‘Died Suddenly’ Pushes Bogus Depopulation Theory

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SciCheck Digest

What appear to be ordinary postmortem blood clots are held up in a viral online video as supposed evidence that there’s a depopulation plot underway using COVID-19 vaccination to kill people. There’s no evidence for this theory. The hourlong video also repeats numerous falsehoods that have previously been debunked.

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Misinformation masquerading as documentary has been a fixture of the COVID-19 pandemic — from the “Plandemicvideos that suggested “the scientific and political elite” planned the pandemic to the Stew Peters video claiming that the disease was caused by snake venom secretly injected into the water supply by the Catholic Church and government agencies.

Now another video from Peters, a conservative radio host, is making the rounds on social media, racking up millions of views across major platforms — such as Facebook and YouTube — and niche platforms — such as Rumble and Gab.

It’s also been promoted by high-profile anti-vaccine campaigners, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Children’s Health Defense and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

The roughly hourlong video repeatedly flashes across the screen what appear to be postmortem blood clots, which are often found in dead bodies. Although such clots are common, the video features nine embalmers and funeral directors who describe the clots as a new anomaly and surmise that they were caused by COVID-19 vaccines. The video suggests that this is part of a shadowy plot to depopulate the world.

The video, which is called “Died Suddenly,” offers no evidence to support this theory and, instead, relies on references to previous conspiracy theories — including the false claim that circulated earlier this year that Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome was somehow related to vaccination; the long-standing false claim that athletes are dropping dead due to vaccination; and the false claim that pilots are causing plane crashes because of COVID-19 vaccination.

Like most conspiracy theories, this one contains a tiny grain of truth. One of the vaccines available in the U.S., made by Johnson & Johnson, can cause a particular kind of clotting combined with low platelets. But the condition is very rare — it has occurred in about 4 cases per 1 million doses administered — and in December the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the two mRNA vaccines over Johnson & Johnson’s. Only about 3% of the vaccine doses administered in the U.S. have been from Johnson & Johnson.

And experts say the clots shown in the video appear to be a different type of clot.

“Just looking at those blood clots from the movie, they look like very common postmortem blood clots, and I feel like it was just the shock and awe value of using these images of blood clots taken out of context to scare people,” Dr. Eric Burnett, of Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center, told MedPage Today.

We’ll explain more on that below.

Embalmers’ Claims Not Evidence of Vaccine Harm

As we said, the video’s central claim is that embalmers have been noticing unusual clots in dead people, and that these clots have killed people and may be due to COVID-19 vaccination. Photos and videos of scary-looking clots taken from corpses pepper the movie.

As the camera pans over clot specimens in tubes, Richard Hirschman, a licensed funeral director and embalmer in Alabama featured in the video, asks, “How come, all of a sudden, these things are happening in so many people?”

While Hirschman takes one of the clots out of a tube, describing it as “like a rubber band or like calamari,” the filmmaker says, “So of course that would explain people stroking out.”

Hirschman was featured in a video posted by the “Stew Peters Network” on Rumble in January, and his apparent findings have been highlighted on other dubious websites. But in a phone interview with FactCheck.org, he told us he never said he could prove a connection between the clots he was showing and the COVID-19 vaccines.

“I can’t prove what this is,” Hirschman told FactCheck.org in a phone interview. “I’m not a doctor nor a scientist — I never said I was.”

Later, John O’Looney, a U.K. funeral director, holds up another specimen, saying the clots “take the shape of the vessels that they’re growing in,” and the clot is what killed the person.

But there is no evidence that the clots are related to vaccination, nor are they necessarily abnormal. Many of the clots shown, in fact, appear to be postmortem clots, or blood clots that form after death, which would have nothing to do with vaccination or why someone died.

Burnett, the Columbia physician, explained in a TikTok video debunking the “documentary” that the clots have many features characteristic of postmortem clots.

“If you look at postmortem clots just with the naked eye, they’re gelatinous and they’re rubbery. And if you listen to the embalmers on this documentary, that’s exactly how they’re describing these new, strange clots,” he said. “Postmortem clots typically take the shape of the blood vessel they’re in, and that’s exactly how these embalmers describe these newfangled clots that they’re finding. They’re pulling out these perfect casts of blood vessels.”

Other experts have come to the same conclusion when asked before by fact-checkers about such claims from funeral service providers, including Hirschman and O’Looney.

