• The truth behind Warne and the Covid vaccine

    DR NISHANT JOSHI responds to claims that Shane Warne’s death may have been caused by the Covid-19 vaccine.

    I was a toddler when Shane Warne bowled his Ball of the Century to Mike Gatting in 1993. It barely would have registered at the time, but as a devout cricket fan, I must have watched that ball over a thousand times over the years. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s struggled to sleep, scrolled through a sports highlights channel, and studied that ball until dozing off.

    Warne was a fixture throughout my youth, and one of the few cricketers who transcended the game to become a cultural icon.

    Our paths would cross a few times. As I took a post-graduation detour into cricket journalism and TV, I met Warne a few times. We were both working on the England vs India Test series in 2014. Some commentators and ex-players are notorious for their diva-like behaviour, particularly to young upstarts like myself who ‘never played the game’ – those were Wasim Akram’s words, not mine. (He wasn’t to know that I scored a mean 48 that next week for my village side, London Itinerants CC.)

    Needless to say, Warne was always jovial and polite to a fault. His smile was genuinely the sort that would make your day better. We never engaged in deep conversation, but he knew my name (‘Awww, look Nish, the pitch is gonna turn!’), and that meant a lot.

    Soon after, I gave up my burgeoning career as a TV host because my parents wouldn’t entertain the idea that my cricket podcast could bring in more reliable income than being a doctor. They were probably right.

    Shane Warne died in 2022. We know that he died in Thailand. We are told that he had seen a cardiologist in Melbourne for chest pain. We know that there was a post-mortem, and this led to his cause of death being described as ‘coronary artery atherosclerosis’. In layman’s terms, it means that he had a build-up of gunk in the plumbing around his heart, and that one day it became blocked and he had a heart attack.

    The truth is that I don’t know exactly what Warne died from, and neither does anyone else. Medicine is about the balance of probabilities. The application of it on an individual level is not designed to be certain.

    Warne said that he had two doses of a Covid vaccine, and that he also contracted Covid on at least one occasion. It may or may not be significant that Warne’s case of Covid was bad enough for him to have been briefly put on a ventilator.

    We do know that severe Covid is a multi-system, prothrombotic illness, and that cardiac disease is either precipitated or accelerated by it.

    On the balance of probabilities, and with confidential medical information to hand, a doctor decided that Warne died of heart disease.

    I took offence to the republishing of an article that has spread widely in Indian media over the past few days, which was a regrettable regurgitation of anti-vaxx conspiracy theories that had promulgated during Warne’s untimely death last year. It’s an unfortunate reality that regardless of truth, anti-vaxxers are all too quick to co-opt celebrity deaths to further their agenda.

    Accepting the uncertainties involved, I do know that it is massively egregious and crosses every ethical boundary for a doctor to publicly speculate on a person’s cause of death. It is inhumane, it is cruel, and it is no doubt painful for his friends and family to endure.

    All doctors have sat in on post-mortems while medical students. It is serious work, and deserves respect. A doctor makes a decision as to the cause of death. It is a legal document and often we will pore over years’ worth of notes in order to reach an appropriate conclusion.

    I’ve had extensive experience in the field of Covid vaccines. I was part of a United Nations task force to build confidence in the vaccine. As part of this, I spent two years reading every study, talking to thousands of people who were hesitant to take the vaccine to understand their concerns.

    Science doesn’t work in the way that outlets such as SACricketmag.com have endorsed by uncritically republishing an article that legitimises the views of anti-vaxxers. We’ve reached spectacular advances in medicine over the past century, and there is still much more to achieve. There are hugely important debates about the Covid vaccine, and they centre around ease of access, equity and distribution. Dr Aseem Malhotra and Dr Chris Neil didn’t participate in the studies or write the papers. Thankfully, others did.

    At this stage, in June 2023, there are billions of data points. There have been tens of thousands of studies on the Covid vaccine. In all my discussions with anti-vaxxers – who are distinct from those who are vaccine-hesitant – nobody has ever agreed to read through an entire paper with me, and understand it together, in real-time. There is a lot of cherry-picking and mental gymnastics, though. Especially when well-paid world tours are on the line. I can only imagine that the temptation is to stretch the lie further and further, like a child blissfully unaware that their parents did actually see them flush the family goldfish down the toilet.

    We should also be clear that the original press release was signed off by Dr Chris Neil’s organisation AMPS (Australian Medical Professionals Society). This was done as a way to promote Dr Malhotra’s recent tour to Australia. It was a cynical ploy to use an Australian man’s death as a way to boost ticket sales for an Australian tour. It’s despicable. And those who have blindly reposted it also deserve criticism. I don’t like people to fall victim to misinformation, because there are already enough people making terrible decisions on their own.

    And it’s because the Covid vaccines were rolled out so quickly, due to unprecedented global cooperation, that anti-vaxxers were able to say the vaccines would end us all. When? First it was two weeks, then two months, then two years, and now we really are just waiting for Dr Aseem Malhotra and Dr Chris Neil to claim that a 104-year-old man died not of old age, but because he took his booster.

    These two medical professionals and their ilk are happy to cast doubt over the Covid vaccine, and so to me they should be termed as “anti-vaxxers”. They deserve to be described as they behave.

    I’m not here to persuade you to take the Covid vaccine. But I am certain that we should be asking more questions of those who think that you shouldn’t.

    – Dr Nishant Joshi is a medical doctor. He is currently working as a decision-making coach for elite athletes and business leaders. He tweets sometimes.

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    Simon Borchardt