Deaths of anti-vaccine advocates from COVID-19

Media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic includes reporting on the deaths of anti-vaccine advocates from COVID-19 as a phenomenon occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic.[1][2][3] The media also reported on various websites documenting such deaths, with some outlets questioning whether this practice was overly unsympathetic.[1][4] Reports noted phenomena including "deathbed conversions", in which vaccine opponents reportedly changed their minds and began encouraging vaccination before dying, with these claims meeting continued skepticism by vaccination opponents, and on groups of deaths within specific demographics, such as anti-vaccine radio hosts.

Reporting on the phenomenon

Many news reports in 2021 noted instances in which persons described as anti-vaccination activists—those who advocated against use of the COVID-19 vaccine—themselves died from COVID-19,[5][6][7][8][9] with The Hill, for example, reporting on the death of Marcus Lamb, a 64-year-old American televangelist, by saying that "[a]nother leader in the conservative media space has died from COVID-19 and his death marks a growing trend of like-minded anti-vaccine advocates that have themselves succumbed to the virus".[5] The Washington Post noted that "the Internet has been a graveyard of stories about unvaccinated deaths, which make up the majority of the pandemic's current victims".[1] A number of websites or social media outlets list such deaths, including "[a] website called Sorry Antivaxxer, which catalogues the covid-19 deaths of people who had publicly posted their rejection of the vaccine", as well as "the Twitter account Covidiot Deaths, [and] the Reddit forum called the Herman Cain Award".[1] The Hill article on the death of the televangelist noted three other media figures who had died of the disease, describing them as "conservative media leaders who caught COVID-19 and eventually died from the virus after refusing to take a vaccine and flouted anti-vaccine rhetoric".[5]

Some commentators have criticized the practice of reporting these deaths, describing them as celebrating the suffering of others.[3] Maura Judiks, writing in The Washington Post, criticized such outlets for promoting a lack of empathy for the survivors.[1] It was reported in The New York Times that the social media profiles of anti-vaccination activists made their families susceptible to trolling after their deaths, even where the surviving family members were not anti-vaccination, or even encouraged vaccination based on their personal loss.[2] The outlet reported the opinion of a psychologist that, in the United States, "sentiments underpinning these websites are an outgrowth of the nation's extreme polarization", with those who perceive themselves to be politically aligned against vaccination opponents taking pleasure in the suffering of perceived enemies.[2] The cataloguing of such deaths has been described as "heartless and unrepentant schadenfreude", and has been argued to derive not only from political differences, but from frustrations felt by overwhelmed medical professionals and healthcare systems.[4] A column in the Los Angeles Times, following reactions to the COVID-19 death of antivaccine Orange County Deputy District Attorney, countered that there "may be no other way to make sure that the lessons of these teachable moments are heard",[10] an opinion which itself "came under fire" in social media responses.[11]

Reporting of deathbed conversions

A number of news outlets also reported on deathbed conversions of opponents of vaccination or their peers, with some of those dying using their final days and hours to urge their followers and loved ones to be vaccinated. For example, The Hill reported that when one of the anti-vaccine talk radio hosts became seriously ill with COVID-19, he texted a friend to urge her to get vaccinated, telling her, "I wish I had gotten it",[5] while Slate similarly reported that another radio host, who earlier "had expressed skepticism of the COVID-19 vaccine" had "changed his mind and urged friends and family members to get vaccinated from his hospital bed".[9] The New York Times reported on the father of one such victim becoming an ardent proponent of vaccination.[2] This was also reported in The BMJ in October 2021, in a piece which said that "[a]mong the people admitted to hospital with severe respiratory failure from Covid-19 pneumonia who have subsequently died, some had previously held strong anti-vaccine beliefs. Once critically ill, some have changed their minds and shared their stories on social media as a warning".[12]

The Washington Post noted that "[t]he narrative is even more potent when the victim expresses a dying wish for others to get vaccinated, and regrets their decision not to".[1] Whether reporting of these deaths actually encourages opponents of vaccination to change their position is unclear, but it has been asserted that proponents of vaccination "have expressed thanks for providing a record of anti-vaccine deaths that have helped them convince skeptics to get the shots".[2] Geriatrics and acute general medicine consultant David Oliver, writing for The BMJ, notes that some anti-vaccine activists have accused doctors of falsifying these asserted changes of heart on the part of their patients. He added that addressing misinformation can reinforce conspiracy theories as a side effect.[12]

Notable instances

In August 2021, a number of conservative talk radio hosts who had discouraged COVID-19 vaccination, or expressed skepticism toward the COVID-19 vaccine, died from COVID-19 complications.[6][7] These included a 65-year-old self-nicknamed "Mr. Antivax", from Daytona, Florida;[13] another 65-year-old who referred to the pandemic as a "SCAM DEMIC";[13] an octogenarian Christian radio host who decried the vaccine as a form of government control;[14] and a 61-year-old who compared vaccination status badges worn by medical workers with the yellow badges German Jews were ordered to wear by the Nazis.[15][16] In September 2021, another anti-vaccine conservative radio host, a 62-year-old who "vocally refused to get vaccinated and actively spread false claims about the COVID-19 virus", died of COVID-19, prompting a new round of reports discussing the phenomenon within that demographic.[8][17] The phenomenon was repeated in November 2021, when Marcus Lamb, co-founder of the Daystar Television Network who promoted skepticism toward all vaccines, died of COVID-19.[18][19][20]