“The images look to me more like postmortem clots, mainly due to the color, the shape, and particularly because of the amount,” Nikolaus Klupp, an associate professor of forensic medicine at the Medical University of Vienna, told Health Feedback in September.

“The blood clots are from refrigeration. It happens to many bodies,” embalmer Monica Torres, of NXT Generation Mortuary Support, told AFP the same month. “It’s just that there were so many bodies to process, many of them sat in refrigeration for long durations so they got blood clots. It’s not a big deal and these people are trying to make it a thing.”

Some of the clots could be ones that formed prior to death, as blood clots are relatively common, but there is no evidence that COVID-19 mRNA vaccination causes them, as we’ve written.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine can very rarely cause a very particular blood clotting problem involving low levels of blood platelets, known as thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome, or TTS. But the condition has not been linked to the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna, and there is no evidence that the vaccines raise the risk of blood clotting generally.

Research suggests vaccination prevents blood clots by protecting against COVID-19, which raises the risk of clotting and associated health problems.

The National Funeral Directors Association told PolitiFact in February that embalmers had noticed an increase in blood clots among COVID-19-related deaths, including vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

Jessica Koth, director of public relations for the association, told us in an email that “[f]uneral service professionals are in no way qualified to draw any conclusions about COVID vaccines and blood clots. We’re not medical examiners or physicians or scientists.”

She pointed us to a blog post by funeral director and embalming expert Ben Schmidt, who called such claims “clickbait” and noted that it would be “extremely unusual for an embalmer to know someone’s medical history unless they were closely related to the deceased person,” and that embalming “often takes place before a specific cause of death is communicated to the embalmer let alone their vaccination records.”

He added that postmortem clots “can form quickly as long as the blood is still in a liquid state” and that formaldehyde coagulates proteins, such as those in blood, during the embalming process.

Hirschman told us that he started noticing the clots after the vaccines became available and discussed his thoughts with colleagues and his personal doctor. He didn’t bring his concerns to any federal or state health agency because, he said, “I didn’t know who to bring it to.”

Instead, he went to a person identified in the January “Stew Peters Network” video as Dr. Jane Ruby. She has a doctor of education degree, but is not a medical doctor, although she wears a white coat and stethoscope in pictures on social media.

Over the last year or so, Hirschman brought in people he worked with as a contract embalmer in Alabama. He knew three of the morticians who appeared in the video, he said.

One of them is Chad Whisnant, whose name is spelled incorrectly in the video.

Whisnant runs a funeral home in Alabama with his wife, Brooke.

He didn’t return our call for comment, but Brooke Whisnant told us in a phone interview that the clots shown in the video aren’t out of the ordinary and that she doesn’t share her husband’s view of vaccination, which has changed over the last several years.

“I’m now an antivaxxer,” Chad Whisnant said in the video. “I wasn’t before.”

“It’s been a slow, slow process ever since Trump took office,” Brooke Whisnant said of her husband’s shifting beliefs after former President Donald Trump took office in 2017. “It’s been a very weird abyss of misinformation on the internet,” she said.

Chad Whisnant’s first appearance in the video actually references a well-worn piece of misinformation that we’ve addressed before. The filmmakers play a clip of Bill Gates misleadingly edited to make it look like he was saying vaccines could be used to kill people as part of an effort by elites to depopulate the world. But Gates was really saying that improving health care and reducing child deaths, including through vaccines, can reduce population growth, which will be important in the future for limiting carbon dioxide emissions.

Brooke Whisnant also said that Hirschman had performed embalming services at their funeral home and pointed out that they don’t know who’s been vaccinated and who hasn’t among the deceased.

Finally, it’s worth noting that some of the video used in “Died Suddenly” has been taken from a medical education video posted on YouTube in April 2019. The procedure shown, known as a pulmonary embolectomy, involves surgical removal of a clot, and is typically only done in extreme cases. Since the video was posted in the spring of 2019, it has no connection whatsoever to COVID-19 vaccination. (Also, contrary to what the “documentary” claims, there are several methods for identifying a problematic clot without resorting to surgery.)

The video below shows a side-by-side comparison of footage from the “Died Suddenly” video and the 2019 YouTube educational video.

Google Search Provides No Evidence of Vaccine Deaths

One of the frequently referenced claims throughout the video is that people have been dropping dead because of the COVID-19 vaccines. Despite a complete lack of evidence, this claim has been made many times before — often with reference to athletes or to Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome.

