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Just hours after Danish soccer player Christian Eriksen was resuscitated on the pitch after collapsing during a Euro 2020 game on Saturday, anti-vaxxers were using the incident to push the narrative that vaccines are dangerous.
The problem with this theory is that Eriksen hasn’t been vaccinated.
“He didn't have COVID and wasn't vaccinated either,” Giuseppe Marotta, the director at Inter Milan, where Eriksen plays club football, told Rai Sport on Sunday.
Eriksen collapsed during the first half of Denmark’s opening game against Finland while running to receive the ball from a throw-in.
Danish team doctor Morten Boesen confirmed Sunday that Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch.
“He was gone,” Boesen said at a press conference. “We did cardiac resuscitation, it was a cardiac arrest. How close were we to losing him? I don't know, but we got him back after one defib, so that's quite fast.”
Eriksen is currently recovering in hospital and on Monday issued a statement through his agent, telling an Italian newspaper that he wants to understand what happened to him and thanking everyone for their support.
In the hours after Eriksen’s collapse, rumors started swirling online linking the incident to the COVID-19 vaccine.
Those rumors received a significant boost when a Twitter account belonging to a Czech national called Luboš Motl tweeted that a doctor from Inter Milan had told an Italian radio station that Eriksen had received the Pfizer vaccine on May 31.
The tweet went viral and was shared on Twitter, and screenshots of it were also posted on Facebook and Instagram. On platforms like Telegram, where many anti-vaxxers post updates, the rumor was taken as fact, and used to spread even more vaccine disinformation.
On Sunday the radio station, Radio Sportiva, tweeted a denial, saying it had “never reported any opinion from the Inter medical staff regarding Christian Eriksen's condition.”
Motl subsequently deleted his tweet, citing Radio Sportiva’s denial, but added: “My source could have been untrue, I am just unsure enough.”
Like all disinformation, Motl’s correction didn’t receive anything like the attention his initial tweet did, and on Monday morning the false claims continue to spread online, including being cited by renowned right-wing conspiracy theorist Katie Hopkins.
On Twitter, the claims about Eriksen’s collapse being linked to the vaccine are also being widely shared, including by former English soccer player Matt LeTissier, whose verified account has over 500,000 followers.
Alex Berenson, an author and former New York Times reporter who has become something of a celebrity in right-wing media circles for his COVID-19 denialism, also weighed in, saying questions needed to be asked about the links between Eriksen’s collapse and the vaccine.
He then shared Motl’s tweet with the comment “and there it is.”
Even when Inter Milan issued their statement saying that Eriksen was not vaccinated, Berenson, who has 270,000 Twitter followers, attempted to suggest there was some sort of cover-up going on.
The claims have made their way onto other platforms, with many QAnon channels sharing baseless allegations linking Eriksen’s collapse to the Pfizer vaccine.
On these platforms, users attempted to link Eriksen’s collapse to reports about increased incidences of myocarditis—an inflammation of the heart—in young men who had received the Pfizer vaccine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced last week it would hold an emergency meeting to discuss the rare reports of heart inflammation occurring after some people received the second dose of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
To date, the agency has identified 226 preliminary cases of myocarditis or pericarditis occurring after vaccination in people younger than 30 years, when typically fewer than 100 cases of heart inflammation would be expected for this age group, according to the CDC.