Santa Barbara’s coroner concluded that nationally renowned anti-vax activist Brandy Vaughan died at age 44 of natural causes on December 7 at her Santa Barbara home on East Sola Street.
Vaughan, who attended UC Santa Barbara, was a former pharmaceutical representative who would start two organizations highly critical of Big Pharma and the mandatory vaccination of school-aged children as a requirement to attend school. According to the Coroner’s report, Vaughan died of bilateral pulmonary thromboembolus, otherwise known as a blood clot in an artery. Emergency medical responders tried to revive Vaughan after her 9-year-old son discovered her body, but without success.
Police investigators determined there was no sign of foul play, but due to Vaughan’s high profile in the anti-vaccination movement, Coroner’s officials opted to give her death more careful scrutiny to head off the potential proliferation of conspiracy theories. Her remains were subjected to an autopsy, “an in-depth panel of toxicology screenings, interviews,” and a review of her medical record.
Vaughan had reportedly only recently moved back to Santa Barbara at the time of her death. In her speeches, she highlighted her experience as a sales executive for the Merck pharmaceutical company and claimed to have sold Vioxx, a painkiller that was eventually removed from the market when it was determined to be unsafe. That experience taught Vaughan to be distrustful of corporate and government studies showing pharmaceutical products to be safe.
Vaughan broadened her critique to encompass the health-care industry as a whole, questioning why the United States spends more on health care than any other country and still has more sick people. Her conclusion was that the health-care system makes money only when people are sick.
To that end, she started an anti-vaccine group in 2015 called Learn the Risk, which underwrote a billboard campaign throughout parts of the United States claiming that vaccines kill children. These billboards aroused serious concern from medical health professionals asserting there was little to no evidence to substantiate Vaughan’s claims. She strenuously opposed a state bill passed in 2017 that required proof of vaccination for students to attend public or private schools.
Within the anti-vaxxer movement, Vaughan had emerged as a charismatic Joan of Arc figure, and her death had been the subject of considerable suspicion by many skeptical about the competence and intentions of the Centers for Disease Control and other governmental health institutions. Her death had been seized upon as a subject of much note and discussion by anti-mask protesters who marched down State Street — without masks — shortly before Christmas last year.
At the time of her death, Vaughan had reportedly suffered an attack to her gallbladder severe enough to cause her to black out.
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