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A right-wing and anti-vax podcast terrified listeners with a harrowing story this week about a vaccinated Delta Airlines pilot who died in the middle of a flight. The only problem, according to Delta Airlines, is that the story was patently untrue.
“Delta is aware of reports suggesting one of the airline’s pilots passed away from vaccine complications while operating a flight, resulting in an emergency landing,” Delta said in a Wednesday statement. “All of these allegations are false.”
“The pandemic has been an incredibly tragic time for many, and our hearts go out to the hundreds of thousands of families of those who have passed away from the horrific virus,” the airline added.
The claim that a Delta pilot died aired on a Monday episode of “The Stew Peters Show,” a podcast hosted by a right-wing radio personality based in Minnesota. On the show—which is sponsored by conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell’s MyPillow, among other companies—a guest named Dr. Jane Ruby claimed she was told by three Delta “whistleblowers,” including a flight attendant, that a pilot had died in the middle of a flight just days after receiving a second dose of the vaccine.
Ruby went on to claim, without evidence, that flights had been repeatedly diverted due to health issues with vaccinated passengers, and she attributed a number of deaths among pilots and flight attendants to vaccinations.
“Guys, there’s a lot going on in the sky right now,” Ruby added. Peters responded, “A pilot is dead mid-flight, and the media completely whitewashes the whole thing.”
The claim that adverse effects from the vaccine, including death, are underreported, has been pervasive in both fringe and mainstream conservative media. Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene have been among the most prominent conservatives to spread misinformation about this; in July, Twitter suspended Greene for 12 hours after she falsely claimed, among other things, that there were “6,000 vax-related deaths.”
Many of these claims have been based around the Vaccine Adverse Effects Reporting System (VAERS), a government database that researchers use to determine which side effects may be linked to certain medications or vaccinations. But anyone who receives the vaccine can report these side effects, and healthcare providers are required to report deaths after vaccinations even if there’s no evidence that the vaccine caused those deaths.
Since Ruby’s allegations aired Monday, Twitter has suspended both Peters’ and Ruby’s Twitter accounts for misinformation, according to CNN. But as of Thursday, both had accounts still active on Instagram.