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Posts misrepresented a report from Israel on shingles cases

April 21, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Herpes, shingles may be a side effect of the COVID-19 vaccine.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Social media posts misrepresented a report from doctors in Israel. The report noted six people with rheumatoid arthritis and related disorders who developed shingles, also known as herpes zoster, after getting Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. The report did not establish a definite link between shingles and the vaccine. Shingles is caused by the reactivation of the virus that causes chickenpox in people who had the childhood disease. The chickenpox virus, varicella-zoster, is one of several herpes viruses. A different herpes virus causes cold sores and herpes.

THE FACTS: The report from researchers at the Tel Aviv Medical Center and Carmel Medical Center describes six mostly mild cases of shingles that occurred shortly after vaccination with one or two doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. The six cases were from among 491 women with rheumatoid arthritis or related disorders who received the vaccine.

The report was published last week in the journal Rheumatology.

Social media users subsequently posted misleading claims that the COVID-19 vaccine may cause herpes, a sexually transmitted infection. Wow, what’s next? Now they given people Herpes?” an Instagram user wrote.

In their report, the researchers said their report wasn’t designed to determine if the vaccine was triggering shingles, the numbers were too small, and people with rheumatoid arthritis who hadn’t been vaccinated weren’t included. Further monitoring is warranted, they wrote.

“Our report does not establish any causality or definite link but draws the attention to a possible association between mrna COVID-19 vaccine and herpes zoster,” Dr. Victoria Furer, lead author of the report and rheumatologist at the Tel Aviv Medical Center, told the AP in an email.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, said U.S. reporting on vaccine side effects hasn’t shown an increase in shingles among people who’ve gotten a COVID-19 vaccine.

Change can happen, but at the moment,” U.S. surveillance systems “do not indicate that shingles is occurring more frequently in the vaccinated than in the unvaccinated population,” he said.

Older people and those with weakened immune systems are at higher risk for shingles, Schaffner explained. While shingles can occur at any age, chances increase after age 50. The six cases were ages 36 to 61.

We have been emphasizing the vaccination of older adults,” Schaffner said. “That’s the very population in which shingles is the most common, and so you would expect some cases of shingles to occur after vaccination … because it’s going to occur anyway.”

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536