Russell Brand’s YouTube videos use flawed analyses and simplistic correlations to link COVID-19 vaccines to heart issues, cancer, excess deaths
COVID-19 vaccines are effective at reducing the risk of severe COVID-19 and death. Thus, they help minimize the risk of developing complications from the disease, including cardiovascular problems, organ failure, and long COVID. Although certain COVID-19 vaccines are associated with a slightly increased risk of heart inflammation in young males, this risk is much smaller than the risks posed by COVID-19 itself.
Misleading: Heart conditions and cancer among young adults were already on the rise for many years before the pandemic, which is inconsistent with the hypothesis that COVID-19 vaccines are responsible for this increase. The alleged evidence provided to support such associations is based on flawed analyses and misinterpreted correlations.
Inadequate support: No evidence supports the implicit claim that COVID-19 vaccination is associated with an increased risk of heart conditions and cancer. Scientific studies and safety monitoring show that vaccinated people aren’t more likely to develop these conditions.
Public figures easily have millions of people following them on social media and their messaging on such platforms can significantly influence their audience’s beliefs and behaviors on various issues. This influence can sometimes be valuable for raising awareness and delivering accurate information that benefits public health. However, it has also been used to disseminate misinformation, a trend that reached new highs with the COVID-19 pandemic.
One example is comedian Russell Brand, whose YouTube channel became a prolific source of COVID-19 misinformation early in the pandemic. In the manner of “just asking questions”, Brand’s videos wove half-truths with conspiracy theories without making explicit claims. Such narratives reach a large audience, since Brand has over 20 million followers on YouTube, Rumble, and X (formerly Twitter).
Between December 2023 and January 2024, Brand uploaded three YouTube videos that used the same tactic of “just asking questions” to imply COVID-19 vaccines are causing heart conditions, cancer, and deaths. These three videos together drew almost 3.5 million views on YouTube.
However, none of the claims implied in Brand’s videos are supported by scientific evidence. In the sections below, we will analyze each of these videos separately and discuss the evidence—or rather the lack thereof—on which the claims rely.
An analysis of military health data by navy officer doesn’t show spike increases in heart conditions following COVID-19 vaccination
“Support the troops. How? By giving them a curious new pandemic of heart diseases. What could be causing it? And do you think the thing that could be causing it is still being aggressively advertised?”
On 3 December 2023, Brand published a YouTube video about a supposed “new set of coronary conditions that appear to have emerged lately” among the military. While Brand didn’t explicitly attribute heart conditions to COVID-19 vaccination, the combination of imagery and language in the video clearly implies that COVID-19 vaccines are to blame.
For example, Brand claimed that the possible cause for these conditions was still “aggressively advertised” and then dedicated the last part of the video to discussing a new commercial for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine SpikeVax.
Brand’s message was also further emphasized by its thumbnail, showing an image of someone clutching their chest with the word “Moderna” and a vial superimposed over the image.
Additionally, Brand made the following remark when analyzing Moderna’s commercial: “Don’t look at excess deaths, don’t spend too much time looking at the leading new cause of death among young athletes”.
In the case of Brand’s video, the implied link between COVID-19 vaccination and heart issues is based on a video that Ted Macie, a Lieutenant in the Medical Corps of the U.S. Navy, published on 27 November 2023. Originally posted on Macie’s X/Twitter account, the video was later removed, but copies continued circulating on multiple platforms.
In his video, Macie claimed that data from the U.S. Defense Medical Epidemiology Database (DMED) showed a spike in heart-related conditions among military pilots in 2022 following COVID-19 vaccination compared to the average for the period between 2016 and 2020. Brand highlighted the alleged large increases in cardiomyopathy (152%) and heart failure (973%).
In a tweet posted hours after the video, Macie provided details about his analysis, including two screenshots from the data source. These showed that Macie’s calculations relied on the total number of “visits to the provider”, including hospitalizations, ambulatory visits, and reportable events.
However, an increase in the number of visits doesn’t necessarily reflect an increase in the number of diagnoses. Instead, it might result from other factors like changes in medical protocols or health-seeking behavior (for example, an increase in medical visits following pandemic restrictions). Moreover, a single patient can make multiple visits to the clinic, so the number of visits doesn’t necessarily reflect the number of actual cases. In fact, the number of visits is likely much larger than the number of cases. Macie’s analysis didn’t account for these limitations.
Health Feedback reached out to the U.S. Defense Health Agency (DHA), which manages authority, direction, and control of military hospitals and clinics worldwide, for comment.
In an email, a DHA spokesperson stated that the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) “conducted a systematic analysis of the data pertaining to heart-related conditions in military aviators” and the result “does not support the claims made in the video”.
He added that “both the DoD data and the peer reviewed scientific literature have demonstrated that increases in rates of most new heart-related conditions are highest among those with a prior COVID-19 infection”. He also highlighted the role of vaccination in reducing the chances of developing “severe disease and adverse health outcomes if infected with COVID-19”.
You can read the DHA statement in full here.
Heart problems appear indeed to be on the rise among young adults compared to previous generations. However, studies associate this increase with post-COVID-19 effects and with an increase in diabetes and obesity, both of which are well-known risk factors for cardiovascular disease, in this age group.
