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Fact Check-Alleged Bell’s palsy poster in west London was not authorised by the NHS

An image of a fabricated NHS poster allegedly displayed on an advertising kiosk in west London is circulating online.

Social media users claim an advertising board has been spotted near Heathrow Airport and shows an NHS-issued “public health warning” over COVID-19 vaccines (here , here and here).

The poster predominantly features the image of a person with partial facial paralysis, below which is a highlighted caption: “COVID-19 vaccine causes Bell’s palsy.”

The board also features the NHS and British government logos in the top corners, mimicking other official public health posters published in the pandemic (here).

While some social media users questioned the authenticity of the image, others appeared to believe it was real, with comments including: “These notices EVERYWHERE! But the shots cause more than #BellsPalsy, the ultimate end.”

However, the poster is not authentic and has not been endorsed by the NHS, a spokesperson told Reuters via email. The Department of Health and Social Care, which commissions the use of the NHS logo, also told Reuters Fact Check that such a poster had not been authorised.

The image of a person affected with Bell’s palsy in the poster is from a stock image website and is available on sciencephoto.com (here).

Bell’s palsy is a treatable condition causing the temporary weakness or paralysis of one side of the face. According to the NHS, the majority of patients recover within nine months (here).

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) told Reuters that it continues to review reports of suspected Bell’s palsy, then analyses them against the number expected to occur by chance in the absence of vaccination, ie: the ‘natural rate’ of occurence (here).

The agency said: “The number of reports of facial paralysis received so far is similar to the expected natural rate and does not currently suggest an increased risk following the vaccines. We will continue to monitor these events, including through evaluation of electronic healthcare record data.”

Scientists conducting research into COVID-19 vaccines are yet to establish any clear link between COVID-19 vaccines and Bell’s palsy. According to a non-profit organization Facial Palsy UK, there is currently, “no evidence that the numbers of reported cases of Bell’s palsy are higher than would be expected in the general population” (here).

Reuters Fact Check has previously addressed false claims about Bell’s palsy being the common side-effect of COVID-19 vaccines (here), and miscaptioned images, falsely labelled to show recipients of COVID-19 vaccines that developed Bell’s palsy (here).

VERDICT

False. This is not an authentic poster and was not authorised by the NHS or DHSC. According to the MHRA, the number of reports of facial paralysis received so far is similar to the expected natural rate in the community and does not currently suggest an increased risk following COVID-19 vaccination.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here.

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