Outdated WHO website guidance spurs vaccine misinformation
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Misleading information about vaccinating children is linked to old WHO advice

Michael Kaplin, 12, sits in the American Natural History Museum after receiving the Pfizer vaccine. (Reuters)

Outdated public health guidance about children and Covid-19 vaccines is being misleadingly passed off as a new development. In guidance posted April 8, the World Health Organization said that several Covid-19 vaccines are safe and effective for most people over 18, and that children “should not be vaccinated for the moment.”

This guidance had remained on the WHO website since that time, but resurfaced June 22 to advance false and misleading information, with the topic dominating vaccine-related Google searches in the US yesterday, according to Google Trends data.

Among those sharing that guidance are anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a nephew of former President John F. Kennedy. He shared a link to the blog from Children’s Health Defense, a group he founded and which has promoted false information about vaccines. Kennedy’s tweet was shared at least 1,200 times.

The misleading presentation of that guidance as a new development mirrors a past episode. In August 2020, disinformation actors falsely claimed that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “quietly updated” data on Covid-19-related deaths, when in fact the data had been publicly available for months.

On June 11, the WHO stated that vaccinating children was not a priority and that when there are limited supplies of the vaccine, other groups should come first. “So the reason that today in June 2021, WHO is saying that vaccinating children is not a priority is because children, though they can get infected with Covid-19 and they can transmit the infection to others, they are at much lower risk of getting severe disease compared to older adults,” WHO Chief Scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan said.

Today, the WHO updated its guidance to reflect that “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.” The guidance also says that more evidence is needed to make general recommendations on vaccinating children, and that WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts concluded that the Pfizer vaccine is suitable for people 12 and older.

The CDC currently recommends that everyone 12 and older get vaccinated against Covid-19; the Food and Drug Administration in May expanded its emergency use authorization for the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine to cover 12- to 15-year-olds. — First Draft staff


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