Scientific studies show that even mild SARS-CoV-2 infections can increase the risk of cardiovascular problems for up to one year[3,4]. While mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are associated with a slightly increased risk of heart inflammation in young males, such cases are very rare and generally mild. In fact, COVID-19 itself is more likely to cause serious heart complications compared to vaccination[3,5], a risk that COVID-19 vaccines can help minimize.
COVID-19 vaccines aren’t associated with sudden cardiac death syndrome
“Excess deaths in America are beyond even the peak of the pandemic”; “I’m not suggesting for a moment that all of those athletes died or that all of athletes were suffering as a result of particular medications but the data is available now: excess deaths are rising, the life expectancy in the United States of America is falling, and it isn’t because of COVID-19”
In a YouTube video published on 1 January 2024, Brand claimed that people are “dying suddenly from a mysterious syndrome”. Then, he cited a December 2023 article in The Hill reporting on a “catastrophic” decline in U.S. life expectancy. Based on data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the insurance company Conning, the article stated that “158,000 more Americans [died] in the first nine months of 2023 than in the same period in 2019”.
This message was followed by lengthy “video footage of people suddenly collapsing for no reason in sporting events, on the news”.
Overall, the impression given is that many seemingly healthy people are suddenly dropping dead for no clear reason.
However, many of the images showing people collapsing in the video had been used before to promote the narrative that COVID-19 vaccines are behind these episodes, despite no evidence suggesting a link between those events and vaccination. Some of the cases involved harmless episodes of fainting, whereas others were attributed to causes other than vaccination, such as pre-existing medical conditions and dehydration.
The video dedicated one section to show footage of young athletes collapsing on the field. Despite Brand claiming that he was “not suggesting for a moment” that these cases happened “as a result of certain medications”, this is nevertheless what the video implied. Among images of people collapsing, news reports on vaccine-associated myocarditis and clips suggesting that COVID-19 vaccines cause deaths make this implication clear.
As Health Feedback documented in an earlier review, this isn’t the first time Brand suggests the COVID-19 vaccines are responsible for sudden deaths.
Blaming COVID-19 vaccines for the rise in excess mortality has been a recurrent anti-vaccine narrative. Like in Brand’s video, this narrative is frequently associated with the term “died suddenly” or “sudden death”, which has been used as a dog whistle to convey the idea of a link between unexpected deaths and COVID-19 vaccination.
But this narrative is contradicted by scientific evidence.
Although rare, heart problems among young athletes can occur, often resulting from an undiagnosed heart abnormality. According to the American College of Cardiology, there are approximately 100 to 150 sudden cardiac deaths during competitive sports each year in the U.S. The rate of sudden cardiac arrest is less than one case per 100,000 athletes, and over 40% of them survive.
Evidence so far suggests that COVID-19 vaccination doesn’t cause or increase the risk of sudden cardiac arrest.
One study published in the journal Circulation in April 2023 evaluated out-of-hospital cardiac arrest in over four million people aged 1 to 50 in Australia. The researchers found no increase either in the overall rate of cardiac arrest or in the rate of cardiac arrest caused by myocarditis compared to pre-pandemic levels.
In August 2023, one study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reviewed all available literature on sudden cardiac arrest and myocarditis in athletes and found no confirmed cases of cardiac complications following mRNA vaccination as of February 2023. The authors concluded:
“Although athletes – due to their relatively young age – are at increased risk of developing myocarditis, we found no evidence in the studies that COVID-19 vaccination combined with intense exercise increased this risk even further.”
Another study published in Circulation in November 2023 evaluated the trends in sudden cardiac deaths in U.S. college athletes over a 20-year period, reporting a net decrease in sudden cardiac death. The authors found no cases of sudden cardiac death attributable to COVID-19-related myocarditis. Among the 143 cases reported over the 20 years, just eight were attributable to myocarditis, and only one occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Published studies so far also show no association between COVID-19 vaccines and a greater risk of death, as Health Feedback explained in earlier reviews. On the contrary, several studies have found that COVID-19 vaccination is associated with reduced mortality from any cause[12-14]. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the COVID-19 vaccines reduce mortality from all causes—association alone doesn’t imply causation—but this observation is inconsistent with Brand’s narrative that COVID-19 vaccination causes a greater risk of mortality.
Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that life expectancy in the U.S. declined in 2021 for the second consecutive year. Many other countries have observed similar declines from 2020. However, claims attributing these observations to COVID-19 vaccines are unfounded, as Health Feedback explained in an earlier review.
The CDC report shows that, while heart disease and liver disease contributed to the 2021 decline in life expectancy in the U.S., COVID-19 deaths—not vaccination—were the primary cause. This is supported by the CDC’s preliminary report on life expectancy for 2022, which shows a partial recovery that appears to be primarily driven by the decline in COVID-19 deaths.
Claims linking COVID-19 vaccines with cancer are unfounded
“As Bret Weinstein informs Tucker of the alarming number of deaths resulting from the Covid vaccine, Pfizer makes a $43 billion bet that ‘turbo cancers’ are going to explode around the world. But why, and could the two possibly be connected?”
