Misleading: The laboratory analysis of blood clots has critical methodological flaws, including a sample size of one and the inadequate use of a blood sample as a control. These issues invalidate the results from the analysis and the conclusions drawn from them.
FULL CLAIM: “[E]mbalmers across the country have been observing many large, and sometimes very long, ‘fibrous’ and rubbery clots inside the corpses they treat”; “clots are lacking key elements present in healthy human blood [...] suggesting that they are formed from something other than blood”
On 2 September 2022, The Epoch Times published an article claiming that embalmers in the U.S. have been finding “strange clots” in deceased people since the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. The article received more than 25,000 interactions on Facebook and Twitter, according to the social media analytics tool CrowdTangle. Most of the engagement on Twitter came from a single tweet by a member of the European Parliament Cristian Tehres.
The claim received much greater publicity as other websites repeated the claims made in the Epoch Times article, such as Daily Caller, Gateway Pundit, and The Western Journal. Based on the social media listening tool Buzzsumo, these three articles received over 40,000 interactions across various social media platforms.
The article on Epoch Times rehashed a claim that circulated widely in early 2022 and was mostly based on a testimonial from embalmer Richard Hirschman. Hirschman claimed to have found abnormal long white fibrous clots in corpses, which he attributed to COVID-19 vaccines. The fact-checking organization PolitiFact, which evaluated the claim at that time, found that such an association was unsupported by scientific evidence.
However, the Epoch Times article once again put Hirschman’s unsupported claim front and center, without acknowledging any challenges to the claim. The article further suggested that the clots were somehow unnatural. This claim is equally unsubstantiated, as we will explain below.
COVID-19 increases the risk of blood clots much more than the COVID-19 vaccines do
Blood clotting is a natural process that prevents excessive bleeding and repairs the blood vessels when an injury occurs. Occasionally, abnormal blood clots can form inside veins or arteries in the absence of any injury. These clots are dangerous because they restrict blood flow within the arteries, leading to strokes and heart attacks, or within the veins, causing deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This last type of clot, which generally forms in the legs, may detach from its origin, travel through the body, and reach the lungs causing pulmonary embolism.
Hirschman told the Epoch Times that 50 to 70% of the bodies he saw had white, long, fibrous “structures” that he had never seen before, which he “suspected” were caused by COVID-19 vaccines. However, there is no evidence other than Hirschman’s assertions to support such an association. Furthermore, the vaccination status “isn’t on the death certificate”, as Hari P. Close, national president of the National Funeral Directors & Morticians Association, explained to PolitiFact. Therefore, Hirschman’s observations alone don’t demonstrate that such clots appear predominantly in vaccinated people.
Irene Sansano, an anatomical pathology specialist at the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital in Barcelona, Spain, said in an email to Health Feedback that the clots found by Hirschman “don’t look different” from the ones they regularly find in blood clot autopsies at the hospital. She also explained that thromboembolisms (circulating blood clots) are frequent among deceased people and are mainly caused by “obesity, sedentarism, smoking, and now COVID-19”. [Read Sansano’s comment in full below]
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are 900,000 DVT and pulmonary embolism cases in the U.S. each year, causing up to 100,000 deaths. Since the early stages of the pandemic, researchers have observed that severe COVID-19 increased the risk of blood clots, and more recent research shows that this risk is also increased in patients with moderate COVID-19.
As of 9 September 2022, COVID-19 has caused more than one million deaths in the U.S. If the incidence of blood clots has increased in the U.S. as Hirschman claimed, COVID-19 itself could be responsible for a large part of it. While the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines have been associated with cases of blood clots with low levels of platelets, such cases are very rare. Moreover, the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine isn’t authorized in the U.S., and the rate of blood clots following vaccination with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is four cases per one million doses. Such a low rate cannot explain the large increase in clots that Hirschman reported.
Finally, one of the reasons that Hirschman gave for suspecting that COVID-19 vaccines caused blood clotting was an increased presence of clots during the summer of 2021, when “COVID-19 deaths were on the decline”. However, COVID-19 might also explain this effect. In 2022, researchers in Sweden published a study involving more than one million people who were infected with SARS-CoV-2 between February 2020 and 25 May 2021. The study found that the risk of developing DVT, pulmonary embolism, and bleeding remained elevated for up to six months following infection.
The laboratory analysis of blood clots has critical methodological issues that make it impossible to draw any meaningful conclusion
Hirschman attributed the alleged unusual clots he found in corpses to a change in the characteristics of the blood. “The blood is different. Something is causing the blood to change,” he told the Epoch Times. To support this alleged “change”, the article cited the results of a laboratory analysis that compared one of the clots sent by Hirschman with a blood sample from an unvaccinated person.
The laboratory analyzed the samples using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS). This technique measures the concentration of certain elements present in a sample by transforming them into ions, which are then separated based on their mass and charge. However, several issues with this analysis make the results and their interpretation unreliable.
First, the laboratory in question is owned by columnist Mike Adams, founder of the website Natural News, where the results of the analysis were published. This website previously published false claims about COVID-19 vaccines, including claims that the vaccines cause cancer and that they would lead to a “vaccine holocaust”. Media Bias/Fact Check describes Natural News as a Conspiracy-Pseudoscience source and “one of the most discredited sources on the internet”. In fact, several platforms, including Facebook, Google, and YouTube, removed the website for violating the platforms’ rules or for routinely publishing misinformation.
Second, Adams claimed that the clots might be formed “from something other than blood” because his analysis showed they lacked certain elements “present in healthy human blood” (i.e., the blood from the unvaccinated person), such as iron, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. For example, Adams’ article on Natural News specified that the “post-vaccine clot sample only contains 4.4% of the iron that would be seen in human blood. This alone is confirmation that this clot is not a ‘blood clot’”. Adams went even further by suggesting without evidence that the clots might be “self-assembling dead biostructures”.