Both of those versions of the claim have been addressed by us and other fact-checkers before, but the suggestion continues to spread online.

For example, within the first 10 minutes, the video suggests that a Google search of the term “died suddenly” will reveal deaths related to the vaccines. But, of the 17 headlines that scroll across the screen in this segment, none of the deaths has been attributed to the vaccine, according to publicly available information.

In one case, the person had died in a car crash in 2017 — three years before the pandemic began. His name was Eric Cruz, and his mother, Dolores Cruz, had written a piece about her journey with grief that was published on HuffPost. The only part of the story that showed up in “Died Suddenly,” though, was the headline from that essay: “My Kind, Compassionate Son Died Unexpectedly. This Is What I Want You To Know About Grief.”

In another case, a 32-year-old English woman died after having a pulmonary embolism — a blood clot in the lung — weeks after giving birth. Samantha Crosbie had suffered from pelvic girdle pain during her pregnancy, which made it hard for her to move during that time, putting her at risk for developing blood clots, her mother, Jane Parker, explained to the British newspaper the Sun.

“Samantha not being able to move around for nine months, not doing very much, was a sign that could have been highlighted,” Parker told another newspaper, the Daily Mail. “If she had understood that she would be more at risk of a blood clot, I am sure it would have made a difference,” she said.

All of that information was included in the story that was referenced in “Died Suddenly,” but the only thing the video showed was the headline: “Mother, 32, died just five weeks after giving birth because of a ‘preventable’ blood clot.”

In another example, Robert Cormier — an actor who appeared in the Canadian television show Heartland — died Sept. 23 in what his family described as a “tragic accident.” His sister told the Hollywood Reporter that he died of injuries he suffered from a fall.

But the only thing the video showed was a headline that said: “Actor’s sudden death aged 33.”

Similarly, video footage played in the segment shows television news anchors reporting on the death of baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, falsely suggesting it was related to COVID-19 vaccination. As we’ve written, Aaron was vaccinated against COVID-19 as part of a public health campaign encouraging vaccination shortly after the shots became available, but there is no evidence that had anything to do with his death. He died of natural causes at the age of 86.

One of the last examples in that segment featured Jacob Clynick, a 13-year-old Michigan boy who died June 16, 2021. His death, which occurred days after he had received his second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, was reported to the CDC and investigated for any potential connection to the vaccine.

The investigation found that there was no causal link between the vaccine and his death.

“Conclusions reached by the CDC and local investigators discovered no evidence of a causal relationship between vaccine administration and this young man’s death,” a press release from the Michigan Institute of Forensic Science and Medicine said.

So, as we said, there is no publicly available evidence connecting any of the deaths referenced in this portion of the video with COVID-19 vaccination and, in some cases, the evidence contradicts the claim.

Later in the video, filmmakers play clips of people collapsing with the suggestion that the cause was vaccination, but, as others have pointed out, some of the clips are old and don’t have anything to do with vaccination.

In one example, a woman in Argentina is shown falling off a platform into a moving train earlier this year. The woman, who’s been identified only by her first name in news reports, survived the incident, which has not been linked to vaccination. She said afterward, “I am undergoing treatment for hearing and nutrition issues, and I have to undergo neurological exams.”

Invalid Claims About Excess Deaths and Health Conditions

Twenty minutes into “Died Suddenly,” Peters introduces Lt. Col. Theresa Long, an Army flight surgeon who as an expert for the anti-vaccine group America’s Frontline Doctors has falsely claimed that the COVID-19 vaccines contain an active ingredient in antifreeze.

As the camera pans over a news article with the headline “Indiana life insurance CEO says deaths are up 40% among people ages 18-64,” Long incorrectly suggests that the excess deaths are due to the COVID-19 vaccines.

“40%,” Long says, while the camera zooms in on that number in the headline. “No one’s even, no one’s even calculated that. … It’s apocalyptic.”

But the fact is that the increase in deaths was linked to COVID-19, not to the vaccines. The number comes from a presentation by J. Scott Davison, CEO of OneAmerica, during a news conference about a surge of COVID-19 cases in Indiana in December 2021.

Davison said death rates in the third quarter of the year “are up 40% over what they were pre-pandemic,” primarily in working age people. “Just to give you an idea of how bad that is,” he added, “a 1 in 200-year catastrophe would be a 10% increase over pre-pandemic.”

