When I first started receiving emails that three physicians from a single health system in Canada had died in mid-July, I wondered if an Internet hoax had gone viral.

The odds seemed impossibly long. Doctors generally take good care of themselves.

But the emails that three physicians at Trillium Health Partners had died in a matter of days were real, not a hoax.

And they did not even include two more deaths of Toronto-area physicians since July 15. Those were both apparently cardiac-related deaths, including one of a 27-year-old woman – an extraordinarily rare event.

The count of dead physicians in the Toronto area in last two weeks now stands at five, four of whom were 50 or younger. One died of lung cancer, two of apparent cardiac collapse, and in two cases the cause of death has not been disclosed.

All these physicians had almost certainly received at least three Covid vaccine jabs. Canada has mandated shots for health-care workers since last year.

Whether any had received a fourth shot is not clear. But on July 13 Ontario dropped any age restrictions on a second booster, so any or all of them could have. Hospitals in Canada – like hospitals everywhere – have heavily pressured employees to get Covid shots and a first booster, though the pressure for a second booster appears to have lifted somewhat.

All by itself this cluster of deaths doesn’t prove anything.

Clusters of rare events do happen if you define them broadly enough; a series of deaths among physicians in a large metro area, say. Several tickets will likely share the Mega Millions jackpot tonight, even though the odds that any ticket will win are 300 million to 1, essentially zero.

Still, this is a striking run of bad news in a very short period, especially coming just days after the fourth shot became available. More information would be welcome.

Instead, the hospitals are simply insisting the deaths are in no way related to Covid shots. “The rumour circulating on social media is simply not true,” Trillum – where three of the physicians worked – tweeted Wednesday. “Their passings were not related to the COVID-19 vaccine.”

The hospital where the fourth dead physician, Dr. Paul Hannam, offered a similar statement to the Toronto Sun. “North York General Hospital can confirm that the tragic death of Dr. Paul Hannam was not related to COVID-19 or vaccinations of any kind,” it said.

To which the only answer is: How can you be so sure? Hannam was a 50-year-old former Olympic athlete and marathoner who died during a run. Myocarditis and other cardiac complications are known side effects from the mRNA shots. Was an autopsy performed? Did he have any evidence of heart disease?

Of course, neither North York nor Hannam’s family have any obligation to answer those questions.

But if they’re not willing to, blanket denials that it wasn’t the vaccine sound more desperate than anything else.

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