VERA FILES FACT CHECK: FB post MISLEADS with unrelated photos to show impact of Pfizer vaccine

A local Facebook (FB) user posted photos on Dec. 13 supposedly showing participants of Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s COVID-19 vaccine trial who developed Bell’s palsy, or temporary facial paralysis. He wrote this warning in his caption:

Epekto Ng Phzer (sic) vaccine..mukha ka Ng zombie (An effect of the Pfizer vaccine...You will look like a zombie).”

This is misleading on two counts. Reports from the United States (U.S.) Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the trial did not conclude a cause-effect relationship between the vaccine and Bell’s Palsy, and the four people shown in the photos did not take part in the trial.

According to a Dec. 10 U.S. FDA briefing document on the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine trial, Bell’s palsy was reported in four people who got the vaccine and none among those who got the placebo. (There were a total of 43,448 trial participants, about half of which got the vaccine and the other half, the placebo or a saline solution.)

“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,” the brief read.

The FDA added that they will recommend surveillance for cases of Bell’s palsy when the vaccine is deployed in larger populations. The report said the cases occurred at three, nine, 37, and 48 days after vaccination, and said one case was resolved three days after onset while the other three were “reported as continuing or resolving as of the November 14, 2020 data cut-off.”

The FB user’s post also carried two screenshots of FB posts by other netizens that wrongly claim to show the vaccine participants who got Bell’s palsy.

One was published by Dante Maravillas, a Bicol-based vlogger that VERA Files has fact checked in the past, who shared an article by Dutch-language website Common Sense TV (commonsensetv.nl) claiming the Pfizer vaccine causes facial paralysis.

The two images of a woman shown in Common Sense TV’s thumbnail are the before and after pictures of Julia Fernandez, a former beauty queen who suffered a stroke in 2013 that paralyzed her face. It was sourced from an ABC7 News report in May 2018 about Hernandez’s facial reconstruction surgery.

MISLEADING: This photo does not show a Pfizer vaccine recipient who got Bell's palsy

The FB user’s second screen grab shows faces of three people who have Bell’s palsy, taken before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The earliest traceable copy of the collage online can be found in a forum discussing illnesses, where a netizen uploaded the picture on Jan. 9 and wrote, “For anyone else that wanted to know what Bell’s palsy looks like.”

MISLEADING: This photo does not show a Pfizer vaccine recipients who got Bell's palsy

The misleading post emerged after the U.S. FDA on Dec. 11 authorized the distribution of the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use. Just days earlier, a 90-year-old British grandmother

was inoculated with the Pfizer vaccine. In the Philippines, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has been called out for his alleged failure to secure the delivery of 10 million Pfizer vaccines as early as January next year.

The FB user’s misleading post got 469 interactions and continues to receive engagements a week after publication. According to FB’s monitoring tool, the post has been viewed over 20,000 times.


(Editor's Note: VERA Files has partnered with Facebook to fight the spread of disinformation. Find out more about this partnership and our methodology.)

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Founded in March 2008, VERA Files is published by veteran Filipino journalists taking a deeper look into current Philippine issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”

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