A June 2021 Facebook post about the death of Camilla Canepa spread virally in August 2021, iterations of which received thousands of shares on Facebook, with its “vaccine info” box glaringly absent:
Camilla Canepa Facebook Posts and the #ProtectYourFamily Hashtag
Facebook’s omnipresent “vaccine info” box appeared so predictably that memes referencing its recursive appearance were quite common in certain Facebook circles:
In the first variation on the “Camilla Canepa” post, words like “dose” were obscured to avoid Facebook’s suppressive algorithms. That post did not provide details about Canepa’s location or the type of vaccine administered, it was overwhelmingly in circulation through American users, and it almost never featured the “Get Vaccine Info” box, regardless of who shared it:
Featuring a #ProtectYourFamily hashtag, the posts read:
“18 year old Camilla Canepa received the first d0se on May 25. She checked into the emergency room on June 3, complaining of severe headaches and extreme light sensitivity. ACT scan and neurological tests found nothing, so doctors discharged her with an order to return in 15 days for further tests. But she returned to the ER just two days later, now suffering from paralysis.
Camilla was diagnosed with cavernous sinus thrombosis, meaning a blood clot in the space between the eye sockets and brain. It blocked the primary vein between the head and heart.
Doctors also discovered that she was bleeding inside her brain. She underwent two surgeries, one to remove the blood clot and the second to relieve pressure in her head caused by the bleeding. But the damage was too great to overcome.
Camilla passed away on June 10 . Trust the $cience.” 😭
H/T Darlene Bordwell
Some versions of this story mentioned the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA), indicating that the agency had just approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine and intimating that the recently-approved vaccine was involved in the story. One copied version was shared 55,000 times by a page with nearly half a million followers, but to Facebook’s faint credit, that one did feature the “vaccine info” box.
An August 20 2021 Reddit post asserted that the #ProtectYourFamily hashtag was being used to spread “multiple” false stories of purportedly vaccine-related deaths in the United States. Clicking through to the Facebook link led to a stream of anti-vaccine posts spreading on Facebook at the time, many without any indication at all that they contained disinformation.
Google Trends indicated “breakout” levels of search volume for “Camilla Canepa” for the seven-day period ending August 25 2021, with searches first spiking on August 20 2021 (the date many of the iterations were published).
Beyond Facebook, information about Canepa primarily appeared in June 2021 news articles, many of which were in Italian. On June 11 2021, a Reuters article mentioned Canepa in its first two paragraphs.
Reuters provided details about Canepa’s nationality (Italian), and reported that the vaccine administered to her was from AstraZeneca, a vaccine not used in the United States:
Camilla Canepa died [on June 10 2021] aged 18 after being given the vaccine on May 25, triggering a media and political outcry over the Anglo-Swedish company’s shot being used for adults of all ages despite previously-raised medical concerns.
A June 14 2021 article by The Times was behind a paywall, likely doing more harm than good by mentioning Canepa’s name in the first few paragraphs without any additional information:
Italy’s vaccination campaign has been thrown into chaos after experts banned the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for the under-60s only days after young Italians were encouraged to take it.
The restriction on the use of the vaccine followed the death last Thursday [in June 2021] from blood clotting of an 18-year-old woman in Liguria who had her first jab on May 25 .
A June 22 2021 Politico.eu article, “Italy’s right seizes on teen’s death linked to Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine,” was not paywalled. It provided further context, reporting:
The death of a teenager who developed blood clots after having the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is igniting a political storm in Italy — with most of the fire coming from the right.
At issue is the practice of regional health authorities running vaccination “open days” as a way to get rid of unused Oxford/AstraZeneca doses. Some regions took this route despite a national government recommendation that the jab should “preferably” be used only for those aged over 60, for whom the risk is lower.
In the article, the outlet explained that Canepa was vaccinated on an “open day,” May 25 2021. She died on June 10 2021, and had a pre-existing condition contraindicating that particular vaccine; some news reports provided June 9 2021 as the date on which Canepa died:
Camilla Canepa, 18, got the shot on one of those open days, organized by regional health authorities in Liguria, and quickly fell ill. Despite undergoing surgery twice, she died on June 9 . An autopsy later revealed she died from a brain hemorrhage 16 days after the shot. It was also later revealed that she suffered from an autoimmune disorder, which should have disqualified her from receiving the vaccine.
But medical authorities administering the shot were apparently unaware of her prior condition.
‘Trust the Science’ and Deliberate Disinformation
That widely-circulated Facebook post included “Trust the $cience” before the #ProtectYourFamily hashtag, suggesting that Canepa’s death was treated as collateral damage by greedy pharmaceutical companies.
But the above-linked article began by reporting that the Italian government reacted to Canepa’s June 2021 death by swiftly restricting the vaccine to individuals over the age of 60:
ROME, June 11  (Reuters) – The Italian government said on [June 11 2021] it was restricting the use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to people over the age of 60, after a teenager who had received the shot died from a rare form of blood clotting.
Perhaps by design, the circulating Facebook post obscured a number of important details about Canepa’s tragic death and the circumstances related to it; some mentioned the FDA, further misleading readers. They included:
- Camilla Canepa lived and was vaccinated in Italy, not the United States;
- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had no jurisdiction over her vaccination or death;
- Canepa received the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has never been administered in the United States;
- Less than two days after Canepa died, the Italian government immediately restricted use of the vaccine to individuals over the age of 60, and;
- Canepa suffered from a pre-existing condition contraindicating administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and clinicians were unaware.
It was, of course, possible that the originator of the post (often credited to “Darlene Bordwell”) was unaware of all contextual information about the death of Camilla Canepa. It was also possible that those particular relevant details were intentionally elided in order to ensure the content spread virally on American Facebook.
In August 2021, posts about Camilla Canepa (with the #ProtectYourFamily hashtag) spread virally among American Facebook users, without Facebook’s omnipresent “vaccine info” box. The posts were extremely misleading, and did not disclose numerous contextual details such as Canepa’s country of origin (Italy), the vaccine in question (AstraZeneca, not used in the United States), and that she suffered from a pre-existing condition. Despite the risk posed to public health and vaccination efforts, the posts continued spreading under the #ProtectYourFamily hashtag — along with other anti-vaccine propaganda.