Dr. Harriet Hall (b. July 2, 1945; d. January 11, 2023)—and friend—at The Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas in 2011.

After I got over the initial shock and sadness that hit me after I learned of the unexpected death of our friend and colleague Dr. Harriet Hall last week (Steve’s post about it here), I must confess that, as was the case with Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin’s on-field cardiac arrest that was most likely from commotio cordis, my next thought was how long it would be before antivaxxers started blaming her unexpected passing on COVID-19 vaccines. It did not take long after her husband had Tweeted news of her death using her account and the editor of her website and newsletter had sent out a mass email with the news before I started seeing Tweets with the “died suddenly” narrative that either blamed the vaccine outright or were “just asking questions” (a.k.a. JAQing off) about whether the vaccine caused or contributed to her death. Nearly as soon, an antivaxxer started sending me particularly vile emails, the most recent of which I received just yesterday before I started writing this.

These developments led me to the idea that perhaps I should write about this phenomenon one more time, both from the angle of having now experienced it personally plus a bit more about where it came from than I described the last time I wrote about it, thinking that this could be my tribute to her life. However, I did not want to cause Harriet’s family any pain in doing so, which is why I emailed her widow Kirk to describe what I was thinking about writing and to assure him that I would not do it—or would delay it several weeks—if he had any objections at all.

Here was his response:

I think a post like that is a great idea. The antivaxxers are a loathsome, despicable group who seem to be able to plumb the deepest levels of depravity to push their agenda. Harriet had been in delicate health for many years before the Covid-19 pandemic. Several years ago I took over all household chores after she experienced blackouts and fell in San Francisco and at SeaTac within a week. Recently Harriet’s doctor at Madigan Army Medical Center was having her worked up for possible congestive heart failure. A very recent echocardiogram (we have not received the full results) showed she had leakage in two of her heart valves. She also had a transient heart arrythmia which was of many years’ duration. Neither one of us have had Covid-19 and Harriet’s exposure to life outside the home had for the last several years, been limited to visits to her doctor and dentist.

From a personal standpoint, I will admit that I did not fully appreciate how poor Harriet’s health had been the last several years. I knew that she had had a number of health issues, and I do recall that Harriet did not attend NECSS in 2019 because she could not travel, making NECSS 2018 the last time I ever saw her in person. The bottom line is that, sadly, Harriet was 77 and in poor general health, putting her at high risk for a sudden cardiac event or a stroke. I also know that antivaxxers, when they learn of her health problems and cardiac risk, will likely quite happily respin their story to claim that vaccines killed her because she had had pre-existing heart disease. That is how ghoulish they are.

Elsewhere in his very personal email, Kirk also added:

You may use anything I have told you in this and other emails to fight against the disinformation being spread against Harriet and the Covid-19 vaccines.

Consider it done, Kirk.

Kirk also described what happened the night Harriet died, but I see no need to share these details other than that Harriet did indeed die suddenly and unexpectedly in her bed at around 10 PM PT on January 11, 2023.

Having been given permission by Kirk Hall, to whom I will be forever grateful for being wiling to let me write this, I then had to decide how best to handle this discussion. I will be including a couple of representative Tweets; that was an easy decision. However, I debated long and hard about whether to share the emails, given my usual policy of keeping emails private. However, I’ve always maintained at least two exceptions to this policy. Emails to me in my capacity as managing editor of SBM have always been fair game, although I rarely ever actually publish them. Similarly, emails that I find particularly loathsome have always also been fair game, and these were beyond particularly loathsome.

My purpose in publishing some excerpts will be two-fold. First, I was angry, and I want our readers to share my anger at these ghouls. Second, I want to use them as a jumping-off point to examine the whole “died suddenly” narrative again from a different perspective. If any of you don’t want to read these, please just try to scroll past quickly.

Let’s go back to Thursday afternoon.

The narrative attacks

It is with some difficulty that I go back to Thursday afternoon, when I first learned of Harriet’s passing. First, Steve and I got a brief email from Kirk (timestamp 1:23 PM ET January 12, read less than an hour later) informing us of what had happened. Not long after that, I got a mail from Ronald Jette (timestamp 2:31 PM), which I quoted in my post from later that day.

