Fact Check-No evidence COVID-19 vaccines are linked to athletes collapsing or dying

A high-profile case of a National Football League (NFL) player suffering a cardiac arrest mid-game has sparked a resurgence online of unsupported speculation of COVID-19 vaccines causing the condition widely among athletes.

Reuters first addressed the claim in November 2021 when it was promoted alongside a video montage of soccer players collapsing, as well as a list of 108 names of deceased people who were arbitrarily connected to sport. Aside from the multiple factual inconsistencies in what was shown in the montage and list themselves (tackled here, here and here), health authorities and experts told Reuters at the time that available data did not demonstrate any such phenomenon.

The claim resurfaced in January 2023 after Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed during a game against the Cincinnati Bengals (here). He suffered a cardiac arrest moments after making a tackle and had to have his heartbeat restored on the field (here).

There is no evidence that 24-year-old Hamlin’s condition was caused by a vaccine, and experts have warned against making armchair diagnoses (here, here , here and here).

Moreover, experts also told Reuters Fact Check that there is still no evidence of an increase in deaths or serious cardiac events among athletes, nor evidence that known effects of the vaccines have led to the type of cardiac events seen in these players.

Spokespersons for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) told Reuters in separate emails that neither had seen any proof of a link between COVID-19 vaccination and athletes suffering cardiac arrests.

The CDC added that vaccinated people “do not need to avoid exercise... unless so directed by their physician”.

The MHRA directed Reuters to a study released by Britain’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) and Office of Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) which analysed data on COVID-19 vaccination and mortality in people aged 12-29 during the pandemic and said it found “no indication” of an increased risk of death from cardiac-related or other causes in the age group, in the six weeks following vaccination (here).

“This is consistent with findings from our rigorous safety monitoring activities,” the MHRA spokesperson said.


Professor Jeffrey Morris, the director of biostatistics at the University of Pennsylvania (here), explained that while anecdotal reports of cardiac arrest in athletes will carry emotional weight, they do not prove much on their own.

He told Reuters via email that this is because sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) and sudden arrhythmic death (SAD) both occur at “a substantial background rate” in the population, even among children and the young.

A 2022 report by the American Heart Association (AHA), which analyzed figures from 2015, said that more than 356,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests (OHCA) occur every year in the United States (here, summary: here). This translates roughly to 1,000 OHCAs a day, 20 of which involve children under the age of 18. Around 90% of OHCAs are fatal.

An April 2020 cross-sectional study of data from 2016 found that 23,514 Emergency Medical Services (EMS) responses to pediatric OHCAs occurred that year in the United States, around 23 per day (here).

Morris also pointed to a 2017 study published in Circulation, an AHA journal, which focused on data between 2002 and 2015, that found sport-related SCA accounted for 39% of SCAs in patients aged 18 or under. This dropped to 13% of SCAs in patients aged 19 to 25, and 7% of SCAs in patients aged 25 to 34 (here).

In the UK, Dr Steven Cox, chief executive of charity Cardiac Risk on the Young (CRY), also told Reuters via email that sudden cardiac death in young people “is sadly not a new phenomenon”.

He said that around 12 people aged 35 and under die suddenly each week in Britain from a previously undiagnosed condition (here).

A 2009 article in Europace (here), a peer-reviewed medical journal published by Oxford University Press, found that there were eight young (aged 1-34) cardiac deaths in England and Wales per week between 2002 and 2005, according to Office for National Statistics data. The authors also noted that this was “likely... a significant underestimate” of the true incidence of cardiac death in the young.

“In short, if you go back to 2016 and document, post, and discuss on social media every sudden cardiac death among young adults, and young athletes in particular, you would end up with quite a list and the impression something ‘is not normal’,” Morris told Reuters.


“Another key factor to consider is risk of SCA after COVID infections,” said Morris. “Unlike COVID vaccines, there are papers documenting risk of SCA increased relative to baseline rate after COVID infections.”

A 2022 study of UK Biobank members, published in the British Medical Journal’s Heart, found non-hospitalized COVID-19 cases had a 2x risk of cardiovascular death. “This increased to 8.8x for those with primary hospitalized COVID-19 and 14.6x for secondary hospitalized COVID-19 within the next year or so, with most of the deaths occurring within 100 days of infection,” Morris said (here).

Another study published in 2022 by PLOS medicine found acute COVID-19 was associated with a 5.8x increased risk of cardiovascular disease, including a 6.4x increased risk of atrial arrythmias in the month after infection. This decreased to 1.49x in 5-12 weeks (here).

Morris added: “Thus, the key is studies documenting indeed the rate of sudden cardiac death is greater in 2022, and, in particular, that it is greater in vaccinated people than unvaccinated people after adjusting for confounders, before we can be confident there could be something to these claims. The anecdotal lists have great emotional appeal and are effective argumentatively with people, but they are not sufficient to establish any problem or any linkage to vaccines.”


No evidence. Experts say there is no research that shows a link between COVID-19 vaccines and athletes collapsing or dying from sudden cardiac arrest.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here.