Anti-vaccine advocates mislead on British boy's death

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Tweets shared thousands of times suggest the Covid-19 vaccine was responsible for the death of a three-year-old British boy. This is misleading; UK authorities have not approved the shots for children under age five -- and the boy's uncle told media he was suffering from Strep A, which kills an estimated 500,000 people worldwide annually.

"DIED SUDDENLY: Boy, 3, 'with no symptoms' dies suddenly while watching cartoons. 'Theo just collapsed with a cardiac arrest,'" says a March 20, 2023 tweet with more than 3,000 shares.

Similar posts used the same phrase or #DiedSuddenly, referencing a 2022 film filled with false and misleading claims about Covid-19 shots.

Anti-vaccine advocate Steve Kirsch, whom AFP has previously fact-checked for spreading health misinformation, also commented on the case.

"Unvaxed 3 year olds never die from cardiac arrest," he said in a March 20 tweet. "The silence from the medical community is inexcusable."

Screenshot from Twitter taken March 23, 2023

The posts reference Theo Emm, who died February 18 while watching cartoons at his family's home in southern England.

But there is no evidence the Covid-19 vaccine -- which UK health authorities have not approved for children under age five -- is to blame.

Articles linked in the posts say Emm had been suffering from Strep A, which can lead to heart complications. His uncle told The Mirror (archived here) that the boy's parents were too distraught to speak, but that they wanted to raise awareness about the infection.

The UK Health Security Agency said in December 2022 that Strep A afflicted more than 2,400 Britons in the 2022-2023 season, causing 319 deaths -- including 40 children.

Most cases are mild and resolve with antibiotics or other treatments. But a 2018 study published in Academic Forensic Pathology estimated that Strep A kills up to 1,600 people in the United States and 500,000 globally every year.

Strep A is a "common human pathogen that causes disease in everyone and anyone from the very young to very old and the overall healthy to the chronically ill," the authors said.

An invasive, more toxic strain of Strep A has caused a recent spike in infections and deaths among children in North America, Europe and Australia. Public health authorities have not identified the disease as a potential side effect of Covid-19 vaccination.

AFP has previously fact-checked claims that vaccination played a role in the deaths of a former hockey star, Canadian doctors, athletes, pilots, a sports journalist and a South Korean influencer.