The Claim: An Ohio doctor joking about vaccine microchips died after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine
Dr. Thomas Flanigan joked, after receiving the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in February, that the new microchip he implanted with his Moderna shot was working just fine.
“My spirit is slowly being taken over by the crush,” he wrote next to a selfie with his vaccination card in a Facebook post on February 3rd. “We’re fine. Resistance is futile.”
The post initially generated comments from people associated with Flanigan, but activity in the photo picked up more than two months later after Earthley, a wellness company, paired it with a screenshot of a reminder page shortly after Flanigan’s obituary went viral .
Flanigan’s friends wrote the obituary after his death in April with the same dry sense of humor Flanigan was known for in an annual New Year’s letter.
“This man mocked people who are (anti-vaccine) … then this happened,” Earthley’s May 11 post said alongside Flanigan’s vaccine selfies and his memorabilia page.
The post was shared over 250 times and had over 450 comments as of May 19th.
Earthley owner Kate Tietje told the US TODAY that the mail shouldn’t mean the vaccine killed Flanigan. But commentators who got on Flanigan’s side after his death and shared some screenshots from Earthley’s post made the connection.
“A lot of people won’t make the link or say they died of c / 0: v | -d,” wrote one commenter on Flanigan’s photo.
Flanigan’s death had nothing to do with the vaccine, his wife Amy Flanigan told USA TODAY.
Death unrelated to COVID-19
Previous reports of Flanigan’s April 27 death said he died of an uncertain medical problem. But his wife told USA TODAY that Flanigan died of an undiagnosed aortic dissection.
Flanigan’s, a surgeon from Toledo, Ohio who toured Iraq with the U.S. Army on several tours, had a penchant for jokes, his Facebook page reveals. In an April 22 post, he shared a meme that said, “Remember when we ate cake after someone poked it? Man we were wild “
Among the memes and photos of his three children, Flanigan also shared two vaccine selfies. Still wearing scrubs and a face mask, Flanigan keeps his vaccination card in the posts near his chest about a month apart in January and February.
“I did it for the free orange juice. I’m pretty sure the needle was a foot long, ”he wrote with the first photo. “The good news is I didn’t feel the microchip but can now listen to local radio stations.”
Fact check:According to experts, the death rate in fully vaccinated people who developed COVID-19 is misleading
Both photos were part of Earthley’s post on May 11th. The Columbus-based company sells personal care products and “herbal remedies,” but has also traded in misinformation.
The Federal Trade Commission sent the company a warning letter in April 2020 as part of a major “action against coronavirus fraud,” according to Politifact.
Commentators immediately linked the vaccine to Flanigan’s death, although there is no evidence to back it up. They flooded his photo from two months earlier with new answers. Some asked if others who had previously replied were still alive after receiving their vaccine.
Even so, Tietje said the post’s intent is to draw attention to Flanigans “mocking people who are not sure they are getting the vaccine”.
“There was a bit of irony in the situation – even if the two actions had nothing to do with each other,” she said in an email to USA TODAY. She said it is not alleged “that the vaccine caused the doctor’s death”.
Clinical studies have shown that the emergency-approved coronavirus vaccines by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are safe and effective at preventing the virus.
More than 159 million people have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Our verdict: lack of context
Claiming that an Ohio doctor joking about vaccine microchips died after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine is out of context. The owner of the company that made the claim public said this is not meant to mean the vaccine killed Flanigan, but commentators made the link. Flanigan’s death had nothing to do with the vaccine: his wife told USA TODAY that he died of an undiagnosed aortic dissection.
Our sources for verifying facts:
- Earthley owner Kate Tietje, May 19th, email exchanged with USA TODAY
- Amy Flanigan, wife of Dr. Thomas Flanigan, May 19, email exchange with USA TODAY
- Toledo Blade, May 10, Toledo Surgeon’s Obituary goes viral
- Toledo Blade, obituary for Thomas Flanigan
- Mayo Clinic, accessed May 19, Aortic Dissection Explanation
- Federal Trade Commission, April 9, 2020, warning letter to Earthley
- Politifact, March 30th, False vaccine claims persist on Facebook despite a ban. Here’s why
- US TODAY, April 30th, Fact Check: COVID-19 Vaccines Do Not Cause Death or Decimate World Population
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed May 19, Selected Adverse Events Reported After COVID-19 Vaccination
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed May 19, COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States
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Our fact-checking is partially supported by a grant from Facebook.