On Dec. 17, 2020, first responders in the state of Tennessee started receiving a vaccination for COVID-19.
In the following days, the Tennessee Department of Health shared testimonials from doctors, nurses, firefighters, and other front-line workers about their experiences with the vaccine.
Although this collection of testimonials from real health professionals in Tennessee were largely positive and encouraged citizens to get vaccinated when it was time, it was an unverified video of a woman claiming to be a nurse that went viral on social media and stoked controversy about the COVID-19 vaccine.
Over the Christmas holiday in 2020, a video of woman claiming to be a registered nurse in Nashville, Tennessee, named Khalilah Mitchell started circulating on social media sites such as 4chan, Twitter and Facebook. This video was also posted numerous times on YouTube and other video-hosting sites such as Bitchute. While we're not sure how many people in total viewed this video, one iteration posted to Twitter was viewed nearly 50,000 times. In comparison, the testimonials posted by the Tennessee Department of Health typically received between 20 and 50 shares.
In the video, the woman claims that she developed Bell's palsy, a form of temporary facial paralysis, a few days after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine:
We haven't been able to confirm too many details about this viral video. It's unclear where it originated, where it was filmed, or even who it shows. When we reached out to the Tennessee Department of Health, a spokesperson told us: "We have no record of anyone by that name in our health professional licensure system."
Seana Davis, a misinformation specialist with Euronews, also reported that the Tennessee Department of Health had no record of Khalilah Mitchell as a registered nurse:
It should also be noted that there's no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine causes Bell's palsy.
In early December 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a report about the COVID-19 vaccine trials that were conducted in the days leading to the new drug's approval. This report found that four people (out of about 22,000) who participated in the vaccine trial had developed Bell's palsy. But the report also noted that this frequency rate was below the expected background rate of Bell’s palsy in the general population. In other words, there's no evidence that this condition was caused by the vaccine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) writes that the United States has a robust safety program to ensure that the COVID-19 vaccine is as safe as possible:
The United States currently has the safest vaccine supply in its history. The nation’s long-standing vaccine safety system ensures that vaccines are as safe as possible.
Vaccine Safety is a vital part of the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As vaccines are developed and become available, the public’s knowledge of their safety, both initially and during extended use, is an important part of a successful national vaccination effort.
CDC’s Immunization Safety Office works to communicate timely and transparent information about the safety of vaccines to public health officials, healthcare providers, and the public. The office conducts vaccine safety monitoring and clinical research to help keep vaccines safe.
Read more about various safety measures health officials are taking to ensure that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe here.