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The life and tragic death of John Eyers – a fitness fanatic who refused the vaccine | Vaccines and immunisation

It was one of these uncommon, virtually magical, summer time evenings. Heat sufficient to sit down exterior in a T-shirt, listening to birdsong; heat sufficient to remain out late, savouring a meal; heat sufficient to not discover night time settling in, the customer that slipped into the celebration unannounced.

It was 11 June 2021. Jenny McCann sat in the backyard of her dwelling in north London along with her twin brother, John Eyers, their mother and father, Lyn and Derek, and Jenny’s husband and youngsters. It was her son’s tenth birthday celebration. John and their mother and father had come down from Southport in Merseyside for the weekend to have a good time. Jenny made Lebanese lamb and parathas. The adults have been buzzed on wine, the youngsters on birthday cake. “Life felt actually good,” says Jenny.

She will be able to’t bear in mind how the argument about the Covid vaccine began. “John began saying actually loopy issues that didn’t make sense,” she says. “About how folks have been solely getting the vaccine without spending a dime McDonald’s, and there was formaldehyde in it.” The relaxation of the household remonstrated with him, pulling out their telephones to factcheck what he was saying. However John was unmoving. “He saved saying: ‘I gained’t be a guinea pig.’”

The last family photo taken with John, in June. (Left to right) Jenny’s husband, Amit; Jenny; the twins’ father, Derek; John; their mother, Lyn; and Jenny and Amit’s children, Maya and Seb.
The final household photograph taken with John, in June: (left to proper) Jenny’s husband, Amit; Jenny; the twins’ father, Derek; John; their mom, Lyn; and Jenny and Amit’s youngsters, Maya and Seb. {Photograph}: Courtesy of Jenny McCann

Ultimately, he made a joke and modified the topic – that was his means of defusing pressure. “He would make a joke about every part,” says Jenny, who is 43 and works as an operations supervisor.

Argument apart, it was a nice get-together. “John was on actually good, humorous kind,” says Jenny. They went for dinner at a Turkish restaurant and performed darts in the backyard. John scored a bullseye together with his eyes closed and bragged about all of it weekend. There was just one different troublesome second, when the household went to a native well being membership. John refused to put on a masks. The twins had a combat in reception.

“I mentioned: ‘John, put your face masks on,’” Jenny remembers. “‘He mentioned: ‘You aren’t my mom – don’t inform me what to do.’” John ultimately acquiesced, then made one other straightforward joke. They went swimming and performed tennis and forgot about it.

An ideal weekend, then. Twins having fun with one another’s firm after the enforced separation of the pandemic. Neither had any thought it will be their final time collectively.


John and Jenny have been born in Southport in 1978. As youngsters, they have been diametrically opposed. Jenny was a bookish goody two-shoes; John was mischievous, good at sport and tired of college.

Regardless of their variations, they shared a formidable bond. “After we have been very younger, we have been shadows of one another,” says Jenny. Into maturity, she at all times knew when her brother was mendacity – like the time he informed their mom he harm his shoulder tripping over a witch on Halloween. (He had been knocked off his bike by a lorry.) “He didn’t need Mum to fret,” she says.

Jenny left dwelling at 18 to go to school, leaving her brother behind. He labored of their mother and father’ carpet enterprise for a whereas, however didn’t take pleasure in it, then joined the erotic dance troupe the Chippendales, performing throughout Europe. “He had piercings in locations you don’t need to learn about your brother having piercings in,” Jenny shudders.

Jenny McCann
‘After we have been very younger, we have been shadows of one another’ … John’s sister, Jenny. {Photograph}: David Levene/The Guardian

Round this time, he had a youngster, Macey, who is now 19. The relationship along with her mom didn’t work out, however John was a dedicated and loving father. His stripping days over, he returned to Southport and started working as a product specialist in the flooring business. He labored to maintain the lights on, however sport was his massive factor. John had at all times been a gifted athlete.

