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No evidence countries’ vaccine rollout, leaders’ deaths connected

No evidence countries' vaccine rollout, leaders' deaths connected

The claim: Leaders of several countries died unexpectedly after refusing to accept COVID-19 vaccines

An array of social media posts link the recent assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse and the “unexpected deaths” of several other countries’ leaders to their opposition to COVID-19 vaccinations.

Several posts mention Haiti, Burundi and Tanzania’s presidents, but others suggest that the fates of several other countries’ leaders are tied as well.

One now-deleted Instagram post pulled the Ivory Coast and Eswatini into the theory with Haiti, Tanzania and Burundi. A meme in at least five other posts on Instagram and Facebook mentions the same countries.

“What do all these world leaders have in common? They all opposed vaccination of the citizens of their countries,” the screenshot in the post read. “What else? They all were recently assassinated or died of suspicious circumstances.”

A July 10 Facebook post predicted a similar outcome for Madagascar’s president.

“Madagascar is also refusing the vaccine. I hope their President is safe and has security because history shows what happens when u refuse it,” reads the post on a page called “Redpill USA 3” that quotes a tweet by Shannon Kroner.

Another post claimed Madagascar’s president had already died.

​​​​​​USA TODAY reached out to creators of the posts for comment.

Across the two platforms, at least seven similar posts have accrued thousands of reactions. Facebook users have shared the claims over 950 times in total while on Instagram over 2,000 users have liked the claims.

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However, the various theories muddle some facts about leaders’ deaths and vaccine policies. Though four of the seven countries hesitated initially, all but Madagascar and Burundi have now accepted vaccines. And only two current presidents – those of Haiti and Tanzania – died after declining COVID-19 vaccines that were offered to them.

Four countries initially declined vaccines, three now accepting them

As some of the posts claim, Tanzania, Burundi, Madagascar and Haiti all “refused” the COVID-19 vaccine at one point.

Dorothy Gwajima, Health Minister of Tanzania, said in February that the country “has no plans in place to accept COVID-19 vaccines” because it was “not yet satisfied that those vaccines have been clinically proven safe,” according to a report in medical journal The Lancet.

Burundi’s health minister, Thaddee Ndikumana, told reporters in February that “vaccines are not yet necessary” and that prevention was more important.

Madagascar also initially declined to participate in the COVAX initiative, a program supported by the World Health Organization that provides the world’s poorest countries with free shots.

Haiti refused a shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines from COVAX citing concern about side effects, according to the New Humanitarian. But Haitian Ministry of Health Director Laure Adrien told Bloomberg that at the time, the country asked that a different vaccine be sent in its place.

“Haiti did not reject the offer of vaccines from Covax,” Adrien said to the outlet in a telephone interview. “All we asked was that they change the vaccine they were providing us.”

A doctor fills a syringe with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, July 11, 2021. The COVID-19 vaccines were donated by the United States and delivered through the U.N.-backed COVAX program. Another shipment is expected to arrive later this month. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

A doctor fills a syringe with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, July 11, 2021. The COVID-19 vaccines were donated by the United States and delivered through the U.N.-backed COVAX program. Another shipment is expected to arrive later this month. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

In the last few months, three of those countries have accepted vaccines.

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Haiti authorized the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in mid-May and said it would accept vaccines from COVAX, according to the Miami Herald. Tanzania requested vaccines in mid-June, also through COVAX, the Wall Street Journal reported. And Madagascar received its first batch of 250,000 AstraZeneca doses from COVAX in May.

Côte d’Ivoire, Eswatini, Zambia did not refuse vaccines

Various social media posts referenced Côte d’Ivoire, Eswatini and Zambia as having leaders die after refusing the vaccine. All faced shortages and delays related to vaccines, but there is no evidence the leaders of these countries took a stance against COVID-19 vaccinations.

While vaccine administrators faced widespread vaccine hesitancy among citizens, Ivory Coast received 504,000 AstraZeneca vaccines in February out of 1,740,000 doses allocated to it by the COVAX program.

On February 26, 2021, a plane carrying 504,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines distributed by the COVAX Facility landed in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

On February 26, 2021, a plane carrying 504,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines distributed by the COVAX Facility landed in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland) received its first doses in March. The World Health Organization reported the country administered nearly 110% of those 32,000 vaccines, saving the small extra amount of liquid in each vial to provide more doses.

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Finally, Bloomberg reported in March that Zambia had failed to make plans for the vaccine rollout. However, there are no reports of an outright refusal, as one post claims. The country received 228,000 doses from the COVAX initiative on April 12.

No evidence presidents’ untimely deaths were tied to vaccination response

The leaders of Haiti, Burundi, Tanzania, Eswatini and Ivory Coast died unexpectedly in recent months. And some may have died of COVID-19. However, the presidents of Madagascar and Zambia are still alive.

Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza died June 8, 2020 after suffering from cardiac arrest— long before vaccines were available for distribution. Nkurunziza was set to step down as president in August, a role he held for 15 years.

