Did NHS Issue Poster Warning COVID-19 Vaccine Causes Bell’s Palsy?

A definitive link between COVID-19 vaccines and an increased risk of Bell's palsy has not been proven.

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A photograph shows an official poster from the National Health Service warning that the COVID-19 vaccine causes Bell's palsy.

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In January 2022, an image started to circulate on social media that supposedly showed an official poster from England’s National Health Service (NHS) warning that the COVID-19 vaccine causes Bell’s palsy. 

This is not a genuine poster from NHS. Furthermore, a link between the COVID-19 vaccine and Bell’s palsy has not been proven. 

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care, which oversees NHS, told us that this was not a “government sanctioned poster or message” and that the NHS logo had been used without permission. The spokesperson said:

“This is not a government sanctioned poster or message and the NHS logo has been used without knowledge or permission. This kind of misinformation about the vaccine causes harm and costs lives. The evidence is clear – Vaccines are safe, effective and the best defence against Covid. We have mounted a major public information campaign giving people facts and advice about the vaccine at every possible opportunity and specialised government teams work to identify and remove harmful disinformation about the virus.”

It’s worth noting, too, that the person featured in this poster did not develop Bell’s palsy after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. This photograph has been available via stock photo websites since at least 2011. 

Anti-vaxxers have been pushing the Bell’s palsy claim since the COVID-19 vaccines were first introduced. While there have been some cases of people developing Bell’s palsy after taking the vaccine, researchers have not found a definitive link between the vaccine and Bell’s palsy, a temporary form of facial paralysis. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said in September 2020:

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.

In January 2022, The Lancet published a paper that examined various studies into the relationship between COVID-19 vaccines and Bell’s palsy. That paper concluded there was not definitive evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines were linked to an increase in Bell’s palsy, and while research was still being done, one certainty remained: “The benefit of getting vaccinated outweighs any possible risk.”

The United Kingdom’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency told us that 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.”


Sources:

Cirillo, Nicola, and Richard Doan. “The Association between COVID-19 Vaccination and Bell’s Palsy.” The Lancet Infectious Diseases, vol. 22, no. 1, Jan. 2022, pp. 5–6. www.thelancet.com, https://doi.org/10.1016/S1473-3099(21)00467-9.

“Fact Check-Alleged Bell’s Palsy Poster in West London Was Not Authorised by the NHS.” Reuters, 20 Jan. 2022. www.reuters.com, https://www.reuters.com/article/factcheck-coronavirus-britain-idUSL1N2U019L.

“NHS Didn’t Create Poster Claiming COVID-19 Causes Bell’s Palsy.” AP NEWS, 18 Jan. 2022, https://apnews.com/article/fact-checking-933513504293.