“He would do one thing and get obsessive about it,” Jenny says. In his teenagers, he was a champion pole-vaulter and hockey participant. In maturity, he went via phases. He obtained into triathlons for a whereas, then bodybuilding competitions, then mountaineering. He was a fixture at his native fitness center, which is the place he met his finest good friend, Jonathan Cohen, 37, a chartered surveyor. “He’d spot me in the fitness center with a set of weights and it was a pure development from there,” says Jonathan. “All of a sudden, we have been going out each weekend collectively.”

John’s dedication to fitness was one thing to behold. “He actually pushed his physique to the restrict,” says Jonathan. John could be in the fitness center most mornings at 6am. On a vacation to Marbella in Might 2016, John saved getting stopped by different males on the seaside – they wished to know his coaching routine. Jonathan cropped John out of their vacation pictures. “I wasn’t having a photograph stood subsequent to him together with his six-pack,” he laughs. “No! Not having that.”

John was gregarious and fun-loving. “He was a social butterfly,” Jenny says. “He appreciated being out, working a room, being charismatic and laughing and joking. He was a massive piss-taker – he’d insult you, however in a humorous means, so that you ended up laughing.” From his first girlfriend, at 10, John was a serial monogamist, susceptible to the odd grand gesture; he as soon as proposed to a girlfriend at a festive grotto whereas dressed as Santa. “He was an previous romantic,” says Jenny. “He actually wished the happily-ever-after.” (That relationship didn’t work out and John by no means married.)

From January onwards, John struggled together with his psychological well being. Covid restrictions weighed closely on him. He hated not having the ability to go to the fitness center, hated not having the ability to go climbing, hated not seeing his pals. He lived alone, having damaged up with a girlfriend at Christmas, and was lonely. He confided in his sister. “I used to be actually nervous about him,” Jenny says. “He was in a dangerous place. I needed to name him day by day to verify he was OK.” Their grandmother died in March. When Jenny noticed him at the funeral, she was horrified. “He’d misplaced a lot weight,” she says.

Jonathan thinks that is, partially, what drove his good friend’s Covid scepticism. “He was pissed off at the means he couldn’t go and do regular issues,” he says. “He didn’t need one other lockdown, or to be in a state of affairs the place he wasn’t capable of go and see folks.” John felt that Covid was actual, however that it had been dramatically overstated by the authorities. No one he knew in Southport had contracted Covid. If he obtained the virus, he could be effective. “It obtained to the level the place he refused to put on a masks in any respect,” says Jenny.

John Eyers and Jonathan Cohen in Marbella
John and Jonathan Cohen, his finest good friend, in Marbella. {Photograph}: Courtesy of Jenny McCann

Many of the folks in his life tried to argue with him. “I’d inform him: ‘Why gained’t you get the jab? You’ll want it if you wish to go away on vacation,’” says Jonathan. “He saved saying that he wished to attend. It wasn’t that he would by no means get it. However it was extra the misinformation, actually. For no matter purpose, he wouldn’t take heed to no matter message was popping out of the authorities. I’d say to him: ‘John, why are you listening to that garbage?’”

John was a fan of the pearlescent-toothed Tony Robbins, whose model of adrenalised motivational talking has earned him an estimated fortune of $500m (£375m), plus a personal island in Fiji and celebrity fans together with Serena Williams and Hugh Jackman. Robbins, whereas steering clear of outright anti-vaccine statements, has made feedback all through the pandemic that play down the severity of Covid, or suggest that lockdown restrictions are overblown. (Confusingly, he has additionally touted a Covid vaccine that’s being developed by Covaxx, a firm that has acquired funding from a enterprise capital agency by which Robbins is a accomplice. He has made no secret of that monetary curiosity.)

In September 2020, Robbins posted a link to an article by the Kremlin-funded information web site RT that mentioned lockdowns “achieved virtually exactly nothing with regard to Covid. No deaths have been prevented”. In September 2021, he appeared at a convention in Florida the place he mocked Australia’s Covid restrictions, forged doubt on the efficacy of vaccines and informed a cheering viewers to not let “worry be the factor that controls you”.

