‘I felt true rage’: How anti-vaxxers hijacked the story of a woman who lost her legs from Covid complications

Claire Bridges has experienced more challenges than most people will ever live through – and that was before media publications and influencers took the story of the aspiring model who suffered life-threatening Covid complications and used it to inflame anti-vaccine sentiment in posts and articles that reach millions.

In January 2022, Ms Bridges, 20, an aspiring model from Tampa, Florida, got Covid. A congenital heart condition called aortic valve stenosis exacerbated the effects of the disease.

Eventually, she required surgery, life support and dialysis, as a lack of blood flow reached her extremities. She got rhabdomyolysis, a condition in which damaged muscle tissue poisons the blood, requiring her to have both of her legs amputated below the knee.

When word of her story got out, major news publications like the New York Post, tabloids like the Daily Mirror and anti-vax influencers played up the supposed contrast between her vaccinated status and her harrowing experience with coronavirus. (Even vaccinated people can get breakthrough cases and suffer serious effects from Covid.)

“I felt true rage — that someone was telling my story, they didn’t even ask permission, they weren’t even telling it correctly, and they were using it to push a personal agenda,” Ms Bridges told HuffPost of the experience. “You’re forgetting the fact that I’m a human.”

The Independent has contacted Ms Bridges for comment.

The more people found out about what happened, the more online commenters took her story as an anti-vaccine parable.

Things got so bad she even did an interview with the fact-checking site Snopes to clear the record.

“My legs were amputated due to COVID/[rhabdomyolysis], not the vaccine,” she told the site in January. “For anyone who doesn’t have any of the facts to say anything different than that, is extremely rude, harmful and disrespectful.”

Twitter proved a key vector for the spread of incorrect information about her case.

An account associated with Died Suddenly, a film from far-right internet figure Stew Peters, tweeted incorrect information about Ms Bridges’s story that reached millions of people, leading to an avalanche of negative online commentary heading her way, Ms Bridges told HuffPost.

“It’s frustrating to have your story stolen from you,” she said.

The Independent has contacted Mr Peters for comment.

The tweet was published in November, right before Twitter, under Elon Musk’s new ownership, lifted its Covid misinformation policy.

Over 1.1m people have died from Covid in the US, according to the CDC.

Just over a third of the US population has gotten updated booster shots for coronavirus, the New York Times reports.