By Saranac Hale Spencer
A 62-year-old bodybuilder who had heart disease died after contracting COVID-19. But vaccine opponents are falsely suggesting that he died from the COVID-19 vaccine. He didn’t. He’d been vaccinated 18 months before his death.
How do we know vaccines are safe?
The long-standing fallacy that athletes have been dropping dead due to COVID-19 vaccination has been thoroughly debunked, but still continues to spread.
One of the most recent additions to this aggregate claim is the death of Doug Brignole, a 62-year-old bodybuilder who died at his California home on Oct. 13.
Vaccine opponents latched onto his death, in particular, because he had advocated for taking the COVID-19 vaccines when they initially became available.
On April 4, 2021, Brignole posted to Facebook a picture of himself getting the shot and wrote: “I’m vaccinated ! Well, the first of two. Let’s get this done so we can get back to traveling, going to concerts, and having fun. My vaccine was yesterday, and I had no problem with it. My deltoid was a bit sore, but otherwise fine. We’re all in this together, so let’s do our share to beat it.”
The following day, Brignole responded to commenters who expressed skepticism about the vaccines. He posted: “I have enough confidence in the vaccine, based on my research, to get it done. Those of you who think the vaccine kills people can use me as a test. If I die, you were right. If I don’t die, and have no ill effects, you were wrong, and should admit it (at least to yourselves). Better yet, you should admit that you were misled, and tell the world who misled you, so other people can benefit by avoiding those fear mongers.”
A year and a half later, Brignole died. It had nothing to do with the vaccine.
Despite that, posts on social media have highlighted Brignole’s statement from the spring of 2021 and suggested that his unrelated death somehow serves as evidence for the unsupported assertion that COVID-19 vaccines have caused widespread deaths. Brignole’s initial Facebook post about getting vaccinated — from the spring of 2021 — is now filled with comments suggesting that the vaccine killed him.
The Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner’s report for Brignole does not mention the vaccine at all. Rather, it explains that he had been feeling sick in the days before his death. A friend cited in the report said that Brignole had recently traveled to Atlantic City for a competition and came back with a “flu.” A nasal swab used during the autopsy tested positive for COVID-19.
“Mr. Brignole’s underlying medical conditions, including heart disease from atherosclerosis would have made him less able to tolerate the effects of COVID-19, contributing to his death,” the autopsy report said.
His cause of death was listed as COVID-19 with atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease — hardening of the arteries — listed as a contributing factor.
Heart disease has been known to increase the risk of developing severe COVID-19 that could result in death since the early days of the pandemic. We don’t know at the time of his death what Brignole’s status was on booster shots — he didn’t appear to post about it on social media if he did get a booster. But a study published in Oxford University Press’s journal Clinical Infectious Diseases looked at the death certificates for 106 people who got COVID-19 after they were vaccinated and died from January through April 2021 in the U.S. Researchers found that 14% of them had a heart condition similar to Brignole’s.
So, the suggestion that Brignole died of the vaccine — which he lived with for a year and half — is contradicted by the autopsy report.
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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