“John talked about to me as soon as that one of his beliefs was that we shouldn’t dwell in a local weather of worry round Covid,” says Jenny. “When you have been younger and match and properly, you’d be effective.”


In this assumption, John wasn’t completely improper. He was extraordinarily unlikely to die from Covid, as a bodily match 42-year-old with no underlying circumstances. The Covid mortality charge for a 40-year-old with no underlying well being circumstances is about one in every 1,490 folks contaminated.

However his calculus when it got here to understanding the risk-to-benefit ratio of Covid vaccination was off. If contaminated, somebody who is unvaccinated is 32 times more likely to die of Covid than somebody who has been vaccinated. Whereas vaccination carries a threat of side-effects, this threat is way smaller than the threat of being unvaccinated throughout a pandemic. Out of 46.3 million fully vaccinated people in the UK, 77 have died of blood clots considered associated to a Covid vaccine.

“There may be a big asymmetry with threat,” says Dr Tom Stafford, a psychology lecturer at the College of Sheffield. “If you will get away with issues which are low chance, you don’t know the way harmful they’re till it’s too late.” Stafford makes use of the instance of driving with out a seatbelt: most of the time, you can be completely effective. However the one time you are in an accident, issues would possibly get very dangerous in a short time.

John Eyers went through a bodybuilding phase, among other fitness obsessions
John went via a bodybuilding section, amongst different fitness obsessions. {Photograph}: Courtesy of Jenny McCann

“It’s the similar with the vaccine,” says Stafford. “It’s a low-probability occasion that you’ll get the virus and want hospitalisation. However should you do, then the vaccine reveals its profit.”

Stafford says that selections about vaccination, significantly for Covid, are some of the hardest that folks should make. “Threat calculus may be significantly exhausting in sure circumstances,” he says. “Dangers the place we don’t at all times see the final result, so we’ve to belief folks. And new dangers. Coronavirus is each of these issues.”

However why would somebody corresponding to John be inclined to take his details about the pandemic from social media influencers moderately than scientific specialists?

In 2009, Stafford co-authored a paper that surveyed folks who lived on brownfield websites that may have been contaminated with pollution. The survey requested the residents whom they trusted to inform them about the dangers related to dwelling on the land. Whereas most of the folks trusted scientists to inform them the fact, they have been virtually as prone to take their info from household and pals, regardless of their complete lack of experience. “It wasn’t that they didn’t belief the experience of the scientists,” Stafford says. “They knew that scientists knew about air pollution. They simply thought that the scientists didn’t have their pursuits at coronary heart, whereas they knew that household and pals did.”

The web replicates this basic human impulse – to belief household and pals virtually as a lot as we belief specialists – at scale. “We really feel a connection to the folks who are telling us issues in a means that we don’t really feel a connection to the Facilities for Illness Management or the Joint Council on Vaccination and Immunisation,” Stafford says.

In the age of social media, we don’t even have to have met the folks we belief as a lot as established specialists. “That’s why social media is so harmful,” says Stafford. “As a result of folks share that emotional reference to influencers they may by no means have met. However it’s an asymmetrical intimacy. I might imagine I do know that vlogger and they’re speaking to me. However actually they’re speaking to hundreds of thousands of folks – and the advertisers producing them their income.”

The falsehoods that John repeated to his household and pals in the months main as much as his death are frequent tropes in on-line anti-vaccine areas and straightforward to search out: the vaccine has harmful ranges of formaldehyde in it; the vaccine is experimental; individuals are solely getting the vaccine for free McDonald’s.

“The neatest thing that folks can do is realise that social media platforms are basically unsafe environments to realize information about a pandemic that may kill you,” says Imran Ahmed, the CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate. “Social media incorporates huge quantities of misinformation that mingles seamlessly with good info. The misinformation would possibly kill you.”

John was a heavy consumer of social media. “He was what I’d name a Fb ranter,” says Jenny. Often, she would problem him on the content material of his posts about Covid. When he was at her home, Jenny informed him off for spending an excessive amount of time on his cellphone. “He wouldn’t put his cellphone down,” she says.

