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Blaming Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest on the COVID vaccine is ‘wildly and irresponsibly speculative,’ says expert

Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin (No. 3) warms up prior to the game against the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 2, 2023.
Ian Johnson—Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

Shortly after Damar Hamlin, the Buffalo Bills safety who collapsed on the field following a hit during the Monday night football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, people began speculating about the cause.

While the Bills released an official statement Tuesday morning confirming that Hamlin, who is 24 years old, suffered cardiac arrest and is in critical condition, some people on social media have been pointing blame at the COVID-19 vaccine in the latest attempt to undermine the vaccine’s efficacy. Although Hamlin’s personal vaccine status remains unknown, the NFL reported earlier this year that 95% of players had been vaccinated.

“To be honest, it’s way too early to speculate on a true cause of his cardiac arrest. There are a lot of theories, but you really can’t make a diagnosis from a five-second video,” says Dr. Michael Emery, cardiologist and codirector of the sports cardiology center at Cleveland Clinic. “[Hamlin] will need and will get a lot of testing to hopefully reach a potential diagnosis. The [suggested] link between the COVID-19 vaccine [and cardiac arrest] is wildly and irresponsibly speculative from a very vocal minority.”

Although vaccines and viruses, not just those related to COVID-19, can cause myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart, instances are rare.

Myocarditis can cause a person to become very sick and require hospitalization. And it can also lead to cardiac arrest, which is an electrical malfunction of the heart. 

“Myocarditis is often caused by viruses—any viral infection can cause it,” explains Emery. “It probably has to be a genetically susceptible person, but we don’t understand why some people get a virus and do fine and why some people get myocarditis.”

A study published in the American Heart Association journal found that the risk of developing myocarditis following a COVID-19 vaccine booster is low, and when it does occur, cases are typically mild. Teen boys and young men have the highest risk for myocarditis.

“We’ve always known that viruses can cause heart problems, and COVID is no different than other viruses that cause heart problems,” says Emery. “The problem is, so many people got COVID all at once that it looks like there’s a huge rash of [heart problems].”

If you have shortness of breath, excessive heart palpitations, or chest discomfort, then Emery recommends calling 911 and getting evaluated in a more comprehensive setting.

“You’re more likely to develop a serious illness from the COVID virus itself than you are a COVID vaccine,” Emery continues, as people who’ve contracted the virus can sometimes develop lingering effects, such as long COVID; require hospitalization; or may die from complications related to COVID-19. 

“This is a case where correlation does not equal causation,” Emery says.

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