It wasn’t long before I saw Tweets like these:

And, later Thursday after I Tweeted a link to the first announcement:

And then there were emails, this one particularly loathsome, which led to some loathsome responses:

Which led to responses like:

While others continued:

“@nukeisraelnow”? “Dying and it is wonderful”? Stay classy, anonymous antisemitic troll. It was getting so bad that I contacted Kirk and suggested that he lock down Harriet’s social media accounts.

Meanwhile, “SD” continued to send me emails, this one Friday night:

It’s Sabbath tonight. Let’s pray for the branch Covidian who departed suddenly of commotio cordis in her sleep.
She did a lot of damage to patients in her career. Lots of misinformation, lies, disinformation.
We will never forgive, not forget.
Live by the forced injections, die from the experimental injections.
I’d say she had 5. Meaning an IQ of 100-120.
It’s basically suicide by injection. Dose dependent.
Or just plain stupidity. Lack of intellect. Lack of education.
She ain’t coming back.
Self-inflicted departure.
She won’t be the last.
Got a defibrillator?
Good night.
Talk tomorrow.
Maybe not.

Quoting someone as vile as The Ethical Skeptic will not win you friends here at SBM.

To which I responded…well, I didn’t. SD didn’t deserve a response, other than that I will never forgive and never forget and that I need to find a way to block his email address (or at least send it to spam or the trash without my ever seeing it). I did, however, say this elsewhere:

Harriet was a friend, but she was not a relative or, admittedly, a very close friend. As angry as “died suddenly” conspiracy mongering of the sort documented above made me, I can only imagine the hurt and anger that it causes grieving spouses, family members, and close friends. If I wanted to say something like what I Tweeted above, imagine how much more hurt, confused, and angry family members feel.

Not that they didn’t help me understand, albeit in the context of deaths from COVID-19 itself. However, the claim that COVID-19 didn’t kill people who died of the disease is related to the “died suddenly” (of vaccines) narrative:

So how did the “died suddenly” conspiracy theory come about? I’ve discussed it before, but I would like to do so again, hopefully from a sufficiently different angle to make it informative to our readers and to serve as a fitting way to turn antivax conspiracy mongering about Harriet’s passing into a tribute. As Kirk (who knew her best) said, I suspect that she would have appreciated that, and once I saw that the “pandemic’s wrongest man,” Alex Berenson, had started “JAQing off” about Harriet’s death, I knew I had to write about it:

Responding to Berenson with Harriet’s last article from Skeptical Inquirer (dated December 29!) was a brilliant move, which others did as well:

Also, let me just point out that Berenson knew exactly what he was doing. His Tweet was a dog whistle to antivax activists pushing the “died suddenly” narrative in which he was “just asking questions” about whether science communicators were avoiding the word “suddenly” when discussing people who died suddenly and unexpectedly.

“Died Suddenly” is not new

I’ve written several times over the last couple of years since COVID-19 vaccines received emergency use approval (EUA) and mass vaccination campaigns began all over the world how it is not a new thing for antivaxxers to blame vaccines for sudden unexpected deaths. When I first started blogging (and before), a favorite antivax claim was to blame vaccines for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). That made sense from a “confusing correlation with causation” point of view, because SIDS is most common at an age when infants are receiving a number of vaccines in the childhood schedule. It was a false claim that vaccines cause sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), a Vaccine Court ruling notwithstanding. (This particular Vaccine Court ruling was ultimately struck down.) Another particularly despicable example from two decades ago was the Alan Yurko case, in which antivaxxers blamed vaccines for shaken baby syndrome. Let’s just say that the “Free Yurkomovement was a particularly disgusting and despicable example of this phenomenon, although more applicable to the context of the Damar Hamlin case, in which an injury caused by trauma is falsely attributed to vaccines.