Davison associated the increase with COVID-19 itself, not the vaccine. He added that the deaths reported as COVID-19 deaths are “greatly” understated. His comments were later misrepresented by Dr. Robert Malone and others, and fact-checked by the Associated Press and PolitiFact earlier this year.

According to an analysis of life insurance data conducted by Jeffrey Morris, a biostatistician at the University of Pennsylvania, in August, the excess deaths in young and middle adults in the fall of 2021 were related to COVID-19. “There is no evidence of any connection to vaccination,” he wrote.

Next, Long and Lt. Col. Pete Chambers, another military physician, bring up the Defense Medical Epidemiology Database, or DMED, which they claim has shown a concerning spike in medical conditions among the military caused by the COVID-19 vaccines.

This claim was debunked in early 2021 by ReutersPolitiFact and Health Feedback, among others.

“Seeing the DMED data, I have significant concerns that we won’t have a standing Army in five years,” Long says.

The video then shows a clip from a COVID-19 discussion hosted by Sen. Ron Johnson on Jan. 25, in which attorney Thomas Renz presents DMED data provided by Long, Chambers and a third military physician.

“Miscarriages increased by 300% over the five-year average … We saw almost 300% increase in cancer over the five-year average,” Renz says, giving a special mention to Ryan Cole, a doctor from Idaho who has baselessly claimed the vaccines cause cancer and autoimmune diseases.

“This one’s amazing … neurological issues, which would affect our pilots — over 1,000% increase,” Renz continues.

But as we said, these numbers are invalid. The apparent increases were caused by a data error in DMED for the years 2016 to 2020.

In February, a Department of Defense representative told Reuters that when the Defense Health Agency’s Armed Forces Surveillance Division compared the DMED database with the source data contained in the Defense Medical Surveillance System, it “discovered that the total number of medical diagnoses from 2016-2020 that were accessible in DMED represented only a small fraction of actual medical diagnoses for those years.”

So comparing data from 2021, which was up-to-date, with data from 2016-2020 “resulted in the appearance of significant increased occurrence of all medical diagnoses in 2021 because of the underreported data for 2016-2020,” the representative added.

The article also notes that the agency temporarily took DMED offline “to identify and correct the root-cause of the data corruption.” The database is now back online.

But “Died Suddenly” falsely suggests the database went offline to avoid further investigation and incorrectly implies it’s still inaccessible.

In randomized controlled trials and surveillance studies, the COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to be remarkably safe, often causing temporary and expected side effects such as a sore arm, but only very rarely causing serious harm.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as we mentioned, very rarely may cause TTS, and may also increase the risk of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. The mRNA vaccines are both associated with an increased risk of myocarditis and pericarditis, or inflammation of the heart or its surrounding tissue. While real, the risk of these conditions is very low, and they are primarily observed in younger males. There is no evidence that the vaccines cause the wide range of health problems the video claims.

No Link Between COVID-19 Vaccination and Miscarriage, Stillbirth

The last quarter of “Died Suddenly” is devoted to unsupported claims about the effect of COVID-19 vaccination on pregnant people. Studies have repeatedly shown that the vaccines are not associated with an increased risk of miscarriage or stillbirth, contrary to what is presented in the video.

The video shows a phone call with Michelle Gershon, described onscreen as a “whistle blower RN from the post partum ward of a major hospital in Fresno, CA,” who suggests that an increase in stillbirths at her hospital are related to COVID-19 vaccination. As evidence, she shares an internal hospital email that gives a record high number of “demise patients” for one month.

But as we’ve written, there hasn’t been an increase in stillbirths in Fresno or California with the advent of COVID-19 vaccination. And the email, which makes no reference to COVID-19 vaccination, never states that its figure is only for stillbirths. Fetal death, or fetal demise, refers to death at any time in pregnancy. Deaths before 20 weeks of gestation are miscarriages, while deaths after 20 weeks (or sometimes 28 weeks) are considered stillbirths.

For that reason, among others, no rate of stillbirths can be calculated from the email figure. Yet that is precisely what “Died Suddenly” proceeds to do, showing a presentation given by Dr. James Thorp, a Florida gynecologist who has trafficked in COVID-19 misinformation, in which he erroneously attempts to graph the purported increase in stillbirths calculated using the number.

Thorp then repeats this same flawed exercise using two bogus figures for stillbirths (more than 80 stillbirths in Waterloo, Canada, and 13 “dead fetuses in one 24-hour period”) that we and others have previously debunked.

