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An 18-year-old MMA fighter’s death was unrelated to the COVID vaccine

CLAIM: Victoria Lee, a professional MMA fighter who died in December, was killed by the COVID-19 vaccine.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Lee’s sister said that the 18-year-old took her own life.

THE FACTS: The false claim has been circulating on social media since January, when Lee’s elder sister, fellow MMA fighter Angela Lee, shared the news of her Dec. 26 death on Instagram.

Social media users reshared the news at the time with hashtags that include “died suddenly” — a phrase often used online to falsely attribute recent deaths to COVID-19 vaccines.

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The claim resurfaced in recent days in a popular clip on Facebook that compares the case to Buffalo Bills’ safety Damar Hamlin, whose cardiac arrest in January was also baselessly linked to the vaccine by online conspiracy theorists.

“It’s another top tier level athlete who’s 18 years young. She’s dead. And of course, One Championship fighters must be vaccinated to compete in Singapore,” a man in the video says, referring to the MMA promotion where Victoria Lee earned her 3-0 professional record.

However, Lee’s death wasn’t vaccine-related. Angela Lee said in a video published by One Championship on Tuesday that Victoria Lee took her own life in December. In the video, Angela Lee discusses her own mental health journey and says she launched a mental health non-profit called Fightstory earlier this year in honor of her sister.

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Angela Lee, responding after this story was published, confirmed the cause of death in a statement.

“I ask all speculations to be put to rest. Victoria’s truth is free. Let her memory and spirit be spoken in light and positivity and nothing else,” she said.

Similar unfounded claims about supposed vaccine injuries have spread on social media in the past following high-profile deaths, including after sports journalist Grant Wahl died of a ruptured blood vessel in his heart while covering the World Cup in Qatar in December. His death was not related to vaccines.

The AP has also debunked multiple claims misrepresenting videos of people collapsing or fainting that were falsely linked to the vaccine.

Rigorous study and real-world evidence from hundreds of millions of administered shots prove that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. Deaths caused by vaccination are extremely rare.

COVID-19 vaccines can cause rare heart inflammation issues, myocarditis or pericarditis, especially in young men. Medical experts say these cases are typically mild and the benefits of immunization far outweigh the risks.


EDITOR’S NOTE — This story includes discussion of suicide. If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

This story has been updated to add comment from Angela Lee.

This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.