Another prominent example of this “died suddenly” phenomenon before the pandemic was the antivax narrative around HPV vaccines, particularly Gardasil. I described this phenomenon in more detail last week, but think it’s worth briefly relating again before moving on to the origins of the COVID-19 “died suddenly” narrative. The first time I wrote about the specific claim that Gardasil is killing girls and young women was eight years ago, when The Toronto Star published a particularly execrable news report that suggested that the death of a 14-year-old girl named Annabelle Morin might have been due to Gardasil. I discussed in great detail why Morin’s tragic story was not evidence of causation (and didn’t even really strongly suggest possible causation). I also mentioned how antivaxxers had been blaming Morin’s sudden death in 2008 on Gardasil for at least three years when The Star article was published, her mother having encountered fear mongering about Gardasil on Joseph Mercola’s website, leading her to sue Merck over her death. Nor was Morin the only sudden death exploited by antivaxxers. For example, the death of 18-year-old Jasmine Renata, who was found dead in her bed six months after her last dose of the three-shot series of Gardasil in 2009, was exploited by antivaxxers, who convinced her mother that Gardasil, not any genetic conduction defect predisposing to SADS (sound familiar?), had killed her. Three years later, antivax scientist Christopher Shaw, who was known for also claiming that Gardasil causes premature ovarian insufficiency, testified at a New Zealand inquest that Gardasil had killed her, claiming to have found aluminum in her brain tissue that had been taken at autopsy, while another antivax pathologist, Dr. Sing Han Lee—think of him as a precursor to COVID-19 era antivax pathologist Dr. Ryan Cole—testified that there was foreign DNA from the HPV strain used in the vaccine in Rentata’s blood—bound to aluminum of course—and that that must have caused her death.

By 2018, the antivax group—more specifically the anti-Gardasil group—SANEVAX had made a series of YouTube videos entitled Sacrificial Virgins, which blamed Gardasil for the death of 19-year-old Jasmin Soriat, a German woman who in 2017 died in her sleep three weeks after receiving her second dose of Gardasil.

Which brings us to the pandemic. By now, readers of SBM are familiar with how the “died suddenly” conspiracy theory spawned some truly vile claims about Damar Hamlin, who, thankfully, appears to be on his way to a full recovery, and a conspiracy movie falsely blaming clots—supposedly caused by COVID-19 vaccines, of course!—for an epidemic of people who “died suddenly” and had huge, never-before-seen blood clots found upon embalming. Never mind that, as an embalmer educated us, such clots are common and expected, and these conspiracy mongers apparently can’t differentiate postmortem from premortem clots.

In any case, a Google Trends search for “died suddenly” doesn’t really show the term taking off until fall 2022, with a preceding blip a year before:

However, the essential narrative long predates fall 2022, as I will show. Finally, there are “flavors” or “variants”—if you will—of the “died suddenly” narrative. I dissected in detail the origins of the variant claiming that athletes are “dying suddenly” (of vaccines, of course) when I discussed the Damar Hamlin case, specifically how NewsBlaze founder Alan Gray, while probably not the originator of the claim, is arguably the foremost promoter of it—and has been since at least November 2021. Certainly, deceptive videos trying to link athlete deaths to COVID-19 vaccines were circulating by December 2021. Another is the false claim that 80 Canadian doctors have “died suddenly” (and supposedly mysteriously of causes “They” don’t want you to know about, namely vaccines), even though there is no evidence that vaccines caused their deaths.

Where did “died suddenly” come from?

One of the longest standing conspiracy theories about vaccines are being used by global “elites” in order to cause “depopulation”, all for nefarious purposes of profit and control. Utterly unsurprisingly, before the pandemic antivaxxers loved to compare vaccine mandates to the Holocaust and Nazi war crimes (with themselves as persecuted Jews). After the pandemic, there quickly arose conspiracy theories that the pandemic was planned, of course, as in “plandemic” designed to force people to get vaccines, whose purpose was really not to save lives but to cause “depopulation”. These sorts of conspiracy theories were being spun before COVID-19 vaccines had been granted an EUA—or even passed clinical trials, for example Mike Adams’ Oblivion Agenda.