Numerous studies have not found any link to COVID-19 vaccination and a higher risk of stillbirth. In fact, some have found a lower risk, likely because the shots protect against COVID-19, and the disease is known to increase the risk of stillbirth.

Thorp then baselessly claims there is a “substantial increase in miscarriages, in birth defects” as a result of vaccination, with the video showing a series of images of infants with deformities. The implication is that the photos are of babies born to mothers who had been vaccinated, but that’s incorrect.

Two of the images are from well before the vaccines were available. The first, as Dr. Frank Han, a cardiologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, noted on Twitter, comes from a scientific paper published in 2011. The second, which shows a child born without a nose, is an AP photo from 2015 that ran in a Today Show story about the boy.

A third image has been taken from a YouTube video posted by a plastic surgery clinic in India, for a baby born prior to April 2021. There is no indication the child’s cleft palate is due to COVID-19 vaccination. India did not even authorize COVID-19 shots for pregnant people until July 2021, and the country at the time wasn’t using any of the COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the U.S.

The video then pivots to another claim about pregnancy loss, with Long, the Army flight surgeon, falsely saying that a Pfizer document “outlined that 83% of all pregnant women who got vaccinated ended up with a dead baby.”

Purveyors of misinformation have previously misinterpreted the document to incorrectly claim, as we’ve written, that it showed 44% of vaccinated women miscarried. Again, studies have found that COVID-19 vaccination does not increase the risk of miscarriage and can reduce the risk of stillbirth by protecting against COVID-19.

Earlier in the video, Long also incorrectly cited the same Pfizer document as evidence that the vaccine is harming people — and part of a conspiracy to intentionally kill people.

“I think if you look at the … post-marketing analysis report and the 1,291 adverse events, I don’t think those came as diagnostic tests. I think they came as confirmatory tests,” she said. “You ordered a product, you wanted the product to kill people, pay stockholders, you got exactly what you ordered.”

Except the Pfizer document, which covers the first three months of the vaccine’s rollout, shows nothing of the sort, as we’ve written. It describes the adverse events reported following vaccination — which are not necessarily caused by vaccination — and “confirms a favorable benefit: risk balance” of the vaccine. In other words, the document is evidence of the vaccine’s continued safety.

As for the 1,291 adverse events, that’s a misinterpretation of the document’s appendix, which lists in alphabetical order all of the adverse events of special interest that Pfizer was monitoring for. It is not a list of health problems that have been observed after or shown to be due to vaccination.

Birth Rate Decline Claims

The “documentary” also baselessly blames COVID-19 vaccination for a birth rate decline in several countries.

In a clip of what is labeled on screen as a 2022 hearing before the Hungarian Parliament, a woman speaking Hungarian, dubbed into English, says that in January, “something happened that has not happened for decades: The birth rate fell by 20% compared to the same period last year.” She adds that according to the Centre for Economic and Regional Studies the “drastic decline came just nine months after the COVID mass vaccination began in Hungary.”

There is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccination has lowered the birth rate or reduced fertility.

Preliminary data from the Hungarian Central Statistical Office show a decline of 11.6% in the number of births for the first quarter of 2022, compared with the same period a year before. But the decline narrows to less than 5% for the cumulative totals in the second and third quarters — and those totals are nearly identical to the figures from just a few years ago.

Experts quoted in Hungarian news reports have said the decline in births in January of this year could be due to several factors, including people postponing having children either because of the pandemic or because of wanting to wait to get pregnant after getting vaccinated. They said the drop might also reflect the impact of policies used to increase the population, which may have incentivized families to have children earlier than they otherwise would have, boosting births in 2020 and 2021, but artificially lowering them in later years. According to the data, the figures for births in 2022 are very similar to those in 2019.

Later, the video shows a graph purportedly charting birth rate declines in several countries, but with no dates or sources, so it’s not even clear what the decline is relative to. The worst listed decline, of 70%, is in Australia.

We could not find any support for this statistic. Australia’s fertility rate has been falling since the 1960s, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies. The birth rate fell from 64 per 1,000 women in 2010 to 56 per 1,000 women in 2020. Fertility rates reached a record low in 2020, and officials said “COVID-19 disruptions” could have played a role. But in 2021, the birth rate increased for the first time in a decade (up 5.3% from 2020), and some argue the lockdowns might have had a positive impact.

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.

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