the Daily Mail story that sparked the claims on social media, “There was some mis-reporting,” Dr. Elizabeth Paratz — who was referenced in the story but wasn’t contacted for comment — told us by email.

Although both the story and the headline claimed that Australia had a “new national register” for tracking SADS, it doesn’t. That project was started in 2019 in the Australian state of Victoria.

Paratz, a cardiologist who is currently researching sudden cardiac arrest, told us that the registry began “in response to recognition that what we call ‘unascertained’ or ‘unexplained’ sudden cardiac arrest in Australia and is sometimes referred to overseas as sudden arrhythmic death syndrome … is actually the most common cause of sudden cardiac death in young people. This has been well-recognised for many years.”

In a 2020 review of similar registries, Paratz and colleagues found that there were 15 sudden cardiac death registries around the world, including the one in Victoria.

There has been no increase in SADS since the COVID-19 vaccines became widely available in 2021, Paratz said.

Furthermore, she said, “There is no signal that any vaccine, including the COVID-19 vaccines, are behind SADS cases.”

Paratz also noted that, although the Daily Mail referred to SADS as “Sudden Adult Death Syndrome,” the “A” actually stands for arrhythmic, not adult.

And she cited studies about SADS going back to 2004, saying, “As you can see, unascertained sudden cardiac death / SADS has been a major public health issue recognised for decades.”

In fact, a 2007 British study looked at 56 SADS cases from the late 1990s and the first documented case of LQTS dates back to 1856 in Germany.

So, the story on which the suggestive social media posts are based is flawed, and there is no evidence of an uptick in SADS cases since the COVID-19 vaccines became available or that vaccines would cause SADS.

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 FactCheck.org’s 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.

Sources

Heaton, Tom. “Healthy young people are dying suddenly and unexpectedly from a mysterious syndrome – as doctors seek answers through a new national register.” Daily Mail. 8 Jun 2022.

SADS Foundation. SADS Conditions. Accessed 13 Jun 2022.

Cardiac Risk in the Young. Causes of SADS. Accessed 13 Jun 2022.

Ackerman, Michael J. Professor, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine. Emailed statement to FactCheck.org. 10 Jun 2022.

National Organization for Rare Disorders. Long QT Syndrome. Accessed 14 Jun 2022.

Cleveland Clinic. Long Q-T Syndrome (LQTS). Updated 1 May 2019.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Library of Medicine. Catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia. Updated 1 Jul 2020.

Su, John. Medical officer, Immunization Safety Office, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Email to FactCheck.org. 13 Jun 2022.

Paratz, Elizabeth. Cardiologist, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, PhD Fellow, Baker Heart & Diabetes Institute. Email to FactCheck.org. 12 Jun 2022.

Baker Heart & Diabetes Institute. Press release. “World-first registry to tackle sudden cardiac death in Australia.” 12 Sep 2019.

Paratz, Elizabeth, et al. “Cardiac arrest and sudden cardiac death registries: a systematic review of global coverage.” Open Heart. 2020.

Bagnall, Richard, et al. “A Prospective Study of Sudden Cardiac Death among Children and Young Adults.” New England Journal of Medicine. 23 Jun 2016.