It also came as no surprise that antivaxxers soon started weaponizing reports of death after COVID-19 vaccination made to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) database, starting almost immediately. By summer 2021, the narrative had evolved to become an updated version of the hoary old antivax chestnut portraying vaccines as a “depopulation agenda“. Not coincidentally, one of the antivaxxers promoting the claim that vaccines are causing “depopulation” during the summer of 2021 was disgraced cardiologist Dr. Peter McCullough, who figured prominently in weaving the narrative that facilitated antivaxxers falsely blaming his cardiac arrest on vaccines. Indeed, by March 2021, less than three months after the vaccines first started rolling out, antivaxxers were linking any death that occurred after COVID-19 vaccination to the vaccines, whether there was a plausible case or not, a phenomenon that I had noticed less than two months after the vaccines received their EUAs and continued to write about. In fact, I even noticed as early as mid-February 2021 how Robert F. Kennedy Jr. had started falsely blaming COVID-19 vaccines for heart attacks and sudden cardiac deaths based on misinterpreted VAERS data, a narrative that continued through 2021 and to this day, antivaxxers even having co-opted an acronym SADS (sudden arrhythmic death syndrome) to “rebrand” it as “sudden adult death syndrome” (due to vaccines). These days, the narrative involves blaming vaccines, not the far more likely cause of COVID-19, for the large number of excess deaths recorded over the last couple of years.

While I have tried, both here and elsewhere, to weave together how the “died suddenly” narrative developed over the last couple of years, since Harriet died I’ve been thinking about a couple of other potential “accelerators” of the narrative, specifically two people who promoted this narrative beyond all others. One is Aseem Malhotra, whom you might have heard about recently co-opting his interview on the BBC, which was supposed to be about statins, to fear monger about COVID-19 vaccines:

The other is Mark Crispin Miller, a Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University who has gone full antivax with respect to COVID-19 vaccines, as his Substack will clearly show you.

First, let’s start with Dr. Malhotra

The ultimate “died suddenly” anecdote

I’ve written about Dr. Malhotra a couple of times before, once early in the pandemic when he got all upset at the NHS for accepting a donation of Krispy Kreme donuts for frontline NHS workers because the thought it would make them more susceptible to COVID-19 and that the gift sent a bad message. He was—and still is—all about claiming that optimizing “metabolic health” would protect you against COVID-19. He even has a book written in 2020 claiming that a three week change in diet can greatly boost your resistance to the disease.

What I should have realized when I last wrote about him in the context of deconstructing a “review article” that he wrote blaming COVID-19 vaccines for cardiac disease is that his father was the ultimate “died suddenly” anecdote. Just look at what Dr. Malhotra wrote about his father’s sudden death in the first part of his review:

On 26 July 2021, my father, Dr Kailash Chand OBE, former deputy chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) and its honorary vice president (who had also taken both doses of the Pfizer mRNA vaccine six months earlier) suffered a cardiac arrest at home after experiencing chest pain. A subsequent inquiry revealed that a significant ambulance delay likely contributed to his death. But his post-mortem findings are what I found particularly shocking and inexplicable. Two of his three major arteries had severe blockages: 90% blockage in his left anterior descending artery and a 75% blockage in his right coronary. Given that he was an extremely fit and active 73-year-old man, having walked an average of 10–15 000 steps/day during the whole of lockdown, this was a shock to everyone who knew him, but most of all to me. I knew his medical history and lifestyle habits in great detail. My father who had been a keen sportsman all his life, was fitter than the overwhelming majority of men his age. Since the previous heart scans (a few years earlier, which had revealed no significant problems with perfect blood flow throughout his arteries and only mild furring), he had quit sugar, lost belly fat, reduced the dose of his blood pressure pills, started regular meditation, reversed his prediabetes and even massively dropped his blood triglycerides, significantly improving his cholesterol profile.

It didn’t take long, after the shock of losing his father suddenly, for Dr. Malhotra to blame vaccines:

I couldn’t explain his post-mortem findings, especially as there was no evidence of an actual heart attack but with severe blockages. This was precisely my own special area of research. That is, how to delay progression of heart disease and even potentially reverse it. In fact, in my own clinic, I successfully prescribe a lifestyle protocol to my patients on the best available evidence on how to achieve this. I’ve even co-authored a high-impact peer-reviewed paper with two internationally reputed cardiologists (both editors of medical journals) on shifting the paradigm on how to most effectively prevent heart disease through lifestyle changes. We emphasised the fact that coronary artery disease is a chronic inflammatory condition that is exacerbated by insulin resistance. Then, in November 2021, I was made aware of a peer-reviewed abstract published in Circulation, with concerning findings. In over 500 middle-aged patients under regular follow up, using a predictive score model based on inflammatory markers that are strongly correlated with risk of heart attack, the mRNA vaccine was associated with significantly increasing the risk of a coronary event within five years from 11% pre-mRNA vaccine to 25% 2–10 weeks post mRNA vaccine. An early and relevant criticism of the validity of the findings was that there was no control group, but nevertheless, even if partially correct, that would mean that there would be a large acceleration in progression of coronary artery disease, and more importantly heart attack risk, within months of taking the jab. I wondered whether my father’s Pfizer vaccination, which he received six months earlier, could have contributed to his unexplained premature death and so I began to critically appraise the data.

As much as I can sympathize with someone who has lost a father, other loved one, or friend in a sudden and unexpected manner and even understand how such a shock might lead him to look for causes, I cannot let that deter me from pointing out how bad this science is and how it has driven Dr. Malhotra to become one of the foremost promoters of the idea that COVID-19 vaccines are causing a wave of heart disease and sudden cardiac deaths.

I already discussed how bad the study cited above was; so I won’t do it again. What I will briefly discuss again is how, prepandemic, Dr. Malhotra’s “brand” and self-identity as a cardiologist were based on his advocacy of lifestyle and a vegan diet as being at least equal if not superior to statins and medications for slowing the progression of heart disease and even reversing it. It’s hard not to note that Dr. Chand died six months after receiving the Pfizer vaccine. More importantly, a person can have significant underlying heart disease and still appear to be just fine—very fit, even!—until the heart disease progresses to a level where compensatory mechanisms can no longer prevent complications. Again, I can see how his father’s sudden death could shake Dr. Malhotra’s belief system of diet and lifestyle as a panacea for good cardiac health. After all, if his father, who led the “right lifestyle” and walked 10,000-15,000 steps a day could succumb to coronary artery disease, then perhaps Dr. Malhotra’s faith in diet and exercise alone to ward off heart disease were misplaced or, at the very least, excessive.

Unfortunately, as is often is the case with those who believe in something very strongly, rather than question his existing belief systems, Dr. Malhotra clearly started looking for “other” causes for his father’s sudden death. I can only speculate, but, given his apparent belief in diet as the be-all and end-all of cardiovascular (and general) health, my guess is that in his grief he was even more susceptible than he might have been to the blandishments of the antivaccine movement and that susceptibility ultimately led to his going down the rabbit hole of antivaccine misinformation and conspiracy theories bolstered by bad science. Now he’s repeatedly made the news in recent months, thanks to his call for a stop to all vaccination with mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 because, according to him, they are causing a wave of sudden cardiac deaths.

“In memory of those who ‘died suddenly'”

Before I started noticing his contribution to the “died suddenly” narrative, I had never heard of Mark Crispin Miller before. His Substack describes him thusly:

Mark Crispin Miller is a Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. He is the author of several books, including Boxed In: The Culture of TV (1988), The Bush Dyslexicon: Observations on a National Disorder (2001), Cruel and Unusual: Bush/Cheney’s New World Order (2004), and Fooled Again: The Real Case for Electoral Reform (2007). He is also the editor of Seeing Through Movies (1990), and Loser Take All: Election Fraud and the Subversion of Democracy, 2000-2008 (2008).

Miller’s essays and articles have appeared in many journals, magazines, and newspapers throughout the nation and the world, and he has given countless interviews worldwide, appearing in many documentaries, including Consuming Images (1989), The Merchants of Cool (2001), Orwell Rolls in His Grave (2003) and The True Cost (2015).

Miller is the editor of Forbidden Bookshelf, an e-book series that revives important works now out of print, most of which were variously killed at birth. Earlier he was the editor of two book series: Discovering America, published by the University of Texas Press, and, prior to that, Icons of America, published by Yale University Press.

What concerns me, however, is how he co-teaches a course on propaganda at New York University, Mass Persuasion and Propaganda (Course #MCC-UE 1014). After having read his blog, I very much worry that students at NYU will be hugely misinformed.