Ahmed is scathing about the social media firms that revenue from misinformation. “They don’t need you to search out the fact,” he says. “They need you to maintain scrolling. When you discover the fact, you don’t have to scroll any extra. They need you to maintain scrolling and arguing and on the lookout for extra bullshit.”


John examined constructive for Covid on 29 June. By 3 July, he was critically unwell. Amy, the girl who had not too long ago turn into his girlfriend, needed to power him to name 111 for assist. Later that day, he was taken to Southport & Ormskirk hospital by ambulance.

Jonathan texted his good friend as quickly as he heard the information. “He mentioned that he couldn’t sort, however that he was in hospital with pneumonia,” he remembers. “He wouldn’t admit at that time that it was Covid.”

John had a raging temperature and problem respiration. Docs put him on a Cpap machine, to help his respiration, and swathed him in cooling blankets. On 4 July, John was up all night time vomiting blood. He despatched Jonathan a voice observe the subsequent morning.

“It’s the worst voice observe I’ve ever heard in my life,” says Jonathan. “I burst out crying midway via it.” The voice observe is a minute and a half lengthy. In that point, John speaks about 12 phrases. “I’ll by no means ship it to anybody, but when anybody questioned whether or not Covid is actual, I’d play it to them,” says Jonathan. “It’s the worst factor in the world. I can hear the worry in him. He’s actually gasping for air. That is somebody I knew who may run 10k or climb a mountain with out struggling.”

John in intensive care.
John in intensive care. {Photograph}: Courtesy of Jenny McCann

On 6 July, Jenny was in the grocery store when a feeling of nice panic settled upon her. “I simply had this sense that one thing wasn’t proper with John,” she says. She left with out doing her purchasing. That afternoon, she obtained the cellphone name. John was in the ICU. She instantly obtained a prepare to Southport, sobbing the complete means.

By 11 July, John wanted to go on a ventilator. Jenny spoke to him on the cellphone earlier than he was sedated. She informed him she beloved him. He couldn’t reply, however he texted her: “Don’t allow them to quit on me.” It was the final message she acquired from her twin.

On the morning of 27 July, John’s household obtained the name they’d been dreading. He was dying; they need to are available in immediately. They raced to the hospital, however John had stabilised by the time they arrived. Workers informed them to go dwelling and mentioned they might name again if there was any change.

About an hour later, the hospital known as again. The household piled into the automotive and began driving to the hospital at prime velocity. Nurses saved calling, telling them to rush. They raced to the ICU, the place employees have been ready with PPE. Jenny may hear the alarms going off in her brother’s room. “I couldn’t cease shaking,” she says. “It felt like a monster was about to come back out of my mouth and I couldn’t management it.”

After they had lastly tugged on the PPE, they bumped into his room. It was full of ICU employees, all in tears. John had simply died. Jenny’s stepdad collapsed to the ground. Her mum was wailing. “The matron grabbed my mum and was holding her,” says Jenny. “Everybody was crying. The advisor was crying. All the employees have been crying. As a result of he was so younger. And so they couldn’t save him.”


How do you clarify how a supremely match 42-year-old man died of a illness sometimes thought to afflict older folks or these with underlying circumstances?

“Genetics makes the most sense,” says Dr Guillaume Butler-Laporte, a genetic epidemiologist at McGill College. Butler‑Laporte is an element of a world analysis programme to analyse the genomes of greater than 100,000 folks with Covid, in an effort to grasp why some individuals are extra severely affected than others.

When he started his analysis in March 2020, Butler-Laporte “didn’t anticipate finding a lot”, he says. “We thought Covid would have an effect on everybody, however be worse for previous folks and not as dangerous for younger folks. However as we included extra sufferers, we noticed a clear story develop. It was stunning.”

Butler-Laporte and his colleagues discovered that folks with variants in as much as a dozen areas on the human genome have been at greater threat of growing extreme Covid, ought to they be unlucky sufficient to be contaminated with the virus. Folks with variants on the chromosome 3 area alone have been up to twice as likely to develop extreme Covid as somebody with out that genetic mutation. Chromosome 3 mutations are carried in about 10% of folks of European ancestry, which means that such folks have a 10% likelihood of being twice as vulnerable to extreme Covid an infection.

