The claim: Leaders of countries died unexpectedly after refusing to accept COVID-19 vaccines
Several posts mention Haiti, Burundi and Tanzania's presidents, and others suggest the fates of other countries' leaders are tied as well.
One now-deleted Instagram post pulled the Ivory Coast and Eswatini into the theory with Haiti, Tanzania and Burundi. A meme in at least five other posts on Instagram and Facebook mentions the same countries.
"What do all these world leaders have in common? They all opposed vaccination of the citizens of their countries," the posts read. "What else? They all were recently assassinated or died of suspicious circumstances."
A Facebook post on July 10 predicted a similar outcome for Madagascar's president.
"Madagascar is also refusing the vaccine. I hope their President is safe and has security because history shows what happens when u refuse it," reads the post on a page called "Redpill USA 3."
Another post claimed Madagascar's president had already died.
USA TODAY was unable to reach the posters for comment.
Across the two social media platforms, at least seven similar posts have accrued thousands of reactions. Facebook users have shared the claims more than 950 times, and on Instagram more than 2,000 users have liked the claims.
The various theories muddle some facts about leaders' deaths and vaccine policies. Though four countries hesitated initially, all but Madagascar and Burundi have accepted vaccines. And two presidents – those of Haiti and Tanzania – died after declining COVID-19 vaccines.
Four countries initially declined vaccines, three now accept them
As some of the posts claim, Tanzania, Burundi, Madagascar and Haiti all “refused” the COVID-19 vaccine.
Health Minister Dorothy Gwajima said in February that Tanzania had “no plans in place to accept COVID-19 vaccines” because it was “not yet satisfied that those vaccines have been clinically proven safe,” according to The Lancet, a medical journal.
Burundi’s health minister, Thaddee Ndikumana, said in February that “vaccines are not yet necessary” and that prevention was more important.
Madagascar initially declined to participate in the COVAX initiative, a program supported by the World Health Organization that provides the world’s poorest countries with free shots.
Haiti refused a shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines from COVAX, citing concern about side effects, according to the New Humanitarian. Haitian Ministry of Health Director Laure Adrien told Bloomberg the country asked that a different vaccine be sent.
“Haiti did not reject the offer of vaccines from COVAX,” Adrien said to the outlet in a telephone interview. “All we asked was that they change the vaccine they were providing us.”
In the past few months, three of those countries have accepted vaccines.
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Haiti authorized the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in mid-May and said it would accept vaccines from COVAX, according to the Miami Herald. Tanzania requested vaccines in mid-June, also through COVAX, The Wall Street Journal reported. And Madagascar received its first batch of 250,000 AstraZeneca doses from COVAX in May.
Ivory Coast, Eswatini, Zambia did not refuse vaccines
Various social media posts said the leaders of Ivory Coast (Côte d'Ivoire), Eswatini and Zambia died after refusing vaccines. All faced shortages and delays related to vaccines, but there is no evidence the leaders took a stance against COVID-19 vaccinations.
Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland) received its first doses in March. The World Health Organization reported the country administered nearly 110% of those 32,000 vaccines, saving the small extra amount of liquid in each vial to provide more doses.
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Bloomberg reported in March that Zambia failed to plan for the vaccine rollout. However, there are no reports of an outright refusal, as one post claims. The country received 228,000 doses from the COVAX initiative April 12.
No evidence presidents’ deaths were tied to vaccination response
The leaders of Haiti, Burundi, Tanzania, Eswatini and Ivory Coast died unexpectedly in recent months. Some may have died of COVID-19. The presidents of Madagascar and Zambia are still alive.
Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza died June 8, 2020, after suffering from cardiac arrest – long before vaccines were available for distribution. Nkurunziza was set to step down as president in August, a role he held for 15 years.
According to the BBC, Ivory Coast Prime Minister Hamed Bakayoko, who was receiving treatment for cancer, died this year. He was pronounced dead at a German hospital in March.
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In two other cases, the posts wrongly named a former president who died rather than a current leader.
Another post suggested a connection between Zambia's delayed vaccine rollout and the death of Kenneth Kaunda in June. Kaunda, 97, had not been in power since his term as the country's first president ended in 1991, the BBC reported.
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The BBC reported that no cause of death was given for Eswatini's prime minister, Ambrose Dlamini, but that he had tested positive for the coronavirus four weeks before and had been receiving treatment for it when he died in December 2020.
There is no evidence to support the assertion that there are “dots" to be connected between the leaders’ deaths and their countries' vaccine rollouts.
Our rating: False
We rate FALSE claims that leaders of some countries died unexpectedly after refusing to accept COVID-19 vaccines. The presidents of Tanzania and Haiti died unexpectedly this year and rejected initial vaccine offers, but there is no evidence those two facts are linked. Burundi's president died in June 2020, long before vaccines were available.
Of the other countries listed in various posts – Madagascar, Ivory Coast, Zambia and Eswatini – only Madagascar initially declined COVID-19 vaccines.
And there's no evidence of any deaths tied to national decisions on the COVID-19 vaccine.
Our fact-check sources:
The Lancet, Feb. 13, Tanzania refuses COVID-19 vaccines
Associated Press, Feb. 5, Burundi says it doesn’t need COVID-19 vaccines, at least yet
The New Humanitarian, July 5, Haiti still awaiting first COVID vaccines, as cases surge
Miami Herald, May 20, PAHO: Haiti authorizes use of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine as deaths, infections rise
Wall Street Journal. June 17, After a Year of Denying Covid-19, Tanzania Orders Vaccines
BBC News, March 18, John Magufuli: Tanzania's president dies aged 61 after Covid rumours
BBC News, June 9, 2020, Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza dies of 'cardiac arrest' at 55
France Inter, May 17, À Madagascar, opération vaccination pour Français et Européens
The Washington Post, April 4, Ivory Coast is falling behind its vaccination schedule. Health workers fear thousands of shots could expire.
Bloomberg, March 19, Vaccine Delay Fires Up Zambian Opposition as Election Nears
Bloomberg, June 8, Haiti is the Only Country in the Western Hemisphere Without Vaccines
BBC, March 11, Hamed Bakayoko: Ivory Coast's PM dies in Germany
BBC, Dec. 14, 2020, Ambrose Dlamini: Eswatini's PM dies after testing positive for Covid-19
Gavi, accessed July 13, Côte d'Ivoire COVAX vaccine roll-out
Gavi, accessed July 13, Zambia COVAX vaccine roll-out
World Health Organization, June 15, Giving 110%: Eswatini’s early rollout of COVID-19 vaccines
RFI, Mach 28, Ex-Madagascar leader Didier Ratsiraka dies at 84
USA TODAY, July 12, Florida resident detained as part of Haiti investigation: What we know
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Claims on leaders' deaths, vaccines are false