There's no evidence linking COVID-19 vaccine to athletes' strokes, blood clots

Facebook post

Statement: Recent blood clots or strokes in four major athletes are an unwanted effect of COVID-19 vaccines.

Blood clots and strokes can happen to anyone at any age. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, though, persistent claims have alleged that the vaccines meant to protect against the virus are causing healthy young people to fall ill or die suddenly.

We’ve fact-checked such claims in the past, and we recently examined the Stew Peters’ movie "Died Suddenly," which repeats many debunked conspiracies about the vaccine.

A recent social media claim suggested that the news of four young athletes recently suffering from strokes or blood clots is related to the vaccines.

A Dec. 10 Facebook post from an account named Died Suddenly/Unwanted Effect read, "This marks the ‘4th’ Major U.S. Athlete to announce BLOOD CLOTS or a STROKE in little over a WEEK."

It showed images of four prominent professional and college athletes and listed their health conditions.

But there is no evidence presented to link their conditions to vaccines. For two of the athletes, the issues were caused by other health issues. For the other two, although the cause is not clear, there was no public mention from either of them about COVID-19 vaccines playing a role.

The athletes

Kris Letang, 35, a Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman, was ruled out indefinitely after suffering a stroke, the team announced Nov. 30. But it was not caused by a COVID-19 vaccine.

Letang had suffered a stroke previously in 2014, the team said. Doctors said that stroke was caused by a tiny hole in his heart at birth that never closed, a condition called patent foramen ovale, which can raise the risk of stroke because a clot can travel through the hole and to the brain.

After Letang returned to the ice 10 days after his second stroke, team physician Dr. Dharmesh Vyas told reporters why Letang was able to recover so quickly.

"Last time, we actually had to figure out why he had the stroke. We already know that now. The timeline, in terms of diagnostics, was much shorter. We're just confirming what we knew already," he said, according to CBS Sports.

Max Mitchell, 23, a New York Jets rookie offensive tackle, was placed on the nonfootball injury list on Dec. 7, ending his 2022 season. A day later, ESPN reported that Mitchell’s father, John Mitchell, said his son has a hereditary blood-clotting condition called Factor V Leiden. The athlete is expected to make a full recovery from blood clots in his calf and lung, his father said.

Factor V Leiden can increase a person’s chance of developing abnormal blood clots, commonly in the legs or lungs, the Mayo Clinic said.

Henry Anderson, 31, a Carolina Panthers defensive end, returned to the football field Dec. 11 after being out since late October. Anderson revealed that he missed the time because he had a stroke.

Doctors were unable to determine the cause of the blood clot in his brain that triggered the stroke, he said.

"Every test we ran came back negative,'' he said, according to ESPN. "It was just something where I just kind of got unlucky, honestly.''

The ESPN article did not mention COVID-19 vaccines as factoring in the stroke. Anderson didn’t talk about it in other interviews we found in which he discussed his health, either. We also found no information specific to Anderson’s vaccination status. The National Football League doesn’t mandate COVID-19 vaccines, but it said in August that about 95% of players were vaccinated.

Tamari Key, 21, a senior college basketball player at the University of Tennessee, will miss the rest of the season due to blood clots in her lungs, the team said Dec. 8.

It’s unclear what might have caused the clots. Key made no mention of the cause of her clots or COVID-19 vaccines in a Dec. 8 Instagram post thanking fans for their support. Her COVID-19 vaccine status isn’t publicly clear. The school does not currently require students to be vaccinated.

A team spokesperson said Dec. 13 that he had no new information to share about Key’s health beyond Key’s Instagram post and coach Kellie Harper’s initial statement.

"My sole concern right now is that Tamari continues to get the medical care and guidance she needs and begins the gradual process of healing and returning to full strength. This is much bigger than basketball," Harper said Dec. 8. "We are so grateful that this medical condition was caught. Our entire program will be right beside Tamari during this process and welcomes prayers and positive thoughts from Lady Vol Nation and beyond."

About blood clots

Blood clots are fairly common and affect about 900,000 people yearly, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. They can happen to anyone, of any age, and can cause serious injury or death. There are many risk factors, including injuries, slow blood flow, pregnancy, cancer and many more.

There is a small risk of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome from the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, according to the CDC. The rare blood clotting condition occurred in approximately four cases per 1 million doses, the CDC said.

The more widely used Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have not been linked to an increased risk of blood clots. However, studies do show an increased risk of clotting after contracting the COVID-19 virus, according to the American Heart Association.

Another recent study from Cedars-Sinai shows that COVID-19 vaccines do not increase the risk of a stroke, but the virus itself does.

Our ruling

A Facebook post suggested strokes and blood clots recently reported in four young athletes are related to COVID-19 vaccines.

But two of the athletes were suffering from other conditions that caused their health issues. One said tests to determine his stroke’s cause were inconclusive. A college student had blood clots in her lungs, but there were no other public details available about her condition or vaccination status.

Meanwhile, there’s no evidence linking the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to an increased risk of blood clots, though there is a small risk associated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Experts said studies show that the COVID-19 virus can increase someone’s risk of blood clots.

We rate the claim False.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: PolitiFact: No evidence linking COVID vaccine to athletes' strokes