Fact Check: Post On WHO's Advice That Children Not Get A COVID-19 Vaccine Is Missing Context

Fact Check

  • by: Dana Ford

STORY UPDATED: check for updates below.

Fact Check: Post On WHO's Advice That Children Not Get A COVID-19 Vaccine Is Missing Context Not A Priority

Does a post that claims the World Health Organization now recommends against COVID-19 vaccination of children tell the whole story about the agency's recommendation? No, that's not true: WHO's June 3, 2021 guidance says more evidence is needed to make general recommendations. The public health agency's webpage on vaccination goes on to explain that children -- who tend to get less sick than adults -- are not the priority, unless they have certain health conditions that put them at higher risk if infected by the virus that causes COVID-19.

The post (archived here) was published on Facebook on June 22, 2021. It included what looked to be a screenshot of WHO's website, plus the following message:

The WHO is now recommending that children DO NOT get the COVID-19 vaccine... 👀👀👀

This is what the post looked like at the time of writing:

Facebook screenshot

(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Tue Jun 22 19:40:33 2021 UTC)

WHO's Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) has said that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is suitable for children ages 12 and up. "Children aged between 12 and 15 who are at high risk may be offered this vaccine alongside other priority groups for vaccination. Vaccine trials for children are ongoing and WHO will update its recommendations when the evidence or epidemiological situation warrants a change in policy," says WHO.

The Facebook post links to this page on WHO's website. The page contains vaccination advice, including the following section on children (copied here in its entirety):

Children should not be vaccinated for the moment.

Children and adolescents tend to have milder disease compared to adults, so unless they are part of a group at higher risk of severe COVID-19, it is less urgent to vaccinate them than older people, those with chronic health conditions and health workers. More evidence is needed on the use of the different COVID-19 vaccines in children to be able to make general recommendations on vaccinating children against COVID-19. WHO's Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) has concluded that the Pfizer/BionTech vaccine is suitable for use by people aged 12 years and above. Children aged between 12 and 15 who are at high risk may be offered this vaccine alongside other priority groups for vaccination. Vaccine trials for children are ongoing and WHO will update its recommendations when the evidence or epidemiological situation warrants a change in policy. It's important for children to continue to have the recommended childhood vaccines.
Update: on June 23, 2021 the section was further changed, removing the bolded title. It now reads:

Children and adolescents tend to have milder disease compared to adults, so unless they are part of a group at higher risk of severe COVID-19, it is less urgent to vaccinate them than older people, those with chronic health conditions and health workers.

More evidence is needed on the use of the different COVID-19 vaccines in children to be able to make general recommendations on vaccinating children against COVID-19.

WHO's Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) has concluded that the Pfizer/BionTech vaccine is suitable for use by people aged 12 years and above. Children aged between 12 and 15 who are at high risk may be offered this vaccine alongside other priority groups for vaccination. Vaccine trials for children are ongoing and WHO will update its recommendations when the evidence or epidemiological situation warrants a change in policy.

It's important for children to continue to have the recommended childhood vaccines.

As can be seen, WHO's advice is more nuanced than the Facebook post suggests. To be fair, the post may have been working off an older version of WHO's site, which can be seen here. At the time this fact check was written, June 22, 2021, the most up-to-date guidance from WHO says both that more evidence is needed and that most children are not the priority.

Last month, Kate O'Brien, director of the Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals at WHO, shared an editorial in The Washington Post that was written by two pediatricians and vaccine researchers, who called for COVID-19 vaccines to go to those most vulnerable -- not healthy children.

Its authors, Adam Finn and Richard Malley, stressed that they are in support of vaccines, but think the shots should be better prioritized, given limited supplies. They wrote:
The universal vaccination of healthy children 2 to 11 years old simply shouldn't be a priority and may ultimately prove unnecessary. The relatively small group of children at risk because of underlying medical conditions should of course be offered the coronavirus vaccines, once they have been established as safe and effective for that age group. For that reason, the pediatric vaccine trials should be completed, so that immunization would be available for especially vulnerable young children. Otherwise, those tens of millions of vaccines can be put to much better use elsewhere in fighting the pandemic.
As a final point, it's worth noting that WHO's advice on children and COVID-19 vaccines is different than the advice given by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Read the CDC guidance here. The U.S. agency recommends everyone ages 12 and up get the vaccine to help stem the spread of COVID-19.

Updates:

  • 2021-06-23T12:04:26Z 2021-06-23T12:04:26Z
    Updated with section from latest version of WHO page.

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.


  Dana Ford

Dana Ford is an Atlanta-based reporter and editor. She previously worked as a senior editor at Atlanta Magazine Custom Media and as a writer/ editor for CNN Digital. Ford has more than a decade of news experience, including several years spent working in Latin America.

Read more about or contact Dana Ford

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