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Covid-19: Have cardiac arrests in young athletes increased with the vaccine?

Does high-intensity sport represent a danger for athletes vaccinated against Covid-19? The issue is the subject of much discussion on social media. An article from the Israeli site Real Time News alert on “A sudden Pandemic” athletes victims of cardiac arrests since December 2020, the date of the start of vaccination against Covid-19.

This publication dated November 13, widely shared on social networks by antivax, claims that there has been a “Five-fold increase in sudden cardiac deaths among FIFA players in 2021”. “Although the vaccination status of injured athletes is not published in all cases, it is often difficult, if not impossible, for professional athletes to continue playing without being vaccinated ”, continues the article, which cites the example of the Danish footballer, Christian Eriksen, victim, in June, of a cardiac arrest during the Euro football – an accident which, however, had no connection with the vaccination against the Covid-19.


  • A list of players that proves nothing

To prove that there would be five times as many footballers died of cardiac arrests this year, the site has compiled a hundred articles published in 2021 relating the death of athletes after heart ailments during a match or during training. . He reached the figure of 21 footballers of FIFA victims of sudden death. Then, to find out if this figure has increased since the start of vaccination, the author relies on a Wikipedia page which lists the “FIFA footballers dead during a match”: between 2001 and 2020, there would have been an average of 4.2 deaths per year due to cardiac arrest.

To confirm this average of four annual deaths, the author makes a second calculation based on an article in the British Medical Journal who affirms that sudden death affects one in 50,000 athletes, and a 2006 FIFA press release in which he reads that there is “265,000” licensed in football clubs around the world. He deduces that there are about five deaths per year. Which leads the author to conclude that, with the 21 deaths recorded in 2021, “Five times as many FIFA athletes have died this year [par rapport aux] previous years ”.

But these two methods of calculation are not very rigorous. On the one hand, the list of athletes who died in 2021 is a compilation of press articles (sometimes from questionable sites) reporting the deaths of athletes, most of the time without specifying the cause of death – it can therefore be any pre-existing health problems – or vaccination status. On the other hand, the FIFA press release does not mention 265,000 licensees, but 265 million. If we apply the calculation mentioned in the previous point, we could fear not 5 but 5,300 footballer deaths per year.

In all cases, these calculations are considered inept by the specialists interviewed by The world. “This story of excess sudden death is a construction of the antivax sphere which highlights each press article on the subject but which nothing comes to confirm in an objective and quantified manner”, Explain cardiologist Florian Zores, author of the blog “Insuffisant cardiologue”. “The study is completely misleading in terms of estimating the annual risk of sudden death among footballers”, estimates Pierre Ollitrault, doctor at the CHU of Caen and specialist in sports cardiology. The proof, he explains, “Is that I put defibrillators on football players that we were able to recover, and their name is not even on the list!” It’s statistics at a discount ”. Joined by The world, FIFA did not respond to our requests.

It is a classic of conspiracy discourse which reports events, even if it means instrumentalizing dramas without the slightest context, in order to sow doubt in people’s minds. Especially since cases of sudden death in football did occur before the Covid-19, and these accidents are unfortunately nothing new.

  • A spectacular, but rare phenomenon

Cardiac arrests in football, such as the recent discomfort of Christian Eriksen, or the death of Cameroonian footballer Marc-Vivien Foé in 2003, mark the spirits. “The deaths of athletes are shocking because they are young and supposed to be in good health and followed” explains Doctor Zores. But among high-level athletes, despite extensive assessments, “Some pathologies are undetectable”, specifies the cardiologist.

Paradoxically, the regular practice of a sport is beneficial for health (it decreases the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, etc.) but does not immunize against heart problems. According to Doctor Ollitrault, “ when we practice the physical activity in question, there is a transient increased risk of a cardiovascular event if we have an underlying pathology that is often unrecognized ” :

“Sport is therefore not the cause of sudden death, but it is the trigger. Often, sudden death occurs during the effort, but also in the hours that follow. It is fortunately a rare phenomenon. “

The proportion of cardiac arrests is difficult to estimate according to the athletes, because it depends on many factors such as age, sex, type and intensity of sport. Corn “It is estimated that every year, sudden death on exertion occurs for 50,000 to 500,000 practicing sportsmen”, says the cardiologist.

The Center of Expertise on Sudden Death in Adults, in Paris, estimates that around 1,000 cases of sudden death occur each year in France during a sporting activity (40,000 cases for the entire population), including 50 affect young competitive athletes. It is amateur athletes who are the most affected, mostly middle-aged men (40 to 50 years) with risk factors such as hypertension.

  • Real but infrequent heart problems related to vaccines

Since the vaccination began in December 2020, it is true that side effects with the messenger RNA vaccines from Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech have been reported. This is inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis), or the envelope that surrounds the heart, the pericardium (pericarditis). “It’s not really a surprise, acute myocarditis is a rare disease usually caused by a virus, and the vaccination is nothing more than a piece of the virus,” tempers Pierre Ollitrault. There therefore seems to be an increased risk of acute myocarditis post-vaccination, especially in young men, but for a reason which remains unknown to this day. “

In July 2021, the WHO indeed recognized a “probable” link between heart problems and certain vaccines, but the risk-benefit balance remained – and still remains today – favorable to the continuation of vaccination. More recently, in France, a large study released in November confirmed “The existence of an uncommon risk of myocarditis and pericarditis in the seven days following a vaccination (…), particularly among young people aged 12 to 29 ”. This is why the High Authority for Health has just advised against Moderna’s vaccine for those under 30.

However, Florian Zores is reassuring: “Pericarditis are generally benign attacks progressing favorably with rest and drug treatment for one month. “ As for myocarditis, “They develop favorably in the majority of cases, but can very rarely be the cause of serious complications in the short or medium term”.

These heart problems, although infrequent, should not be ignored, as acute myocarditis is one of the causes of sudden death on exertion in athletes. Thus, doctors and cardiologists recommend not to perform intense physical efforts in the week following the vaccination, especially in the event of fever or flu-like symptoms.

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