When a Canadian health system lost three physicians to cancer within days of each other in mid-July, misinformation began swirling online that they had died as a result of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
Alarming social media posts included one tweet that read, “THREE Trillium Health Partners-Mississauga Hospital doctors have DIED suddenly in 1 week, apparently after getting latest mandated booster,” and another linked the deaths to vaccines with hashtags like #StopTheShots and #VaccineDeaths, the AP reported in a fact check piece.
According to Trillium Health Partners in Ontario, as well as memorial notices and obituaries, the physicians actually died from unrelated and serious illnesses.
“It is with deep sadness that Trillium Health Partners mourns the loss of three of our physicians who recently passed away,” a spokesperson for the health system wrote in an emailed statement. “Dr. Jakub Sawicki, Dr. Stephen McKenzie and Dr. Lorne Segall were trusted colleagues who were committed to caring for their patients and community.”
“The rumour circulating on social media is simply not true,” the spokesperson added. “Their passings were not related to the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Memorial notices that were shared internally at Trillium Health Partners and subsequently with MedPage Today also made no mention of vaccines contributing to any of the physicians’ deaths.
USA Today reported that at least one social media post attributing the doctors’ deaths to the COVID-19 vaccine — minus any evidence to support that claim — was shared hundreds of times in its first week.
A GoFundMe page organized by Sawicki’s wife, Iris, noted that the young physician passed away on July 19 after being diagnosed with stage IV gastric signet-ring-cell adenocarcinoma last August.
Iris wrote that her husband’s cancer had spread beyond the gastric wall into his peritoneal cavity, and that this aggressive form of stomach cancer “only presents symptoms once the disease has advanced.”
Sawicki had been a member of the surgical assisting team at Trillium Health Partners since 2014, shortly after completing his training. He also served as a regional medical director of pain medicine clinics.
An obituary for McKenzie, posted online August 5, stated that the 68-year-old physician passed away “after a courageous battle with cancer” on July 18.
McKenzie enjoyed “a 40-year career as a much-loved and respected neurologist at Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga,” the obituary read, “where he was one of the neurology department’s founding members.”
“Always generous with his time in caring for patients, he was a leader in the field of multiple sclerosis,” the obituary added.
Segall, an otolaryngologist who was just 49, passed away on July 17 “after a ridiculously unfair and hard fought year-long battle with advanced lung cancer,” according to his obituary.
“Lorne was an intelligent clinician and a talented surgeon,” the obituary read. “He was dedicated to his practice and to helping patients.”
Overall, 82.5% of the Ontario population has been vaccinated for COVID, according to the latest data from Public Health Ontario. In addition, 50.5%% have received at least one booster dose. Second boosters are available to everyone 18 and older.