When beloved American actor and comedian Betty White died at the age of 99 on Dec. 31, 2021, no specific cause of death was immediately made public, though police said she appeared to have died from natural causes.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still a major public health concern, social media rumor-mongers were quick to invent a specific cause of death out of whole cloth: White, they claimed, died just three days after supposedly receiving a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot on Dec. 28.
Upon what evidence was this claim based? Only a fabricated quote — something there’s no record of White actually saying — attributed to a Dec. 28 media interview in which the supposed quote does not actually appear.
“Eat healthy and get all your vaccines,” White allegedly said. “I just got boosted today.”
Posts like the above were widely shared on social media, primarily Facebook:
Nearly all of the posts included the web address of an article on the website crowrivermedia.com titled “Betty White: I’m lucky to still be in good health.” The alleged statement about vaccines and “getting boosted” are nowhere to be found in that article, or in the original People magazine interview on which it was based.
In point of fact, the statements about vaccines and booster shots attributed to her have never appeared in any legitimate news media, nor did White make or repeat them on Twitter, or anywhere else. Such evidence as we’ve been able to find indicates that White rarely, if ever, spoke publicly about COVID-19 or vaccines related to the disease. We have not found any reporting anywhere to the effect that White was, or was not, vaccinated against COVID-19.
On Jan. 3, The Associated Press confirmed with White’s agent, Jeff Witjas, that White had made no such statement about receiving a booster shot. He also stated that White did not receive a booster shot on Dec. 28 as claimed.
Update: People magazine reported on Jan. 10 that White suffered a cerebrovascular accident (stroke) six days before she died, according to her death certificate.
“Betty White’s Cause of Death Appears to Be Natural Causes.” Us Weekly, 31 Dec. 2021, https://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-news/news/betty-white-dead-at-99-cause-of-death-appears-to-be-natural-causes/.
Celebretainment, By. “Betty White: I’m Lucky to Still Be in Good Health.” Crow River Media, https://www.crowrivermedia.com/national/entertainment/betty-white-im-lucky-to-still-be-in-good-health/article_f229404f-8654-5ca5-91ef-220afa77c9bf.html. Accessed 3 Jan. 2022.“Fake Vaccine Quote Circulates after Betty White’s Death.” AP NEWS, 3 Jan. 2022, https://apnews.com/article/fact-checking-325298831235.McNeil, Liz, et al. “Betty White Reveals Her Secrets to a Happy Life at 100: ‘I’m So Lucky to Be in Such Good Health.’” PEOPLE.Com, https://people.com/tv/betty-white-reveals-her-secrets-to-long-happy-life-at-100-exclusive/. Accessed 3 Jan. 2022.