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Officials Say Cause Of Death Unknown For Kansas Woman Who Got COVID-19 Shot

 Jeannie Evans of Atchison, Kansas, died on Wednesday, according to her obituary.
Jeannie Evans of Atchison, Kansas, died on Wednesday, according to her obituary.

Kansas officials confirmed on Thursday that a 68-year-old Atchison County woman experienced anaphylaxis and died after she received a COVID-19 vaccination but said no link between the shot and her death had been determined.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment said on Thursday it would investigate the case.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 126 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered in the U.S. from mid-December through March 22. The agency received 2,216 reports of deaths following the administration of doses, but its reviews have found no evidence that the vaccines caused those deaths.

Doctors at the University of Kansas, who did not treat the patient, said on Thursday that more information would be needed to understand what occurred. But they cautioned against people basing opinions of vaccines on a single incident or media coverage of it.

“What you don’t want to do is, in this time where we have such great division in this country and such a great fight between red states and blues states — don’t take this event and take it to such an extreme that you say no one should be vaccinated, because the fact is that everyone should be vaccinated,” said University of Kansas Chief Medical Officer Steven Stites.

On its Facebook page Wednesday evening, NBC affiliate KSNT in Topeka cited the obituary of 68-year-old Jeanie Evans of Effingham, Kansas, which flatly stated that the cause of death was “a reaction to the Covid vaccine.” The obituary reported that Evans had died at Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka.

The story was then picked up by other TV stations, including KCTV Channel 5 and KMBC Channel 9 in Kansas City. By late Thursday morning, it had been shared more than 1,000 times on Facebook. Although many of those who shared it posted comments skeptical of the vaccines’ safety, others were critical of the news outlets’ reporting or attacked other commenters.

By noon, the New York Post and Fox5 New York had also published articles on Evans’ death.

KDHE confirmed to KCUR on Thursday that a 68-year-old Atchison County woman had died but said a cause of death had yet to be determined by a medical expert.

“Until the investigation is complete, it is premature to assign a specific cause of death,” Kansas Department of Health and Environment spokeswoman Kristi Zears said in an email.

The death will be investigated in accordance with standard protocol, Zears added.

A spokesman for Stormont Vail confirmed that Evans, who was vaccinated elsewhere, had died after being transported to the hospital.

"The individual was transported to our hospital after receiving the vaccine in the region. A cause of death has yet to be determined. Our thoughts and condolences are with the family," spokesman Matt Lara said in an email.

KCUR was unable to reach Evans’ family on Thursday.

Stites, of KU, said that, while an extreme reaction to a vaccine dose is possible, deaths may occur following the administration of a vaccine due to many unrelated causes, such as a heart attack or stroke.

Stites encouraged the public to honor the Evans family's loss while also recognizing the overwhelming evidence of the vaccines' safety.

“The rest of us have to understand that that pain in that isolated instance is not measured," Stites said. "We can’t measure it for that family. We can’t find solace for that family. But we know that, throughout the world and throughout mankind, there is no question that vaccines save millions and millions and millions and millions of lives relative to the number of people who die.”

Copyright 2021 KCUR 89.3

Alex Smith began working in radio as an intern at the National Association of Farm Broadcasters. A few years and a couple of radio jobs later, he became the assistant producer of KCUR's magazine show, KC Currents. In January 2014 he became KCUR's health reporter.