When Hai Shaulian, a prominent Israeli opponent of vaccination, died from COVID-19 in September 2021, his supporters "claimed that he was murdered by government authorities... so that he would not disclose the truth about what they claim is a fictitious pandemic and a dangerous vaccine", a response characterized by Israeli newspaper Haaretz as a cult-like refusal to acknowledge reality.[21]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Judkis, Maura (October 7, 2021). "What do all these stories of vaccine denial deaths do to our sense of empathy?". The Washington Post.
  2. ^ a b c d e Levin, Dan (November 27, 2021). "They Died From Covid. Then the Online Attacks Started" – via
  3. ^ a b Sicha, Choire (August 16, 2021). "How Mean Should We Be to Each Other?". Intelligencer. Retrieved September 5, 2021.
  4. ^ a b Loofbourow, Lili (September 21, 2021). "The Unbelievable Grimness of HermanCainAward, the Subreddit That Catalogs Anti-Vaxxer COVID Deaths". Slate.
  5. ^ a b c d Ali, Shirin (December 2, 2021). "More and more conservative media leaders are dying from COVID-19 after advocating against vaccines". The Hill.
  6. ^ a b Farhi, Paul (September 1, 2021). "Four conservative radio talk-show hosts bashed coronavirus vaccines. Then they got sick". Washington Post. Archived from the original on September 1, 2021. Retrieved September 20, 2021.
  7. ^ a b Gabbatt, Adam (September 21, 2021). "Dangerous transmissions: anti-vax radio shows reach millions in US while stars die of Covid". The Guardian. Archived from the original on September 21, 2021. Retrieved September 22, 2021.
  8. ^ a b "At least 7 conservative radio hosts and anti-mask advocates have died from COVID-19 after bashing the vaccines". Business Insider. September 14, 2021.
  9. ^ a b Politi, Daniel (August 29, 2021). "Marc Bernier Becomes Third Anti-Vax Radio Host to Die of COVID-19". Slate.
  10. ^ Hiltzik, Michael (January 10, 2022). "Column: Mocking anti-vaxxers' COVID deaths is ghoulish, yes — but may be necessary". Los Angeles Times.
  11. ^ Richman, Jackson (January 10, 2022). "LA Times Under Fire For Column on Mocking Deaths of Anti-Vaxxers". Mediaite.
  12. ^ a b Oliver, David (October 13, 2021). "When doctors are accused of faking covid experiences". The BMJ. doi:10.1136/bmj.n2473.
  13. ^ a b "Anti-Vax Radio Hosts Keep Dying From COVID". Vanity Fair. September 3, 2021. Retrieved September 4, 2021.
  14. ^ Montgomery, Blake (August 17, 2021). "Christian Radio Host Who Called Vaccine 'Government Control' Dies of COVID-19". The Daily Beast. Retrieved September 4, 2021.
  15. ^ Murphy, Paul P. (July 24, 2021). "Family says conservative radio host has changed his tune on vaccines after he was hospitalized with Covid-19". CNN. Archived from the original on July 23, 2021. Retrieved August 22, 2021.
  16. ^ Andy Rose. "Conservative talk show host Phil Valentine dies after battle with Covid-19, his employer says". CNN. Retrieved September 4, 2021.
  17. ^ Ellington, Andre J. (September 13, 2021). "Conservative radio host Bob Enyart who fought COVID restrictions in court dies of COVID". Newsweek. Archived from the original on September 14, 2021. Retrieved September 14, 2021.
  18. ^ Hassan, Carma (December 1, 2021). "Christian television network founder and preacher Marcus Lamb, who discouraged vaccinations, dies after being hospitalized for Covid-19". CNN. Prominent Christian televangelist and anti-vaccine advocate Marcus Lamb died after being hospitalized with Covid-19, his family announced Tuesday ... Marcus Lamb often spoke out against the Covid-19 vaccines on his show. In an episode earlier this year featuring anti-vaccine activists Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Del Bigtree, Lamb said the Covid-19 vaccine was "not really a vaccine," but an "an experimental shot" that was "dangerous. Marcus Lamb alleged that people were dying or having neurological disorders from the vaccine. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say Covid-19 vaccines "are safe and effective" and that any adverse events after vaccination "are rare but may occur." People who are not vaccinated against Covid-19 were 11 times more likely to die of the disease and 10 times more likely to be hospitalized with the disease, according to a study published by the CDC.
  19. ^ Fernando, Christine (December 1, 2021). "Marcus Lamb, founder of Christian network Daystar and vaccine opponent, dies after contracting COVID-19". USA Today. Marcus Lamb had encouraged unapproved treatments for COVID-19, including ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine. He called ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug that federal health officials have not approved for treating the virus, a "miracle drug." The Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health have warned Americans against using the drug to treat COVID-19. The Lamb family and Daystar have made controversial statements about the pandemic and promoted misinformation about the virus and vaccines. The network hosted prominent anti-vaccine advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whose Instagram account was removed for sharing debunked claims about COVID-19 vaccines. Daystar's website also peddles a host of misinformation about vaccines, urging readers to rethink getting vaccinated and raising concerns about vaccine mandates.
  20. ^ Lincoln, Ross A (December 1, 2021). "Marcus Lamb, Anti-Vaccine Christian Broadcaster, Dies of COVID-19 at 64". Yahoo!.
  21. ^ Hasson, Nir (September 14, 2021). "Prominent Israeli Anti-vaxxer Dies of COVID. His Followers Remain Unwavering". Haaretz.

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