Doctor giving shot to patient (l) dr sarahbeth hartlage in mask speaking into microphone (r)

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‘Was it the jab?’: Conspiracy theorists convinced COVID shot killed ‘queen of vaccine’

Dr. SarahBeth Hartlage led a vaccination site in Kentucky.


Claire Goforth


Posted on Mar 31, 2022   Updated on Apr 13, 2022, 10:34 am CDT

Dr. SarahBeth Hartlage passed away unexpectedly on March 16. Hartlage, who helped lead Louisville, Kentucky’s pandemic response, was just 36 years old. Hartlage’s obituary noted that she’s had health issues for several years, but her cause of death has not been released.

Absent any evidence other than that Hartlage was presumably vaccinated, anti-vax conspiracy theorists are convinced the COVID-19 vaccine killed her. These baseless claims are particularly insidious because Hartlage dedicated much of the final year of her life to getting Louisville residents vaccinated, an effort for which she received national recognition.

Even some spreading conspiracy theories about Hartlage’s death describe her as a “tireless advocate” for vaccinations.

Hartlage was the associate medical director at the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness. The day of her death, Hartlage was in the news for starting an IV on a man experiencing a medical emergency on a flight to Orlando, Florida the day prior. She’d reportedly traveled to Orlando to speak on a panel at the HIMSS22 medical conference about lessons learned through her work to distribute vaccines.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D.) shared his condolences on Twitter following news of her death. “Dr. SarahBeth Hartlage helped save thousands of lives through her tireless and heroic efforts leading vaccinations in Louisville,” Beshear wrote.

Although her exact cause of death remains unknown, conspiracy theorists almost immediately began insisting the COVID vaccine killed Hartlage.

Several prominent conspiracy theorists’ Telegram channels’ posts about Hartlage’s death link to an article from a site that includes “COVID vaccine injuries” in its URL. The Telegram posts are captioned, “‘Queen of vaccine’ dies suddenly.”

The posts include a photoshopped image attributed to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The drawing of a person getting a shot is captioned, “You may die, which is normal,” and includes the web address of the CDC’s page about COVID.

In Body Image
[QR] [Crumbs] [Covfefe] [8Bakes]/Telegram

QAnon conspiracy theorists, who are largely anti-vax, are among those spreading rumors about the cause of Hartlage’s death.

Some have insinuated someone killed Hartlage to silence her—it’s not clear about what.

“(((They))) have agents in every profession,” a QAnon conspiracy theorist channel wrote in a Telegram about Hartlage’s passing. Three parentheses around a name or pronouns are used to signify the person mentioned is Jewish. Antisemitism is a pervasive feature of QAnon, which believes a fictitious cabal controls the planet, worships Satan, and rapes and eats children.

Conspiracies about Hartlage’s death continue circulating online.

Several Facebook users accuse Hartlage of facilitating others’ deaths based on false beliefs about the COVID vaccine. “Many of you took the so called ‘vaccine.’ News flash: within 24 to 36 months, you’ll all be dead,” wrote one.

A redditor writing of Hartlage’s death claims that she was “healthy before vaccination … dead shortly afterwards.”

Her obituary noted that Hartlage struggled with medical issues for years. As a medical professional, she would’ve become eligible for the vaccine more than a year ago.

Some Twitter users further believe that Hartlage’s account on the platform was recently deleted as part of a coverup.

Since her death, trolls swarmed her account to revel in her passing and spread conspiracies about her cause of death.

Screenshots of Hartlage’s tweets promoting vaccines were included in the piece by the “COVID vaccine injuries” site in the obvious implication that the vaccine killed her.

A Twitter account for the website is among those pushing this theory. “Nothing to see here people!” it wrote of her Twitter account being deleted.

It’s possible a family member deleted the account to stop the posthumous harassment.

Her family asks those seeking to honor Hartlage to donate to a fundraiser she created to benefit kids with heart conditions. She’s survived by her husband and young daughter.

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*First Published: Mar 31, 2022, 3:27 pm CDT