Anti-vaxxers around the world are seizing on the premature death of Australia cricket star Shane Warne, trying to falsely link his death of a suspected heart attack at age 52 to the COVID vaccine.
Within hours of the news breaking on Friday afternoon of the legendary cricketer’s shock death while on holiday in Thailand, people on Telegram groups focused on coronavirus conspiracy theories were claiming his death was linked to the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Warne is just the latest corpse on the pile of vaccinated people dead from heart attacks,” read one typical post on a Telegram group associated with a UK sovereign citizen group.
Warne died of a suspected heart attack while on holiday on the resort island of Koh Samui, Thailand on Friday. A post-mortem found he had died of natural causes, Thai police said on Monday, and there has been no suggestion his death had anything to do with the coronavirus vaccine.
Despite this, influencers in the COVID conspiracist scene have latched on to his death to try to push their narrative that coronavirus vaccines are causing a wave of deaths around the world.
In Australia, Pete Evans – a TV chef turned vocal pusher of COVID misinformation, who has been kicked off Facebook and Instagram for sharing debunked claims about the vaccine – weighed in on Warne’s death during a public Zoom call.
“Who knows what the reasons behind this are and I can’t comment on it,” he said, before claiming, in the face of all recognised medical opinion: "However, so many doctors that I've interviewed have been screaming for the last year-and-a-half, saying that these vaccines are going to cause death like we've never seen across the planet.”
And in the UK, a high-profile conspiracy theorist Michael Chaves posted a video railing against the “sheeple” who would accept that Warne had died of a heart attack.
“To us it’s all … as obvious as … anything,” he said, “But to the sheeple it’s ‘Oh, poor Shane Warne, I wonder what could have caused that?’ Well I wonder… Do you think it might have had something to do with the fact that he was boosted?”
“Took both doses of the clot shot and encouraged others to do so too!” wrote one poster in an anti-vaxxer Telegram group.
Others took aim at the Australian sporting icon, considered one of the greatest cricketers of all time, for having criticised Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic – a hero to many anti-vaxxers – when the latter was embroiled in a dispute with Australian officials over his vaccination status in January.
“He's lied on entry forms, been out in public when he knew he had COVID and is now facing legal cases. He's entitled to not be jabbed but Oz is entitled to throw him out,” Warne tweeted in January, during Djokovic’s standoff with officials over whether he would be able to compete in the Australian Open.
Warne’s death at just 52 was always a likely candidate to be seized on by COVID conspiracists, many of whom claim the vaccine is causing a wave of heart problems for athletes, seizing on incidents like the cardiac arrest suffered by Danish footballer Christian Eriksen on the pitch during the Euro 2020 tournament as supposed evidence of this.
The spread of anti-vax misinformation, amplified by high-profile figures such as Matt Le Tissier, a football pundit and former England player, has been blamed for fuelling vaccine hesitancy among some athletes.