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Fact check: Canada’s chief public health officer did not get Bell's palsy from COVID-19 vaccine

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The claim: Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, has developed Bell's palsy from a COVID-19 vaccine

Social media users are sharing an image that falsely claims one of Canada’s top health officials is experiencing serious side effects from the coronavirus vaccine.

The viral screenshotted tweet compares two photos of Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam. Both photos show Tam speaking, but in the right photo one side of her face appears to droop unevenly.

It reads, “It is going to be hard to propagandize the vaccine hesitant with such an obvious vaccine adverse event occurring in the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, Dr. Theresa Tam. Yes. Most certainly Bell’s Palsy… and clearly a recent development.”

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Bell’s palsy is a nerve condition that causes facial muscles to suddenly become weak or paralyzed. The condition is common among people with diabetes, influenza, colds and other conditions. It is rarely permanent and usually goes away within 6 months.

One Sept. 27 Facebook post with the image garnered 43 shares on its first day.

The same image and attached falsehood have spread on Twitter. On Sept. 11 one user replied to one of Tam’s tweets with the photo comparison.

However, Tam has not developed Bell’s palsy or any other adverse vaccine side effects. The photo is a misleading screengrab from a COVID-19 press event.

USA TODAY reached out to several posters for comment. The Twitter user that authored the screenshotted tweet could not be messaged.

Theresa Tam
Theresa Tam

Agency says Tam has not experienced any adverse events

Anna Maddison, a spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada, told USA TODAY Tam did not develop Bell’s palsy from the vaccine or anything else.

“Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, was fully vaccinated by late June 2021 and experienced no adverse events following either of her vaccine doses,” she said. “She did not develop and has never had Bell’s palsy.”

Maddison confirmed the unusual image of Tam was taken from a video of a Sept. 3 press event. She said the distortion was caused by a “digital malfunction.”

The full video shows Tam's face was moving and did not have any visible abnormalities.

During the press conference, Tam updated viewers on the latest epidemiological modeling and urged young Canadians to get the shot.

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“This is a crucial moment. We have a window of opportunity to rapidly accelerate vaccine uptake and close the protection gap in younger age groups with the lowest vaccine coverage,” she said.

Experts say Bell's palsy fears shouldn't deter vaccinations

Health experts have discussed a possible link between COVID-19 vaccinations and Bell’s palsy, but the correlation is contentious and all agree should not deter vaccinations.

The Food and Drug Administration has considered a possible tie between vaccines and Bell's palsy, since such cases occurred during clinical trials. But the frequency of Bell's palsy in trials was not "more than the rate expected in the general population," the CDC explained.

In August Reuters reported that one study found those who received the Sinovac Biotech COVID-19 vaccine had an increased risk of developing Bell’s palsy. The researchers for the study, which was published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal, stressed the risk should not deter vaccinations.

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"The beneficial and protective effects of the inactivated COVID-19 vaccine far outweigh the risk of this generally self-limiting adverse event," the study concluded.

The Sinovac vaccine is not yet approved in Canada or in the United States.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that Tam has developed Bell's palsy from a COVID-19 vaccine. A spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada told USA TODAY that Tam has not experienced Bell’s palsy or any other adverse side effects as a result of the COVID-19 vaccine. An image of Tam’s slightly drooping face is the result of a digital malfunction and video screengrab. Tam, who received her vaccination months ago, continues to advise eligible and unvaccinated Canadians to get the shot.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Canadian health official didn't experience vaccine reaction

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