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In May 2021, rumors surrounding the reported death of Dr. Rajenda Kapila, an infectious disease expert at University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, circulated on fringe news outlets and social media sites like Reddit. Reports claimed that Kapila had died from undisclosed complications of COVID-19 after he was “fully vaccinated” with two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, suggesting that his death showed vaccines “may not be effective against the new Indian double mutation variant.”
As of this writing, this rumor is a mixture of both facts and unverified information.
Kapila was indeed an infectious disease doctor affiliated with Rutgers University and University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey. Microbial geneticist Nancy Connell shared news of Kapila’s death on April 29, 2021, from her verified Twitter account:
We have lost a giant in infectious disease, Dr Raj Kapila, who served for years as a leader in global infectious diseases at @Rutgers_NJMS. @RutgersBHS will be ever grateful for his contribution to global ID and remember his extraordinary diagnostic talent https://t.co/5lYzDjxt9h
— Nancy Connell (@ndconnell) April 29, 2021
On May 2, 2021, Dr. Robert Schwartz, a professor and head of dermatology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, announced Kapila’s death in a tweet, in which he wrote Kapila would be “remembered for his unmatched sagacity.”
Condolences to the family of Rajendra Kapila, the @RutgersU professor, @CityofNewarkNJ physician, and @USArmy veteran who advocated for the finest healthcare attainable for all. He will be remembered for his unmatched sagacity and conduct exemplarily of the @AOA_society motto. pic.twitter.com/bSMi7ddAyZ
— Robert A. Schwartz (@Prof_Dr_RAS) May 2, 2021
Rutgers New Jersey Medical School confirmed to Snopes that Kapila died, but did not provide further details. Rutgers New Jersey Medical School confirmed to Snopes that Kapila died, but did not provide further details. Following Kipali’s death, the Hindustani Times reported that his wife, Dr. Deepti Saxena-Kapila, confirmed to the publication that the couple had returned to India in the last week of March and stayed in the city of Ghaziabad. Kipali had reportedly planned to travel back to the U.S. in mid-April but was admitted to Delhi’s Shanti Mukund Hospital after contracting COVID-19, the strain of which was not made public. Kipali was said to have died while in the care of the hospital.
“For the last one year I have been working at a Covid-19 lab in New Jersey and had ensured a safe environment at home,” Saxena-Kipali reportedly told the publication, adding that the doctor had received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the U.S.
“It is ironic that we came to India for two weeks and he contracted it here.”
Snopes contacted the Indian hospital to confirm the details provided above but did not hear back at the time of this update. Rutgers New Jersey Medical School declined to comment on the circumstances of his death due to privacy concerns. Because we were not independently able to verify the circumstances surrounding Kipali’s death, we maintain a “Mixture” rating. We will continue to update the article as more information becomes available.
In a now-deleted tweet, Ashok Swain, an Indian-born professor and UNESCO Chair of International Water Cooperation, shared an article published by Latest News South Africa that claimed Kapila’s death was related to COVID-19.
“According to information from sources, Rajendra Kapila had come to Ghaziabad [India] to look after his ailing father in law, unfortunately, contracted Covid 19 and rapidly Succumbed to it. He had two Pfizer shots, succumbed to the Indian variant,” wrote the Latest News South Africa in a May 3 version of the article. The story has been archived here for reference.
In an email to Snopes, Swain said that he had first learned of Kapila’s reported death on social media.
“On that basis, and tagging it, I had tweeted about his death. But, when I checked again and it was not confirmed by other media outlets, I decided to delete the tweet and wait for others to confirm it,” Swain told Snopes.
A post announcing Kapila’s death was also shared to the Facebook group, Corona Fatalities and Infections in healthcare workers Worldwide, an unverified India-based page that claims to collect mortality data on “doctors and healthcare workers who have suffered due to corona infection.” A caveat on the post noted that Kapila’s “vaccination status/ date could not be verified.”
Snopes was not able to determine if Kapila had been fully vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2 using the Pfizer vaccine, nor were we able to confirm whether he was diagnosed with COVID-19 following his vaccination. And while it is true that a “double mutant” COVID-19 variant was found in India in March 2021, we were also unable to verify reports that Kapila traveled to India to care for his father-in-law before his death.