John Eyers was a keen mountaineer
John was a eager mountaineer. {Photograph}: Courtesy of Jenny McCann

“There isn’t a query there may be a genetic underpinning to this,” says Butler-Laporte. “As as to if genetics is extra vital than different components, like age, I wouldn’t need to remark. However it’s clear that there are different determinants of extreme illness and genetics is one of them.” He’s virtually sure that John suits the profile of somebody with a genetic variation that made him extra weak to extreme Covid. “It’s unattainable to know particularly what genes he carried, but it surely’s very doubtless he carried this genetic predisposition,” says Butler-Laporte.

Unbeknown to John, his physique was primed to react with most violence to the Covid virus. When he was unlucky sufficient to breathe in contaminated air carrying infinitesimally small virus particles, his physique regularly failed.

“Had he been vaccinated, the finest case would have been that he developed sterilising immunity, which means that, when the virus landed in his nostrils, it obtained picked up by antibodies and by no means arrange an an infection,” says Dr Tom Lawton, an intensive care physician. “If he’d had a decrease stage of immunity from the vaccine, he would have had non-sterilising immunity, which means that the virus did begin to infect cells, however his physique fought it and was capable of filter the virus earlier than it ramped up quickly.” However John was not vaccinated.

The Covid virus contaminated his cells, replicating in his physique. He ultimately managed to expunge the virus – however then his immune system went into overdrive. “The virus appears to set one thing up in the physique and the injury comes from there,” says Lawton. “It wouldn’t have occurred had the virus not been there.”

First, his lungs have been affected. “There can have been blood clots forming, in addition to a thickening of the membrane that separates the air and the blood in his lungs,” says Lawton. As a end result, the blood couldn’t carry ample oxygen to John’s organs.

Docs handled him with steroids, to damp down his immune response. However these immune suppressants made John weak to bacterial and fungal infections. He developed infections in his lungs. His liver and kidneys started to malfunction, inflicting waste merchandise to construct up in his blood.

Docs put John on dialysis to filter the toxins, however by this level many of his organs have been failing and he had unsurvivably low oxygen ranges. He expended an inconceivably big metabolic effort to remain alive. “Though it seems to be like somebody is simply mendacity there asleep, the quantity of work they’re doing is admittedly spectacular,” says Lawton. He compares it to strolling a marathon for day by day the affected person is hospitalised.

Ultimately, John exhausted his physiological reserve. His physique was oxygen-deprived and wrung out. His coronary heart stopped beating and he died.


Before he died, John informed the physician treating him how a lot he regretted not getting the vaccine. “The physician mentioned that he was beating himself up a lot earlier than they put him on the ventilator,” Jenny says. “He was saying: ‘Why didn’t I get vaccinated? Why didn’t I do it? Why didn’t I hear?’”

It is because of this that his household has agreed to share his story. “He most likely wouldn’t be useless if he’d had the vaccine,” says Jenny. “It’s actually fairly easy. He made a dangerous determination. All of us make dangerous selections all the time. And he paid the final value for it. Which is so unfair.”

Jenny says she “simply needs folks to be vaccinated and, if they’ve doubts, to get medical recommendation – not recommendation from the web. And to understand that Covid is brutal. It’s simply brutal.”

She is struggling to adapt to life with out her brother. “I don’t know that it’s going to ever really feel actual,” she says. “How can my wholesome, outgoing, foolish brother be useless? It doesn’t make sense in my mind. How can I be a twin with out a twin?”

At John’s funeral, on 16 August, Jonathan delivered a eulogy. He spoke about that vacation in Marbella in 2016. They spent a day consuming champagne at a seaside membership, laughing, messing round. As the solar set, a rainbow shaped over the sea.

That is how Jonathan likes to recollect John. They’re sunburned, drunk, a little unsteady on their ft. Suffused with love for one another. The night time is drawing in and Jonathan turns to his finest good friend and says: shall we supply on? And John says: of course.

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