In a YouTube video posted on 10 January 2024, Brand implied an association between COVID-19 vaccines and cancer by juxtaposing three main messages: that COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe, that cancer cases are rising, and that Pfizer somehow knew there would be an increase in cancer cases.
The video began with the claim that COVID-19 might have caused “something like 17 million deaths globally”. As the source of the claim, Brand cited a 5 January 2024 interview between former Fox News host Tucker Carlson and podcaster and biologist Bret Weinstein, from which the video included several fragments.
Weinstein’s claim is based on a flawed analysis that Health Feedback reviewed in September 2023. Basically, the authors gathered all-cause excess mortality data from 17 countries and baselessly attributed all spikes in the post-vaccination period to COVID-19 vaccines. However, the analysis didn’t take into account the surges in COVID-19 deaths that correlated with the spikes in all-cause mortality, an indication that the rise in excess mortality was very likely due in large part to COVID-19 rather than vaccination.
During the interview, Weinstein spread several other falsehoods that FactCheck.org addressed in a dedicated article. Weinstein had spread misinformation in the past, including the unsupported claims that COVID-19 vaccines are cytotoxic and that ivermectin is an effective COVID-19 treatment.
Brand’s video continued with news footage reporting on an “extraordinary and unprecedented rise of cancer”, particularly in colorectal cancer, in people under 50. He also used the term “turbo cancer”—referring to forms of aggressive and rapidly progressing cancer—several times in the video to describe this alleged rise.
However, this isn’t a recognized medical or scientific term, as surgical oncologist David Gorski explained in an article for Science-Based Medicine. According to Gorski, the term “turbo cancer” seems to have been coined during the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically in connection to COVID-19 vaccines.
The claim that COVID-19 vaccines cause or increase the risk of cancer has made the rounds on social media since at least 2021, commonly based on the incorrect notion that COVID-19 vaccines modify the human genome. But such claims have no basis in fact and are instead founded on anecdotal accounts and misinterpreted studies, as Health Feedback documented in earlier reviews.
In January 2024, the American Cancer Society published a report on the trends in new cancer cases in the U.S. between 1995 and 2020. The organization noted that although the risk of dying from cancer has declined over the last 30 years, many common cancers are indeed on the rise, particularly in people under 50. One example is colorectal cancer.
However, the U.S. National Cancer Institute explains that “[t]here is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines cause cancer, lead to recurrence, or lead to disease progression”.
The rise in cancer among people under 50 is a trend that has been ongoing over the past 30 years, long before the first COVID-19 vaccine became available. Although the precise causes contributing to the increase in cancer cases among younger adults are unknown, the American Cancer Society’s report noted that the risk of six of the cancers on the rise (colorectal, endometrial, liver, kidney, pancreas, and breast) is associated with excess body weight. This would point to lifestyle factors as possible contributors to the increase.
Brand added a conspiratorial touch to his narrative by suggesting that Pfizer’s acquisition of Seagen, a U.S. biotechnology company specialized in developing cancer treatments, in 2023 demonstrates that Pfizer somehow knew that “turbo cancers are about to become extremely profitable”—implying that COVID-19 vaccines cause cancer and Pfizer knew about it.
But COVID-19 vaccines aren’t associated with a higher risk of cancer, making this conjecture a baseless one. Also, cancer was already a leading cause of death long before the vaccine became available, making it a clinically relevant target for drug development.
In the fashion of “just asking questions”, Brand’s videos suggested COVID-19 vaccination was causing health issues ranging from heart problems to cancer, but such claims are unsupported and even contradicted by scientific evidence. The supposed “bombshells” that the video provided as evidence of an association between COVID-19 vaccines and heart problems, excess deaths, and cancer are based on flawed analyses, anecdotes, and misleading interpretations. These don’t provide reliable evidence for Brand’s claims.
While COVID-19 vaccination does carry certain risks, these are smaller than the benefits of the vaccines in reducing the risk of severe COVID-19 and death. Data from studies and safety surveillance after billions of people around the world received the vaccines show that serious reactions to vaccination are very rare and that most people only experience mild and short-lived side effects.
The Department of Defense prioritizes the health of the force and takes seriously our responsibility for on-going health surveillance of Service members. We have conducted a systematic analysis of the data pertaining to heart-related conditions in military aviators. Based on this thorough review, the DoD’s data does not support the claims made in the video [by Ted Macie].
Our data shows the same pattern in new onset heart-related conditions that have been published in peer reviewed scientific literature, which compare the incidence of heart-related conditions by COVID-19 vaccination and a history of a prior COVID-19 infection.
Both the DoD data and the peer reviewed literature have demonstrated that increases in rates of most new heart-related conditions are highest among those with a prior COVID-19 infection.
Both DoD data and the scientific literature have continued to show that individuals who received COVID-19 vaccination have significantly less severe disease and adverse health outcomes if infected with COVID-19.
The DoD will continue to monitor the situation for any new developments to include active research and surveillance studies on ways to detect, protect and mitigate the effects of existing and emerging health-threats to the force.
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