COVID-19 vaccines have been found to be safe and effective in trials and real-world conditions. Yet an online video baselessly claims a French life insurer refused to pay benefits for a man who died after receiving the vaccine because the insurer deemed it “a medical experiment.” It also falsely claims that the same has happened in the U.S.
Four COVID-19 vaccines administered in the U.S. have been authorized or approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration following extensive testing, as we’ve previously written. (For more information, see SciCheck’s articles on the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax vaccines.)
Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna were the first vaccines to receive the go-ahead in the U.S., receiving emergency use authorization in December 2020 and full FDA approval, respectively, in August 2021 and January 2022. Both vaccines use modified messenger RNA, or mRNA, which instruct cells to make spike proteins that will trigger an immune response.
Though the process from development to approval was faster than usual for a variety of reasons, including past investment and research in mRNA technology, scientists said safety was not compromised. The safety of the vaccines has been proven not only in clinical trials, but in real-world conditions.
There have been more than 600 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines administered in the U.S., and serious adverse events have been very rare. Most people experience minor side effects, such as temporary pain at the injection site, fatigue or muscle pain, or no side effects at all.
U.S. insurance companies do not consider the vaccines experimental, and have not refused payouts to beneficiaries of policyholders who died after receiving the vaccine, as we’ve written.
But a video shared on Instagram claims a French insurance company refused to pay life insurance benefits to the beneficiaries of an “elderly, wealthy” man who died after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine because the insurer deemed the vaccine “a medical experiment.”
The video was produced by America’s Frontline Doctors, a group that has spread misinformation about COVID-19 since 2020. It first appeared on March 14, 2022, as part of the group’s “Frontline Flash” video series, which carries the slogan, “The real story of fake news in 120 seconds or less.”
Dr. Peterson Pierre, a dermatologist and narrator of the video, says that a French judge ruled the man’s death a suicide because he knew the vaccine had risks and “willingly chose” to get it. While he speaks, a headline appears on the screen that says: “France: Court rules COVID vaccine-related death a suicide.”
The article about the French case featured in the video appeared in the Athens News on Jan. 14, citing the website Unser Mitteleuropa as the source of the report. Netzpolitik.org, a German website about “digital freedom rights,” describes Unser Mitteleuropa as a “right-hand portal” that promotes disinformation about COVID-19.
In the video, Pierre goes on to say: “Suicides, along with death from experimental drugs, are not covered by life insurance.” The “American Life Insurance Council,” Pierre claims, allows U.S. companies to deny payment if someone dies as the result of the COVID-19 vaccine.
But there is no basis for any of those claims. The video even gets the name of the American organization wrong; it’s the American Council of Life Insurers, or ACLI.
In France, as in the U.S., COVID-19 vaccines have been approved.
“The rumor that insurance companies would refuse to pay life insurance if the deceased had been vaccinated against Covid-19 continues to circulate on social networks. This is false information,” Jean-Baptiste Mounier, a spokesperson for the French Federation of Insurers, told us in a Sept. 26 email.
The Spanish fact-checking organization Maldita, which also debunked the video, reported that in French media there’s no mention of the incident alleged in the video.
The French Ministry of Justice has no record of the case and the ACLI refuted the claim, according to Reuters. “The Ministry of Justice has no knowledge of this alleged claim concerning a French court supporting the decision of insurance companies’ refusal to pay out for life insurance due to death following COVID-19 vaccine,” a ministry representative told Reuters.
No U.S. insurer or court would consider a death linked to a prescribed medication such as a vaccine “tantamount to suicide,” Glenn Kantor, a partner at Kantor & Kantor LLP, a Los Angeles-based law firm specializing in health, life and disability insurance cases, told us in a phone interview. That’s because people who get vaccinated are “trying to save their life, not end it,” he said.
Basic life insurance policies in the U.S. generally pay for any death, regardless of cause, with suicides usually covered after the person has held the policy for two years, Kantor also said.
The video isn’t the first to make the claim that insurers refused to pay when someone has died after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. ACLI last year debunked the claim that U.S. insurers don’t cover alleged vaccine-related deaths.
“The fact is that life insurers do not consider whether or not a policyholder has received a COVID vaccine when deciding whether to pay a claim,” Paul Graham, senior vice president for policy development at the ACLI, said in a May 21, 2021, statement that he emailed to us at the time for a story on a claim about denied benefits in the U.S.
“Life insurance policy contracts are very clear on how policies work, and what cause, if any, might lead to the denial of a benefit. A vaccine for COVID-19 is not one of them,” Graham said.
And state insurance regulators in Louisiana, New York, and Texas have all issued statements refuting the claims, according to Reuters.
America’s Frontline Doctors couldn’t be reached for comment about the video’s baseless claims.
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