When history books reflect on the Covid-19 pandemic, there will be heroes whose achievements will be studied and hailed by future generations. 

Among them will be the doctors and nurses who worked tirelessly to save lives, and the scientists whose passion and ingenuity significantly decreased the numbers of those dying or seriously injured.

There will be no admiration whatsoever for the charlatans and grifters who sought to enhance their profile by promoting anti-vaccine conspiracies. 

Three years into the pandemic, a horrifying incident at an American football game has been seized upon by a number of these ghouls.

What happened?

During an NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night, Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest after Bengals player Tee Higgins’ helmet appeared to hit him in the chest. 

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Hamlin initially got to his feet, but then fell on his back. Emergency medical staff administered CPR and oxygen, with the Bills later confirming that the player’s heartbeat was restored on the field and he was in critical condition. 

How did people react?

Speaking on ESPN, broadcaster and former NFL player Ryan Clark summed up the feelings of the vast majority, saying: “this isn’t about a football player. It’s about a human. This is about a brother. This is about a son. This is about a friend.”

Clark spoke eloquently about his own experience of being hospitalised during a game, and said: “part of living your dream is putting your life at risk.”

Sadly, not everyone was capable of such a measured, compassionate response.

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Don’t tell me it’s 2023 and the anti-vaxxers are still at it…

Within moments of Hamlin’s collapse, these parasites were shamelessly exploiting a 24-year-old man’s suffering by nudge-nudge-wink-winking about the Covid vaccine. 

What did they say?

Right-wing activist Charlie Kirk told his 1.9 million Twitter followers: “this is a tragic and all too familiar sight right now: Athletes dropping suddenly.” It’s the classic high-profile anti-vaxxer tweet. Everyone knows what he’s saying, but by not saying it explicitly he gives himself just enough plausible deniability. 

In response, Republican congressman Adam Kinzinger tweeted: “You are absolutely the biggest piece of human garbage that can possibly exist…using this tragedy for your BS lies is sick.”

There were numerous other well-known figures in right-wing American circles who shamelessly drew a link between Hamlin’s cardiac arrest and the vaccine, with some not even bothering to disguise it. Far-right investigative journalist Laura Loomer (274,400 Twitter followers), said the NFL “might want to stop bragging about their 95% player vaccination rate and 100% personnel vaccination rate. Just saying.”

These people generally have little medical knowledge and are in no position to make a statement on the matter with any authority, but every time this happens they cast aside basic human decency and leap to the same predictable conclusion with zero concern for the injured or deceased. 

As footballer Christian Eriksen lay motionless on the pitch during 2021’s European Championships, the anti-vaxxers showed the same lack of empathy. Conspiracy theorist and former footballer Matt Le Tissier retweeted one such tweet, despite Eriksen having been unvaccinated at the time of his collapse.

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These are awful people. Why do their responses matter?

It’s one thing when your uncle posts it on Facebook for an audience of 241 people who hate him, but these pundits have significant platforms. Their gullible followers refuse to be vaccinated, which increases their risk of being hospitalised and ends up intensifying the pressure on health services which are already stretched. 

The fact that they’re part of a movement in which the main players include Right Said Fred and Matt Le Tissier suggests they’re incapable of shame, but they should never be allowed to live their cynical and harmful responses down.