Tanzania’s president, John Magufuli, died March 17 from heart complications after unconfirmed speculation that he may have contracted COVID-19. And Jovenel Moïse, president of Haiti, was assassinated July 7 in his home. The investigation into his killing is ongoing.

According to the BBC, Ivory Coast Prime Minister Hamed Bakayoko, who was receiving treatment for cancer, also died this year. He was pronounced dead at a German hospital in March.

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July 7, 2021: Soldiers patrol in Petion Ville, the neighborhood where the late Haitian President Jovenel Moise lived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Mo•se was assassinated in an attack on his private residence early Wednesday, and first lady Martine Mo•se was shot in the overnight attack and hospitalized, according to a statement from the countryÕs interim prime minister.

July 7, 2021: Soldiers patrol in Petion Ville, the neighborhood where the late Haitian President Jovenel Moise lived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Mo•se was assassinated in an attack on his private residence early Wednesday, and first lady Martine Mo•se was shot in the overnight attack and hospitalized, according to a statement from the countryÕs interim prime minister.

In two other cases, the posts wrongly named a former president who died rather than a current leader.

One post claimed “Madagascar’s president” Didier Ratsiraka died unexpectedly. However, Ratsiraka, a former president, was 84 years old when he died on March 28, RFI reported.

Another post suggested a connection between Zambia’s delayed vaccine rollout and the death of Kenneth Kaunda in July. But Kaunda, 97, has not been in power since his term as the country’s first president ended in 1991, the BBC reported.

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Finally, one popular meme included Eswatini’s then-prime minister, Ambrose Dlamini, among those assassinated. The BBC reported that no cause of death was given for Dlamini, but that he had tested positive for COVID-19 four weeks previous and had been receiving treatment for it when he died.

There is no evidence to support the assertion that there are “dots” to be connected between the leaders’ deaths and their countries’ vaccine rollouts.

Our rating: False

We rate FALSE claims that leaders of several countries died unexpectedly after refusing to accept COVID-19 vaccines. The presidents of Tanzania and Haiti both died unexpectedly this year and also rejected initial vaccine offers, but there is no evidence those two facts are linked. Burundi’s president died in March 2020, long before vaccines were available.

Of the other countries listed in various posts— Madagascar, Ivory Coast, Zambia and Eswatini— only Madagascar initially declined COVID-19 vaccines. None of those countries’ leaders died while in office this year.

And there’s no evidence of any deaths tied in any form to national decisions on the COVID-19 vaccine.

Our fact-check sources:

  • The Lancet, Feb. 13, Tanzania refuses COVID-19 vaccines

  • Associated Press, Feb. 5, Burundi says it doesn’t need COVID-19 vaccines, at least yet

  • The New Humanitarian, July 5, Haiti still awaiting first COVID vaccines, as cases surge

  • Miami Herald, May 20, PAHO: Haiti authorizes use of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine as deaths, infections rise

  • Wall Street Journal. June 17, After a Year of Denying Covid-19, Tanzania Orders Vaccines

  • BBC News, March 18, John Magufuli: Tanzania’s president dies aged 61 after Covid rumours

  • BBC News, June 9, 2020, Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza dies of ‘cardiac arrest’ at 55

  • UNICEF, May 8, Madagascar receives first batch of 250,000 vaccine doses as part of the COVAX initiative

  • France Inter, May 17, À Madagascar, opération vaccination pour Français et Européens

  • The Washington Post, April 4, Ivory Coast is falling behind its vaccination schedule. Health workers fear thousands of shots could expire.

  • Bloomberg, March 19, Vaccine Delay Fires Up Zambian Opposition as Election Nears

  • Bloomberg, June 8, Haiti is the Only Country in the Western Hemisphere Without Vaccines

  • BBC, July 2, Kenneth Kaunda: Memorial held for Zambia’s first president

  • BBC, March 11, Hamed Bakayoko: Ivory Coast’s PM dies in Germany

  • BBC, Dec. 14, 2020, Ambrose Dlamini: Eswatini’s PM dies after testing positive for Covid-19

  • Gavi, accessed July 13, Côte d’Ivoire COVAX vaccine roll-out

  • Gavi, accessed July 13, Zambia COVAX vaccine roll-out

  • France 24, July 2, Africa’s last absolute monarch faces push for democracy as unrest rocks Eswatini

  • World Health Organization, June 15, Giving 110%: Eswatini’s early rollout of COVID-19 vaccines

  • RFI, Mach 28, Ex-Madagascar leader Didier Ratsiraka dies at 84

  • USA TODAY, July 7, Haiti President Jovenel Moïse assassinated at home; Biden calls it ‘very worrisome’

  • USA TODAY, July 12, Florida resident detained as part of Haiti investigation: What we know

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Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Claims on leaders’ deaths, vaccines are false

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Julia Mangels

Julia has handled various businesses throughout her career and has a deep domain knowledge. She founded Stock Market Pioneer in an attempt to bring the latest news to its readers. She is glued to the stock market most of the times and just loves being in touch with the developments in the business world.

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