However, the composition of a clot can vary significantly based on where the clot forms. Blood is made of plasma, red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Red cells, which account for 40 to 45% of the blood’s volume, contain hemoglobin, an iron-rich protein that is essential for carrying oxygen from the lungs to the tissues.
Arterial clots contain few red blood cells and are formed mainly by fibrin and platelets, whereas venous clots have a higher red blood cell content (see Figure 1). However, the amount of time that has passed since clot formation also influences clot composition, as clots tend to accumulate more fibrin with time.
In other words, Adams’ report that the clot he analyzed is low in iron in no way establishes that the clot is unnatural, as he claimed. There are multiple factors influencing clot composition, as we explained above, and a clot that is low in iron can be explained by other factors, such as where it was formed. But Adams and others who repeated the claim didn’t account for these other factors.
Figure 1. Proportions of different structures within arterial and venous thrombi, as well as pulmonary emboli, as a function of the total volume. RBC: red blood cell. Polyhedrocytes and echinocytes are red blood cells with atypical shapes. Image source.
Furthermore, clots in the heart and large blood vessels can also form after death.
Thirdly, Adams acknowledged that the accreditation of his lab “does not specifically encompass human biological samples”, meaning that the laboratory may not be equipped to handle human samples.
In fact, Adams stated that he conducted the analysis using the same protocol they regularly use for testing “dog food and cat food samples which are, of course, composed of animal flesh and ground blood vessels, meat tissue, cartilage and other animal-derived biological structures”. Needless to say, human samples aren’t the same as dog and cat food. Therefore, the reliability of Adams’ results and conclusions is questionable.
Finally, the analysis lacked the most basic clinical information about the individuals from whom the samples were taken. The analysis’ sample size of just one clot and one blood sample means that the results cannot be generalized to the broader population.
The article repeats previously debunked claims
The Epoch Times stated that it’s unknown if the cause of the alleged new clots is “COVID-19, vaccines, both, or something different”. However, it kept presenting COVID-19 vaccines as the number one suspect throughout the entire article.
It did so by sharing anecdotal evidence from a few other embalmers and opinions from gynecologist James Thorp and physician Sherri Tenpenny. Both of them spread false claims about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in the past, as Health Feedback documented in earlier reviews.
In the Epoch Times article, Thorp and Tenpenny claimed that the toxic effect of the spike protein induced by COVID-19 vaccines might mediate the formation of blood clots. Thorp further claimed that the vaccination causes protein misfolding that can also lead to neurodegenerative diseases, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. But these claims are unsupported and contradict current scientific evidence.
Health Feedback explained in an earlier review that the small quantities of spike protein produced after vaccination haven’t been shown to cause any harm to the body. At the moment, there is no evidence suggesting that the spike protein induced by vaccination causes blood clotting. As Health Feedback explained in this earlier review, there is evidence that the spike protein from the virus might damage blood vessels, but no study has so far reported harmful effects from the spike protein produced after vaccination. The rare cases of blood clotting associated with the Johnson & Johnson and the Oxford–AstraZeneca vaccine are thought to happen through a different mechanism.
As Health Feedback and others also explained, no evidence suggests that the spike protein produced after COVID-19 vaccination causes or increases the risk of neurodegenerative disorders, contrary to Thorp’s claim.
The article in the Epoch Times claimed that “strange clots” have been found in people who have recently died in the U.S. The article presented a series of testimonials, laboratory analyses, and opinions from medical doctors that convey the overall message that these clots are associated with COVID-19 vaccines. However, the claim is based on anecdotal evidence and flawed experiments that don’t support such an association. COVID-19 itself is much more likely to cause blood clots than the vaccines, which remain an effective strategy to prevent severe COVID-19 and the cardiovascular complications associated with it.
Irene Sansano, Anatomical Pathologist, Vall d'Hebron University Hospital, Barcelona:
Thromboembolisms (circulating blood clots) are frequent, and their primary causes are obesity, sedentarism, smoking, and now COVID-19. At the hospital, we regularly conduct autopsies for blood clots and they don’t look different [from the ones found by Hirschman], although I haven’t analyzed them.
Nikolaus Klupp, Associate Professor (Forensic Medicine), Medical University of Vienna:
The images look to me more like postmortem clots, mainly due to the color, the shape, and particularly because of the amount. Vital clots (clots that formed in a living person), for example in the context of disseminated intravascular coagulation are strongly attached to the vessel wall and are difficult to detach, in our experience. A histological examination of such scientifically interesting cases should be a logical step; without such an examination, any conclusion would be unreliable.
UPDATE (16 September 2022)
This review was updated to include a comment by Nikolaus Klupp, professor of forensic medicine at the University of Vienna. This comment further supports our verdict and did not modify it.
- 1 – Wichmann et al. (2020) Autopsy Findings and Venous Thromboembolism in Patients With COVID-19: A Prospective Cohort Study. Annals of Internal Medicine.
- 2 – Douillet et al. (2021) Risk of symptomatic venous thromboembolism in mild and moderate COVID-19: A comparison of two prospective European cohorts. Thrombosis Research.
- 3 – Katsoularis et al. (2022) Risks of deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, and bleeding after covid-19: nationwide self-controlled cases series and matched cohort study. BMJ.
- 4 – Chernysh et al. (2020) The distinctive structure and composition of arterial and venous thrombi and pulmonary emboli. Scientific Reports.
- 5 – Jackowski et al. (2006) Postmortem imaging of blood and its characteristics using MSCT and MRI. International Journal of Legal Medicine.