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Debunked: No, a Wexford doctor's death was not related to the Covid-19 vaccine

Dr Keshav Sharma died on 11 January.

For Covid factchecks

MISINFORMATION AROUND THE death of a Wexford General Hospital doctor earlier this month has been circulating online. 

A number of posts on Facebook have said that Dr Keshav Sharma died on 11 January after receiving the Covid-19 vaccine, insinuating that the two events were linked.

Although it is understood Dr Sharma had received his first dose of the vaccine, his death was unrelated to this. 

There have so far been no reports of deaths where a Covid-19 vaccine is believed to have been a contributory factor, either in Ireland or anywhere across the European Union.

The claim 

One social media post shared more than 300 times claimed that the doctor was “found dead after Covid vaccine” and linked his death on 11 January with his vaccination a number of days before.

This is misleading and an inaccurate outline of the situation. 

The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA), the regulatory body for medicines in Ireland, confirmed there have been no reports of deaths for which there were concerns about the Covid-19 vaccine. 

“The HPRA has not received a report of a fatality for which there is concern that a Covid-19 vaccine had a contributory role,” the HPRA told TheJournal.ie. 

“The HPRA published its first safety update in respect of Covid-19 vaccines which provided an overview of reports of suspected side effects received in the period up to 18 January.

No reports received by the HPRA raised any concern regarding the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines.

It is understood that the doctor had received his first Covid-19 vaccine dose a number of days before his death. 

In a statement, Wexford General Hospital said it “extends its deepest sympathies to Dr Sharma’s family and loved ones at this very sad time”.   

“All the staff and management in Wexford General Hospital were profoundly sad to learn of the sudden passing of Dr Keshav Sharma,” the statement said.

Dr Sharma was a selfless, hardworking doctor who always put his patients first. More importantly however, he was a great friend and colleague to us in Wexford.

“He had a lovely easy going manner and had a smile for everyone he met.”

The cause of death has not been publicly released. 

Deaths related to the vaccine 

The HPRA explained that there will inevitably be deaths among people who have received the Covid-19 vaccine, especially considering many people receiving it at the moment are older or vulnerable. 

This does not mean these people died as a result of the Covid-19 vaccine. 

Dozens of people have died across the EU after they were vaccinated against Covid-19, but this does not incriminate the vaccines. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said at the weekend that there have been “no specific concerns” identified with deaths after receiving the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. 

National and European agencies check any problems with vaccinations reported by health professionals, pharmaceutical firms and patients themselves.

These health agencies are clear that most of these deaths were among people who were elderly, already vulnerable and often sick.

Norway recently reported the deaths of 33 of some 20,000 nursing home residents who had received a first shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

At least 13 of the fatalities were not only very elderly but also considered frail with serious ailments, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said.

Outside Norway the news raised widespread concern and fed anti-vaccine scepticism, prompting the authorities to stress that no link had been established between the vaccine and the deaths.

While the Norwegian Institute of Public Health noted that no analysis had yet been carried out on the causes of the deaths, it suggested that with the aged and vulnerable the normal side effects of vaccination such as fever or nausea could have contributed.

The HPRA said last week: “It is important to note that fatalities will occur from natural causes or background illnesses, and will continue to do so over the course of any vaccination campaign, also taking into account the ongoing pandemic.

“For context, approximately 12,000 people die every day in the EU from various causes, of whom 83% are aged over 65 years.

“Where a fatality is reported to have occurred following a vaccination, it is carefully evaluated as part of the close safety monitoring performed by regulatory authorities. This does not mean that the fatality was caused by the vaccine.”

The evidence available shows that the death of Dr Sharma was unrelated to the Covid-19 vaccine and it is misleading to link the two events. 

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There is a lot of false news and scaremongering being spread in Ireland at the moment about coronavirus. Here are some practical ways for you to assess whether the messages that you’re seeing – especially on WhatsApp – are true or not. 

STOP, THINK AND CHECK 

Look at where it’s coming from. Is it someone you know? Do they have a source for the information (e.g. the HSE website) or are they just saying that the information comes from someone they know? A lot of the false news being spread right now is from people claiming that messages from ‘a friend’ of theirs. Have a look yourself – do a quick Google search and see if the information is being reported elsewhere. 

Secondly, get the whole story, not just a headline. A lot of these messages have got vague information (“all the doctors at this hospital are panicking”) and don’t mention specific details. This is often – but not always a sign – that it may not be accurate. 

Finally, see how you feel after reading it. A lot of these false messages are designed to make people feel panicked. They’re deliberately manipulating your feelings to make you more likely to share it. If you feel panicked after reading something, check it out and see if it really is true.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter about coronavirus that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it. WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 or Email: answers@thejournal.ie

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