Public health authorities say Covid-19 vaccines are very effective at preventing severe illness and death, but a video watched more than 10 million times claims they are part of a depopulation conspiracy. Experts called the hour-long film "disinformation," pointing to multiple false claims, data showing millions of lives saved during the pandemic due to vaccination, and a lack of evidence supporting its assertions.

"Died Suddenly" was released November 21, 2022 on Rumble with the caption: "For centuries, the global elite have broadcast their intentions to depopulate the world - even to the point of carving them into stone. And yet… we never seem to believe them. The Stew Peters Network is proud to present DIED SUDDENLY."

Peters, a far-right talk show host, regularly promotes conspiracy theories and false claims about the coronavirus and vaccines on his program "The Stew Peters Show."

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This screenshot taken November 27, 2022 from Rumble shows the film "Died Suddenly"

"Died Suddenly" spread rapidly across the internet via posts on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and TikTok. The film was also promoted on video-sharing sites such as BitChute and Odysee.

One tweet with more than 46,000 interactions says: "Ask everyone to watch this, including your doctor. Demand answers. Please don't censor this @ElonMusk."

The film closes with an army doctor, Theresa M. Long, who says of Covid-19 vaccines: "It's my professional medical opinion that this is a bioweapon and that this was a bioweapon unleashed against humanity with the intent to depopulate and control the population of the world."

But multiple experts have said the claims in "Died Suddenly" -- many of which AFP has previously debunked -- are false.

"A better name for the latest antivax shockumentary, Died Suddenly, would be Lied Suddenly because it is wall to wall lies," said Susan Oliver, a scientist with a PhD in nanomedicine, in a November 27 tweet.

Excess deaths

"Died Suddenly" aims to link excess deaths during the pandemic to the Covid-19 vaccines.

"If the goal was to reduce the world's population, it's working," says Peter McCullough, a cardiologist whose credentials are under review by the American Board of Internal Medicine, says in the film.

But researchers say data points to the opposite conclusion on Covid 19, which according to global health officials has resulted in 6.6 million deaths so far.

Calling the film "disinformation," epidemiologist Katrine Wallace said on Twitter that Covid-19 vaccines have saved millions of lives. Wallace used the Cardiac Arrest Registry to Enhance Survival to show how sudden cardiac arrest in the US was more common in 2020 -- the height of the pandemic and before the availability of vaccines.

There has been a rise in excess deaths, the difference between observed and expected death numbers in specific time periods, since 2020. But experts say there is no evidence vaccines are to blame.

Frank Yanfeng Han, a pediatric cardiology specialist at Northwestern Medicine, pointed to a study comparing Sweden and Norway. It found more excess deaths related to Covid-19 complications in Sweden, which imposed fewer pandemic mitigation measures.

Han said in a November 23 Twitter direct message that in the United Kingdom long waits for ambulances and time-sensitive cardiac care also contributed to excess deaths.

"Covid is a really, really bad actor, and even if the audience deeply dislikes immunization, an effort should still be made to mitigate Covid spread because it can affect every organ in the body, even in patients with mild Covid," Han said.

Sudden deaths

The film also seeks to link sudden deaths to the Covid-19 shot, but it does not offer evidence that the deaths were caused by vaccination.

"Somebody mentioned, go on to Google and type in 'died suddenly' and find the news articles that pop up," says Chad Whisnant, a funeral director in the US state of Alabama, in the video.

This is followed by a montage of search results, most of which do not mention Covid-19 vaccination. One headline is about a young man who died in a car accident, another is about the demise of Google's cloud-gaming platform Stadia.

One article focuses on a 13-year-old Michigan boy who died a few days after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. Local news outlets reported that a forensic and medical autopsy found no causal relationship to the vaccine.

When Whisnant mentions the unexpected deaths of celebrities, footage of baseball great Hank Aaron receiving his Covid-19 shot is shown on screen. A medical examiner and the Morehouse School of Medicine, where Aaron was vaccinated, told AFP in 2021 that his death was unrelated to immunization.

AFP previously reported that Covid-19 vaccines are not linked to Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndromes, which include a variety of cardiac arrhythmia disorders that are often genetic.

Unusual clots

"Died Suddenly" features testimony from embalmers and funeral directors who describe finding unusual clots in bodies.

One speaker in the film is Richard Hirschman, a licensed embalmer in Alabama who told AFP in a September 2022 Facebook message that he is "not a doctor or scientist." The film also features John O'Looney, a funeral director from the United Kingdom who has previously spread misinformation about the pandemic, and Brenton Faithfull, an undertaker from New Zealand who falsely linked the deaths of his clients to Covid-19 vaccines.

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This screenshot taken November 27, 2022 shows a scene from "Died Suddenly"

The embalmers in "Died Suddenly" connect the presence of clots in bodies to the shots. But experts have offered multiple other possibilities, including obesity, smoking or infection with Covid-19.

Monica Torres of NXT Generation Mortuary Support in the US state of Arizona attributed the blood clots to refrigeration.

"It's just that there were so many bodies to process, many of them sat in refrigeration for long durations so they got blood clots. It's not a big deal and these people are trying to make it a thing," she said in a September 19 email.

It is often impossible to tell what caused a blood clot just from looking at it, according to David Dorward, a consultant pathologist and a senior clinical lecturer at the University of Edinburgh.

"A blood clot from a patient who had clots caused by Covid infection when compared to blood clots formed following prolonged bed rest after a major operation would look pretty much identical," he said in a September 22 email.

About 52 minutes into "Died Suddenly," an embalmer says: "I believe that the only way a medical doctor could see this in the body is if they actually went internally into the body." This is followed by footage of a large clot being removed from a heart.

However, the video actually shows a pulmonary embolism being removed from a living patient. The images were uploaded to YouTube in 2019 -- prior to the pandemic.

Health Canada does list "blood clots with low platelets" among the adverse reactions reported following the administration of the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines. But they are rare; the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported four cases of such clots per one million Johnson & Johnson doses.

Stillbirths

"Died Suddenly" also baselessly connects the Covid-19 vaccines to stillbirths.

The film features Michelle Gershon, identified as a registered nurse from Fresno, California, and James Thorp, a Florida gynecologist affiliated with the World Council for Health -- a group that has previously spread vaccine misinformation.

Thorp narrates a statistical analysis presentation, claiming there were 83 stillbirths in a short period of time in Waterloo, Canada.

AFP first examined claims about unusual upticks in stillbirths in Canada in 2021. Local authorities said there was "no truth" to the assertion.

Victoria Male, a lecturer in reproductive immunology at Imperial College London, has analyzed 30 studies from eight countries that focus on the safety of Covid-19 vaccination for pregnancy. None found an increased risk of stillbirth.

Experts have consistently said pregnant people should get vaccinated. Health Canada and the CDC recommend Covid-19 vaccination to protect against severe illness and hospitalization.

More of AFP's reporting on vaccine misinformation is available here.