These ‘facts’ surrounding Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest are trending—and wrong

By Jules Murtha | Fact-checked by MDLinx staff
Published January 6, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin reportedly suffered a cardiac arrest after colliding with another player in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals on January 2, 2023. As of January 5, he was still in critical condition.

  • Shortly after Hamlin collapsed, people took to social media, blaming his cardiac arrest on the COVID-19 vaccine, and speculating that it caused myocarditis.

  • Contrary to the myocarditis hypothesis, cardiologists suspect that commotio cordis—an arrhythmia resulting from blunt force to the chest at a certain time in the cardiac cycle—is what led to Hamlin’s cardiac arrest.

In the aftermath of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin's mid-game cardiac arrest on January 2, 2023, some public figures have taken to social media to spread unfounded information about why his heart stopped.

To help mitigate such misinformation, here are the facts behind three popular fake stories relating to Hamlin’s incident.

Fake story 1: Linked to the COVID-19 vaccine

One of the first rumors to hit the internet about Hamlin’s cardiac arrest was that it was caused by the COVID-19 vaccine.

“[Twenty-four]-year-old elite athletes in the NFL don’t just have cardiac arrest in the middle of a prime time game,” Gavin Louis Uridel, ambassador with Turning Point USA , wrote in an Instagram post. “This is squarely on the back of every single person who pushed that poison, required it, and shamed people who didn’t get it.”

Although Hamlin must undergo further testing before his doctors can reach a definitive conclusion about what happened, there are several reasons why healthcare professionals (HCPs) think his cardiac arrest is unrelated to the COVID-19 vaccine.

For one, it is unclear if Hamlin is vaccinated, according to an article published by[]

If he is—which is likely, since nearly 95% of NFL players were as of January 2022—the odds of there being any link between the vaccine and Hamlin's cardiac arrest are low.

According to an article published by the CDC, COVID-19 vaccines are “safe and effective,” providing hundreds of millions of people with protection against the virus without any major side effects.[]

Serious safety problems associated with the COVID-19 vaccine are rare, and experts believe the benefits of vaccination are greater than the risks.

Cardiologists seem to have more interest in the collision that Hamlin endured directly prior to his cardiac arrest—which brings us to our next viral theory.

Fake story 2: Vaccine-induced myocarditis is to blame

An extension of the first fake fact, this story postulates that Hamlin's cardiac arrest was a result of COVID-vaccine-related myocarditis.

“If Damar Hamlin indeed took one of the COVID-19 vaccines, then subclinical vaccine-induced myocarditis must be considered in the differential diagnosis,” Peter McCullough, MD, a cardiologist who has been accused of sharing misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines said, according to the article.

While not an impossibility, other HCPs find it highly unlikely that myocarditis—especially vaccine-induced myocarditis—is to blame.

“What we saw happen tonight is not related to any sort of vaccines,” Brian Sutterer, an MD and YouTube sports medicine content creator said in a video.

"This is almost certainly something called commotio cordis."

Brian Sutterer, MD, on YouTube

According to Sutterer, commotio cordis occurs when a direct blow to the chest takes place during a specific point in the cardiac electrical activity, causing arrhythmia and cardiac arrest.

He said it more commonly occurs in baseball players who’ve taken a hard-thrown ball to the chest, but he felt commotio cordis most likely caused Hamlin's cardiac arrest.

Other cardiologists agree, stating that there is a lack of evidence to support the claim that myocarditis—a rare side effect of the COVID-19 vaccine according to CDC research, which is usually seen in adolescents or young adult boys—is a probable cause of Hamlin’s cardiac arrest.[]

Commotio cordis is “probably the most plausible explanation, not knowing any other details or any other predisposing conditions,” sports cardiologist Neel Chokshi told “Vaccine myocarditis is probably the lowest on the list at this point.”

Fake story 3: Athletes are dying from COVID vaccinations

The final false story that's been circulating: the COVID-19 vaccine is killing healthy athletes.

“Before the COVID vaccines we didn’t see athletes dropping dead on the playing field like we do now,” Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted in response to Hamlin's cardiac arrest. “How many people are dying suddenly? Time to investigate the COVID vaccines.”

The vaccines may be associated with rare adverse events—such as anaphylaxis, Guillain-Barré Syndrome, and, yes, myocarditis—but there is no evidence to suggest that they are a common cause of death among those who get vaccinated.

According to the CDC, the FDA is required to report deaths following vaccination to the ​​Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), regardless of whether the vaccine is the known cause of death.

"Reports of adverse events to VAERS following vaccination, including deaths, do not necessarily mean that a vaccine caused a health problem."


Acccording to the CDC, the benefits of getting vaccinated far outweigh the risks associated with the COVID-19 shots—which are present for any vaccine.

So, as rumors fly about Hamlin and the underlying cause of his health incident, HCPs should continue to look to the experts for reliable updates.

What this means for you

Contrary to what some people are saying on Twitter and Instagram, HCPs do not attribute Hamlin's cardiac arrest to COVID-19-vaccine-related myocarditis. Cardiologists and sports medicine doctors suspect that commotio cordis is the more likely cause. Physicians should strive to be aware of this kind of celebrity health story and be prepared to answer questions with patients—while addressing related false theories—to help prevent the spread of misinformation.

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