The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating the death of a 36-year-old orthopedic surgeon who died on Feb. 8, 2021 in Tennessee just weeks after receiving the second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. J. Barton Williams, MD, who died after being admitted to Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, is believed to have suffered from a rare COVID-19-related condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS).1 2 3 4
Stephen Threlkeld, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp, told ABC, “This is not infection with coronavirus. The infection in these situations are generally over sometimes for weeks. The people typically no longer test positive for the virus itself. It’s gone, but the immune system turns on itself and attacks us.1
MIS is essentially an “unchecked immunological response” to a virus.4 Scott Strome, MD, executive dean of the College of Medicine at University of Tennessee Health Science Center, explained:
The immune system’s response is to eradicate the virus. One of its most fundamental features is its ability to turn itself off when it’s done. It has to know when it’s done. It if doesn’t have that, you get an autoimmune situation. Whatever the reason, the body still thinks it has a threat and doesn’t turn itself off. Then you get this systematic inflammation.4
“The immune system attacks the body in many ways and causes multi-organ system failure. It affects the heart, the gastrointestinal tract and other places,” Dr. Threlkeld said.5
Dr. Williams had reportedly been vaccinated for COVID-19 sometime in mid-January and tests had found two types of antibodies in his system—”one type of antibody that results from a natural COVID infection, and a second type of antibody from the vaccine.” There is speculation Dr. Williams may have had a previous asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection, although he apparently tested negative for COVID-19 while being treated at Baptist Memorial.1
Dr. Threlkeld, who is working with the CDC on this case, said that preliminary findings suggest MIS may have caused Dr. Williams’ death. But the official cause has not been confirmed.1 2 Dr. Threlkeld said:
There is still information to be gathered. There is an autopsy pending, and we are working closely daily with the CDC. We want to be sure there is no indication that there is any relationship to the vaccine at this point.4
It is difficult to make sweeping conclusions in any direction when you are talking about something that has not been reported before anywhere. No one previously has been reported to have this illness (MIS) that has also had the vaccine.4
It is unclear which COVID-19 vaccine Dr. Williams was given. Currently, the two experimental vaccines that have been granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are Moderna’s mRNA-1273 vaccine and Pfizer/BioNTech’s BNT162b2 vaccine.
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Click here to view References:
1 Diprizio J. Memphis doctor believed to have died of rare COVID related syndrome. ABC Local 24 Feb. 11, 2021.
2 Dyrda L. Memphis orthopedic surgeon J. Barton Williams dead at 36. Becker’s Spine Review Feb. 12, 2021.
3 Majumder BG. Tennessee Doctor Dies Weeks after Receiving 2nd Covid-19 Vaccine Dose; Cause of Death Unknown. International Business Times Feb. 13, 2021.
4 Roberts J. Doctors suspect COVID delayed immune response in young surgeon’s death. Daily Memphian Feb. 12, 2021.
5 Thompson A. Tennessee surgeon dies of COVID-related illness weeks after receiving 2nd COVID vaccine. WREG Feb. 12, 2021.