Be that as it may, if you peruse the list of posts in his archive, you will see a lot of them entitled “In memory of those who ‘died suddenly'” followed by locations and dates or other information. In fact, posts of this type make up by far the bulk of the posts on his Substack. Unfortunately, Substack search results don’t go very far back, making it hard to find the first time that he ever used this construction. I suspect that’s because a lot of his earlier posts are behind a paywall for subscribers.

Fortunately a series of Archive.org and Google searches led me to some observations. First, his Substack was started in June 2021. Second, right from the beginning he was ranting about “graphene” in vaccines. Third, he was ranting about the vaccine killing people as early as July 2021. By September 2021, he was blaming vaccines for the deaths of thousands in Trinidad and Tobago and sarcastically adding that “Black lives don’t matter” and blaming the deaths of famous people on vaccines. The first mention of “died suddenly” appears to have been in November 2021, when he wrote about a priest who “died suddenly” while getting the vaccine. I note that this tracks very closely with the approximate timeframe during which the specific use of “died suddenly” to describe athletes supposedly dying suddenly started to appear, which makes me think that Miller didn’t originate the phrase. Finally, the first “in memory of those who ‘died suddenly'” post that I could find was In memory of those who have “died suddenly” from February 1st to 7th, 2022. After that, it seemed to be a weekly thing but then expanded to a near daily feature. As an aside, not long after his “in memory of” posts started, Miller started parroting Russian propaganda about its invasion of Ukraine and suggesting that the war was a distraction from the “real war” (vaccines).

There are many other antivax sources who joined in, such as Steve Kirsch, but as you can see, the “died suddenly” narrative existed before antivaxxers had coined a the pithy sarcastic phrase “died suddenly” to blame sudden deaths on vaccines. I feature Dr. Malhotra mainly because he seems to be the saddest (given his father’s “died suddenly” story) but still most culpable example, because he is a cardiologist, and Mark Crispin Miller mainly because no one that I’ve yet been able to find has been as relentless at pushing the “died suddenly” narrative over the last year or so.

“Died Suddenly”? Sadly yes, but not of vaccines!

I’ve said a number of times that I now hate the way my brain works with respect to vaccines and deaths, referring to how one of my first thoughts after learning that someone had died unexpectedly—including, sadly, Harriet—is to ask how long before antivaxxers start blaming the death on vaccines. Even more sadly, it’s rarely very long at all if the person is the least bit famous—and sometimes even if the person isn’t. Unfortunately, I will probably be thinking that way until the day that I, too, die, either suddenly or not, after which antivaxxers will probably blame my death on vaccines, even if I meet my end being run over by a truck.

I will conclude with one final observation. This “died suddenly” phenomenon is not unique to vaccines and antivaxxers. It is, rather, a subset of a more general phenomenon in which those who deny science-based medicine blame deaths on the intervention or preventative, rather than the disease itself. Long before the pandemic, I was writing about how quacks and cranks would seize on the deaths of celebrities of cancer to blame chemotherapy, rather than their cancers, for having killed them. Examples are numerous (some catalogued here) and include David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Tony Snow, Farrah Fawcett, Elizabeth Edwards, Patrick Swayze (with a particularly despicable use of a photo showing how emaciated he was). Alternatively, they “lament” how a celebrity with cancer might have lived if only he had chosen (or stuck with) alternative medicine, such as Steve Jobs. The ghoulishness is a feature, not a bug, of the denial of medical science.

It is a denial that Harriet dedicated her post-Air Force life to combatting and that we here at SBM will continue to do. Antivaxxers can try to claim that vaccines killed Harriet all they want, but we know the truth, that unfortunately there are things medicine can’t always fix or prevent and that none of us gets out of here alive. All we can do is to use what time we have to do as much good as we can while we are still breathing, which is what Harriet tried to do. Ironically, by trying to add Harriet to their “died suddenly” conspiracy theory, antivaxxers gave her one last chance to help push back against quackery. I hope, but can never know, that she approves.

From Dr. Harriet Hall’s book, There Is No Such Thing as the Tooth Fairy!

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Posted by David Gorski

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