In January 2022, vaccine skeptics and COVID-19 conspiracy theorists argued over the authenticity of a widely shared Facebook post that made angry claims about the supposed vaccine-induced death of a 7-year-old boy in Sydney, Australia, named "Lachlan Leary."
Screenshots of the message, written by a poster with the username "Steve Leary," emerged on Jan. 15. The full message can be viewed here and below, but the poster claimed to be mourning the death of his 7-year-old son Lachlan, who he said had died from a "massive heart attack" caused by his having received a COVID-19 vaccine.
(In the Australian state of New South Wales, of which Sydney is the capital and largest city, COVID-19 vaccination became available to children ages 5 to 11 in January 2022).
In the post, Leary stated that his son had become sick and suffered a fever on the night of "Wednesday" (understood to be Jan. 12), before his parents brought him to "Westmead Hospital" the following morning, from which he was purportedly discharged several hours later. Leary claimed that on Friday morning (understood to be Jan. 14), his son collapsed at home and stopped breathing. An ambulance came within seven minutes, but according to Leary, he died in transit, having suffered a "massive heart attack." The poster clearly attributed the boy's death to a COVID-19 vaccination, writing that he had "lost [his] son Lachlan...to the vaccine."
Screenshots of that post were shared widely, particularly among online vaccine skeptics and conspiracy theorists, in the days after Jan. 15. However, even those aligned with the anti-vaccine sentiment expressed in the post were unable to find solid evidence to support its authenticity, as was Snopes.
The "Steve Leary" Facebook account behind the post was either deactivated, deleted, or suspended by Jan. 18, so it was not possible to gather details that might, in principle, corroborate the anecdote provided. Furthermore, we could not find any record of a Steve or Steven/Stephen Leary living in New South Wales with a son named Lachlan and daughter named Sammy (the latter mentioned in the post). The post did not specify the first name of Leary's wife, so this potential verification method was also not available.
No reputable Australian news outlet has reported on the death of a young child in New South Wales due to a vaccine-induced heart attack in January 2022, but rather the Facebook post was regurgitated by conspicuously unreliable websites, many of them based outside Australia, one of which even added the laughable embellishment that Leary was "Australia's prime minister."
Snopes could find no obituary for any boy named Lachlan matching the description above, and funeral details were not publicly available. Nobody has produced any photographs of the boy — typically a mainstay of social media posts about the tragic death of a young child.
Although not definitive, the specific, local policy context surrounding the post also tended to arouse skepticism. In January 2022, the government of New South Wales extended the availability of COVID-19 vaccination to children between the ages of 5 and 11, prompting high-profile but unfounded claims of child mortality, in what appeared to be a deliberate effort to discourage Australian parents from having their children vaccinated.
While most of the details included in the post yielded no supportive evidence — the name of the boy, his sister and his father, the date of his death, and so on — one factual claim allowed for a vigorous refutation of the authenticity of the entire story: the name of the hospital where Lachlan Leary was supposedly treated.
Among several other duties and functions, the New South Wales Ministry of Health oversees a network of public hospitals in that state, including in the Western Sydney suburb of Westmead. If any 7-year-old child were brought to Westmead Hospital by ambulance, the youth would be treated at the adjacent children's hospital.
On Facebook, the Children's Hospital at Westmead strongly refuted the claims in "Steve Leary's" post, writing: "There are many inaccurate posts currently circulating on social media. There is no record of any child having passed away following COVID vaccination at our hospital":
In response to a detailed inquiry from Snopes, a spokesperson for Westmead Hospital wrote: "As Westmead Hospital is not a paediatric hospital, we did not treat any children with those symptoms in the time period indicated." The hospital spokesperson also forwarded the following statement from the New South Wales Ministry of Health: "NSW Health has not been able to locate any record of any such incident."
In summary: the hospital at Westmead; the children's hospital at Westmead; and the government ministry that oversees the entire public hospital system for the state of New South Wales have each publicly refuted the authenticity of the incident described in that viral Facebook post in January 2022.
Those official, on-the-record refutations, combined with the total absence of corroborating evidence, and the presence of several misinformation "red flags," are enough to warrant a conclusion that the "Lachlan Leary" story — a 7-year-old boy killed by a vaccine-induced heart attack near Sydney in January 2022 — was false.