Fact Check

Did Tucker Carlson Say This About Nebraska Man's Death to Stoke COVID Vaccine Fears?

The claim appeared to stem from former U.S. Democratic Sen. Al Franken, who hasn't yet returned our request for comment.

Published Aug. 23, 2021

Updated Aug. 31, 2021
ESZTERGOM, HUNGARY - AUGUST 07: Tucker Carlson speaks during the Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC) Feszt on August 7, 2021 in Esztergom, Hungary. The multiday political event was organized by the Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC), a privately managed foundation that recently received more than $1.7 billion in government money and assets. The leader of its main board, Balazs Orban, who is also a state secretary in the prime minister's office, said MCC's priority is promoting "patriotism" among the next generation of Hungary's leaders. (Photo by Janos Kummer/Getty Images) (Getty Images)
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On Aug. 13, 2021, Fox News' Tucker Carlson on "Tucker Carlson Tonight" said a 47-year-old man from Kearney, Nebraska, died 12 hours after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, when, in reality, the man died in a train-vehicle collision.

We reached out to former Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken, who appears to be the source of the claim, to learn why he made the accusation, despite there being no evidence of the comment in the show's transcript. We haven't heard back.

In late August 2021, several Snopes readers asked us to investigate a rumor that Fox News host Tucker Carlson failed to explain the actual circumstances of a Nebraska man's death in order to stoke fear about the COVID-19 vaccine's potential to kill.

Beginning on Aug. 20, readers shared with us the below-transcribed message that they had seen on Facebook or in emails:

This past Friday, Tucker Carlson told his Fox audience about a 47-year-old Kearney, Nebraska man who had been vaccinated that Tuesday at 1:49 p.m. The man, Tucker told his audience, was dead exactly twelve hours later. What Carlson didn’t tell them was that the man’s car was hit by a train.

A couple days prior, on Aug. 18, a Twitter user posted the same language.

That user's tweets linked to an Aug. 20 Facebook post with the verbatim claim attributed to former Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken.

Next, we turned to Franken's official YouTube channel, where we indeed found an Aug. 18 video in which he alleged "this past Friday" Carlson supposedly talked about the Nebraska man's death, omitting key context. In other words, Franken appeared to be the source of the claim.

That origin story aside, the underlying claim was that Carlson, who has repeatedly tried to convince viewers to disavow masks during the pandemic, suggested on Aug. 13 (the Friday before the Franken video) that a man from Kearney, Nebraska, received a COVID-19 vaccine and died 12 hours later because of it. But, under the claim's pretenses, the man's vaccine status had nothing to do with his death; rather, he supposedly died in a fatal crash between a train and vehicle.

First, we removed Carlson's stake in the claim and searched for evidence to confirm or deny whether a 47-year-old man from Kearney, which is about 130 miles west of Lincoln, died in a vehicle-train collision since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in early 2020. Using a digital newspaper archive, we found no stories reporting on such an incident.

Next, to investigate the claim's legitimacy regarding the Fox News host, we obtained an archived version of the Aug. 13 show of "Tucker Carlson Tonight" via the nonprofit Internet Archive.

Based on that show's transcript, Carlson did not mention "Kearney, Nebraska" for any reason, including the alleged scenario about a resident's death there. (Furthermore, we concluded Carlson did not mention the town on any other on-air segments since the archive began documenting his footage, according to the database.)

We cross-referenced that finding with Fox News' transcript of Carlson's Aug. 13 show, and, again, we found no references to the town or state.

And, while it was possible the host shared a similar story about the death of a vaccine recipient whose hometown wasn't Kearney — or that he shared the alleged story under circumstances other than the Aug. 13 "Tucker Carlson Tonight" show — we are rating this specific claim "False" considering the evidence above.

We reached out Franken's communication team to learn why he made the claim. We have not received a response, but we will update this report when, or if that, changes.

Lastly, let this be clear: No credible scientist or research entity has dubbed COVID-19 vaccines unsafe, and serious adverse effects — such as death — after the inoculations are rare. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention stated on its website, as of this writing:

More than 357 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered in the United States from December 14, 2020, through August 16, 2021. During this time, VAERS received 6,789 reports of death (0.0019%) among people who received a COVID-19 vaccine. FDA requires healthcare providers to report any death after COVID-19 vaccination to VAERS, even if it’s unclear whether the vaccine was the cause. Reports of adverse events to VAERS following vaccination, including deaths, do not necessarily mean that a vaccine caused a health problem.

A review of available clinical information, including death certificates, autopsy, and medical records, has not established a causal link to COVID-19 vaccines.

In other words, federal guidelines require death investigators nationwide to make an entry in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' VAERS portal whenever a recently vaccinated individual dies — no matter if the inoculation had anything to do with the death. Additionally, anyone can add information to the public reporting tool, making its accuracy questionable.

Ultimately, no evidence emerged to substantiate widespread worries that COVID-19 vaccines can alone lead to death.

Our other fact checks into Carlson's alleged on-air quotes:


[Correction Aug. 31, 2021]: Kearney, Nebraska is west of Lincoln, not east.

Jessica Lee is Snopes' Senior Assignments Editor with expertise in investigative storytelling, media literacy advocacy and digital audience engagement.