Reddit channel posts stories of anti-vaxxers dying of Covid, scaring fence-sitters into getting the shot

Sarah Ostrowski was persuaded to get vaccinated following numerous Reddit stories about unvaccinated people dying of Covid-19. Sarah Ostrowski
Sarah Ostrowski, who was working full-time at a gas station in Indiana during the pandemic, took the chance of not being vaccinated and continued to work there for most of it. She interacted with customers many times per day and cleaned the public bathrooms without any protection. Ostrowski believes Covid-19 is not a hoax. She takes it seriously. She had good reasons to refuse the shot. Johnson & Johnson vaccines can cause blood clots in some recipients, which has been reported in a few cases. She was skeptical about the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines' mRNA technology. She was also concerned about possible side effects that could force her to miss work. Her parents were also constantly pushing anti-vaccine rhetoric and warning her she would die if the shot was given. Ostrowski stated, "You care about how your parents view you and whether they think you're making the right or good decision." It's almost like a groupthink type of thing. You'll still say it even if you know the answer is incorrect. This is just for conformity or to fit in. All that changed last month. Ostrowski, who scrolls through her Reddit feed regularly, came across the forum r/HermanCainAward. This section shows visitors the grim reality of not being vaccinated and contracting the coronavirus. Reddit users post multiple screenshots of people who have posted anti-vaccine content and comments on Facebook, only to become ill with Covid-19. Named after Herman Cain (former Republican presidential candidate), the subreddit is named after him. He refused to wear a mask while attending an event for Donald Trump's re-election campaign. The page description states that nominees have made a public declaration about their anti-mask or anti-vax views. This was followed by admission at a hospital for Covid. The Award is given upon the nominee being released from their Earthly shackles. The subreddit has grown to over 375,000 members since its creation in September 2020. Top posts have received thousands of interactions from users. The forum has been the 10th fastest-growing subreddit over the past 30 days, according to, which tracks Reddit usage.

This week's entry featured a screenshot from an Aug. 12 posting by a man who shared a meme with his followers: "I heard that the government is putting chips in people." I hope I get Doritos." Later, a friend of the man wrote to his Twitter feed that he needed prayers after his wife and the man had been hospitalized with Covid-19. To deliver their baby 10 weeks earlier, the wife needed an emergency C-section. The wife of the man wrote: "The world lost a remarkable daddy, husband and brother, son, friend, and father today." My heart is broken in a million pieces."

"I was done playing"

Ostrowki stated that she had finally seen enough. She got her first shot on Sept. 12. Ostrowski stated, "If dad thinks that I'm an idiot because i fell for the government and am a sheep," "I clean the public toilets for Christ's sake. I deal with some very gross stuff. No, I wasn't done playing. Social media became a hub for conspiracy theories and misinformation during the pandemic. According to Wall Street Journal internal documents, Facebook has had a difficult time weeding out false content. Users have posted misinformation in the comments section of posts that were from authoritative sources. Despite multiple vaccines being available for everyone 12 and older for several months, vaccine resistance is now the main challenge in ending Covid-19. As President Joe Biden stated last month, "This continues to be a pandemic of unvaccinated." Based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 57% of the nation has not been vaccinated. 22% of Americans identify themselves as anti-vaxxers according to an academic study that was published in May. Experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House coronavirus advisor, said that vaccination is essential for the United States to attain herd immunity.

Joe Biden, the US President, speaks with reporters on the South Lawn on his return to Washington DC on October 5, 2021. Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

Over 722,000 Americans have been killed by Covid-19 since March 2020 when it hit the U.S. Ostrowski stated that the tragic stories of unvaccinated people dying have had a profound impact on her. She said, "It really hits home when it literally strikes you in these people." Reddit still hosts a lot of anti-vaccine content on its site which has over 50 million active users daily. Reddit has taken steps to eliminate subreddits used for misinformation sharing as it prepares to go public. However, many subreddits still surface such content under names like r/Conservative or r/Ivermectin. Reddit spokesperson stated that the company has policies in place for removing inaccurate information about Covid-19 vaccines. Reddit spokesperson stated that "Our Content Policy prohibits many types of harmful content, such as health-related disinformation or other forms of manipulated content." We have teams that are dedicated to finding and taking action on content that is in violation of our policies. These teams have helped us remove 99 percent of the violating content before users see it.

Family dynamics

Chana Joly regularly visits r/HermanCainAward She stated that she does it because her father is sick. Joly lost her brother to Covid-19 in January. Joly has not vaccinated her dad. Joly said that her father has been radicalized over the years through misinformation and antivaccine conspiracy theories. Joly stated that she believes it is especially sad for her dad, who is an educated man. He's intelligent. He believes in people he shouldn’t. Joly browses Reddit to find stories she can share with her father. She tells her dad to be more assertive when he disputes the posts she shares. Joly said that she found these stories on social media and described what she told her father. "These people are dying from the vaccine in their own words. These stories are mine. I want you to tell me as many as you can. You could even get a tenth.

Reddit user Chanajoly visits r/HermanCainAward in order to collect stories from real anti-vaxx victims who she can send her dad to. Chana Joly

Reddit user Rockets9495 from Houston is a doctor who works in an emergency department. He uses r/HermanCainAward to share anecdotes with technicians, nurses and patients. CNBC asked him to speak but he didn't want his name to be made public. CNBC was shown his hospital badge. The doctor stated that misinformation was so dangerous, especially after the death of the last president. This is not a joke. This isn't a joke. This is not a Tom Clancy novel. This is true. He stated that he hasn't been able to convince people of the safety and effectiveness of vaccines through scientific evidence. The doctor stated that despite the weaker evidence, word-of-mouth and anecdotal reports of people dying from vaccines seem to have an impact on people more than scientific evidence.

An award of a different sort

There are also some happy endings to stories on the subreddit. Those posts are labeled IPAs (or Immunized to Prevent Awards) and given to users who post photos of their vaccination cards to the channel to prove they have received their shots. Lovelylady227, a Reddit user, was awarded the label. She wrote that "this subreddit was the thing that fully convinced me" on Sept. 22 and that she is "officially out the running" to win the award that gave the channel its nickname. Her post was tagged with the IPA label, and it received more than 7,000 likes and 380 comments. After receiving her second dose, she posted her immunization cards on Reddit. Lovelylady227's real name is Hannah. Because she hadn't shared her decision with her anti-vaccine family, she asked that only her first name be published. Hannah was vaccinated with Moderna's vaccine in August. She became anxious about getting her second shot after her parents and sister (who works in health care) discussed their concerns. She and her family would share anti-vaccine content on each other's phones, believing that people who have been vaccinated are spreading the virus. Hannah searched Reddit for information. She began at r/CovidVaccine. She found many posts by people complaining about side effects after receiving their second shot. Many people described feeling trembling and others claiming they had suffered from heart attacks. She said, "It just really freaked out." Hannah continued to browse Reddit and eventually found r/HermanCainAward. She was struck by what she discovered. She was struck by stories about people ridiculing the vaccine, and their spouses asking for donations to GoFundMe to pay hospital bills or funeral expenses. Hannah stated that you don't realize how awful it is to be in a hospital with Covid unless you witness the people giving you a play by-play. It's like "Oh man, this is something I need to do seriously." It's too important to not put off.