for-phone-onlyfor-tablet-portrait-upfor-tablet-landscape-upfor-desktop-upfor-wide-desktop-up

Fact check: Photo does not show three recipients of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine that developed Bell’s palsy

A photo circulating on social media has been falsely labelled to claim it shows three out of the four recipients of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine that developed Bell’s palsy - a condition, temporary in most cases, of partial facial paralysis. This image, which appears to show some sort of paralysis caused by Bell’s palsy, has been circulating at least since 2019.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

A tweet with the mislabeled photo here (archived version archive.vn/jeulB )  reads: “Vaccine informed is a more accurate name. These are 3 of the 4 volunteers who developed Bells palsy after being vaccinated with the Pfizer (SIC) covid experimental vaccine. Masks anyone?” Other posts are visible on Instagram here and Facebook here , here

The same photo appears in an article about Bell’s Palsy here which, according to the website, was last updated on Nov. 20, 2019.

On Dec. 11, the FDA said it authorized the use of Pfizer Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine, which was shown to be 95% effective in preventing the disease in a late-stage trial ( here ).

FDA’S FINDINGS

According to the FDA’s briefing document dated Dec. 10 here , Bell’s palsy was reported in four vaccine participants and none in the placebo group, out of the 44,000 total participants of the late-stage vaccine trial ( here ).

But the FDA stated that “the observed frequency of reported Bell’s palsy in the vaccine group is consistent with the expected background rate in the general population, and there is no clear basis upon which to conclude a causal relationship at this time.” Still, the agency recommended surveillance of this condition once the vaccine is distributed into larger populations.

Reuters previously clarified other claims around the side effects of the Pfizer vaccine here .

BELL’S PALSY

As explained by Johns Hopkins Medicine here , Bell’s palsy is an episode of facial muscle weakness or paralysis, that “usually resolves on its own and causes no complications.”

While its cause is unknown, it is thought to be caused by “inflammation affecting the body’s immune system”. It is associated with the body’s response to viral infection, and with other conditions such as diabetes.

The symptoms of the condition, which include headache and pain, twitching or weakness in one side of the face, begin suddenly and it usually worsens within the next 48 hours, leading to the face drooping and a lopsided smile ( here ).

Some posts on social referring to the FDA’s findings claim that Bell’s palsy is a permanent condition ( here ). Experts note that in most cases, the weakness is temporary and significantly improves within weeks, “with full recovery in about six months”  ( here ).

The FDA briefing states that one of the four cases “was reported as resolved with sequelae within three days after onset”.  (here)

Another post on social media ( here ) claims Bell’s palsy “is related to strokes”. While this condition may trigger similar symptoms, the conditions have different causes ( here , here , here, here ). 

BELL’S PALSY AND VACCINES

Among the examples of Bell's Palsy developed after the administering of various vaccines found by Reuters ( here   , here , here ) some have been determined to be a “theoretically possible” rare complication, though not proven (  here ) and most others were not causally associated at all ( here   , here ).

The Institute for Vaccine Safety, Johns Hopkins University explains that vaccines for varicella, tetanus and diphtheria prevent Bell’s palsy by protecting against these infections that have been associated with the condition ( here )

VERDICT

Partly false. The photo does not show three out of four recipients of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine that developed Bell’s palsy, a partial face paralysis considered to be a temporary condition. According to the FDA, these cases were not considered to be necessarily caused by the vaccine.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts  here  . 

for-phone-onlyfor-tablet-portrait-upfor-tablet-landscape-upfor-desktop-upfor-wide-desktop-up