Not Real News

On Friday, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly claiming that vaccine-related strokes in pilots have caused an “epidemic of plane crashes.” 

CLAIM: Vaccine-related strokes in pilots have caused an “epidemic of plane crashes.”

THE FACTS: A video circulating widely on Facebook and various video-sharing websites this week spreads a bogus claim that vaccine-linked medical ailments in pilots have caused numerous recent plane crashes. The nearly 30-minute video uses fake news banners and fear-mongering narration to baselessly suggest recent plane accidents, including an Oct. 11 small plane crash in a San Diego suburb, happened because pilots had strokes caused by COVID-19 vaccines.

“There’s a silent epidemic of plane crashes happening around the country and nobody’s connecting the dots,” the video’s narrator says. “By listening to the audio from the cockpit of this latest crash, it’s clear that the pilot was having a stroke. The pilot was a doctor from a hospital. He was required to get the vaccine.”

It’s true the pilot in the Oct. 11 crash was a cardiologist, but the claim that he suffered a medical condition after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine is not supported by any evidence to date. The National Transportation Safety Board, which said it is investigating the crash, has not yet stated a cause. The idea that there’s an “epidemic” of vaccine-related plane crashes is also unsupported. FAA spokesperson Brittany Trotter told The Associated Press in an email that the agency “has seen no evidence of aircraft accidents or pilot incapacitations caused by pilots suffering medical complications associated with COVID-19 vaccines.”

FAA data shows that fatality rates from general aviation accidents have decreased in 2021. Pilots who want to fly a plane or serve as a required airline crew member after receiving a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine must wait 48 hours before doing so, according to FAA guidelines. That’s intended to allow pilots to wait out any side effects from the vaccine, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says are typically mild to moderate and resolve within a few days.

There is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines increase the risk of stroke, but the coronavirus itself is associated with an increased risk of stroke, according to Dr. Mitchell S.V. Elkind, a professor of neurology and epidemiology at Columbia University and the immediate past president of the American Heart Association. “About 1-2% of people hospitalized with COVID develop strokes,” Elkind told the AP in an email. “So getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent adverse outcomes of COVID, including stroke.”

Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in New York contributed this report.