Baseball Hall of Fame legend Hank Aaron received the vaccine for coronavirus, but his death on Friday at age 86 was not a result of it, said Morehouse School of Medicine, where he received the injection, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
The Atlanta Braves said Aaron died peacefully in his sleep, the Associated Press reports. No cause was given. The Braves were the team he played with when he hit his record-breaking 715th home run in 1974.
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Aaron was vaccinated at the Morehouse School of Medicine on Jan. 5 along with other Atlanta community and civil rights leaders, including Ambassador Andrew Young and former Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“His passing was not related to the vaccine, nor did he experience any side effects from the immunization,” Morehouse said in a statement given to WSB-TV. Aaron and his wife Billye have been major donors to the school founded by Sullivan in 1975.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 19 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in the United States to frontline health care workers and the elderly. But because of mistrust of the vaccine, after Aaron’s death, news that he had received the vaccine raised skepticism and caused many to question its safety.
However, Bottoms balked at the notion and reiterated what Morehouse School of Medicine said.
“He passed in his sleep, the same way my dad died nearly 30 yrs ago,” Bottoms wrote on Twitter. “I share that because the vaccine won’t stop ALL death, but it will go a long way in preventing deaths from coronavirus, which is disproportionately impacting minority communities.”
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Scientists say that there is no reason to worry, because no evidence exists to connect Aaron’s passing to the vaccination. But worrying is just what some may do.
“All the data in these huge clinical trials did not support a role for vaccine in causing death,” Dr. Walter A. Orenstein, professor at the Emory Vaccine Center told the AJC. “My fear is people will act emotionally and not get vaccinated. My fear is that people misinterpret this and say, ‘aha, see the vaccine is dangerous,’ when in fact there’s no science data to support that hypothesis at all.”
Aaron had said he was “proud” to receive the vaccine after it was administered and encouraged others to do so. “I don’t have any qualms about it at all, you know,” he told the AP after getting the shot. “I feel quite proud of myself for doing something like this. ... It’s just a small thing that can help zillions of people in this country.”
He and Young said they were trying to calm the mistrust in communities of color about the vaccine due to a history of racism in medical practice.
“I’ve been taking vaccines now for 88 years and I haven’t been sick,” Young told the AP. “The truth of it is, Black folk have been living by shots, and just because they did something crazy and murderous and evil back in 1931, we’re still thinking about that. We’ve got to get over that.”
There have been no reports of any adverse reaction to the vaccination with Young or any of the others who received it at the same time as him and Aaron.
A memorial service will be held for Aaron on Tuesday (Jan. 26) at 1 p.m., at Atlanta’s Truist Park, according to the AJC. A private funeral will be held on Wednesday at 1 p.m., at the city’s Friendship Baptist Church.