CLAIM: The United Kingdom is banning anyone under the age of 50 from getting COVID-19 vaccines.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. While the country will stop widely providing the vaccine to those under 50 next month, anyone deemed to have a clinical need, such as those at risk of severe illness, as well as frontline healthcare workers and caregivers, will still be able to get the shot.
THE FACTS: Social media users are claiming the UK is prohibiting any and all people under the age of 50 from getting inoculated against COVID-19.
Many are sharing a story from a blog known for spreading COVID misinformation with a headline that reads: “U.K. Becomes Latest Country to Ban Covid Boosters for Under-50s.”
Several posts suggest the alleged ban is motivated by concerns about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy.
“When folks said ‘the science is settled’ I’m thinking it was not this particular science?! Someone help me here,” wrote an Instagram user who shared a screenshot of the false headline in a post that’s been liked more than 8,500 times as of Friday.
But the UK isn’t preventing anyone under the age of 50 from getting the shot if it’s medically necessary, stressed Shaun Whelan, a spokesperson for the UK Health Security Agency, which oversees public health and infectious disease response.
Nursing and care home staff, social workers, homecare givers and other frontline workers will also still be eligible for a COVID vaccine, as will anyone who lives with someone who is immunosuppressed, the agency said.
And the policy change isn’t a reflection of concerns about the safety of COVID vaccines, as some social media users claim, Whelan wrote in an email Thursday. It’s about using national healthcare resources effectively, as demand for vaccinations among those under the age of 50 is dropping off significantly.
“Definitely not being banned. That’s just nonsense,” Whelan wrote. “Completely misleading/inaccurate to say boosters are being banned.”
On Wednesday, UK Health Secretary Steve Barclay announced the country, on Feb. 12, will be ending a COVID vaccine booster campaign that launched last fall.
He said there will be another inoculation campaign in the fall — and one perhaps even sooner — but limited only to those deemed to have high risk of severe illness from COVID.
Health Minister Maria Caulfield, in a separate statement, encouraged anyone who hasn’t received a vaccination to do so before the February deadline.
“It will top up your immunity and keep you and your loved ones protected,” she said.
The more targeted approach means otherwise healthy young people and adults won’t be able to get COVID shots going forward, Whelan acknowledged. But if they move into a higher risk group — such as they develop cancer or diabetes or move into an older age bracket — they can qualify.
Sheena Cruickshank, an immunologist at the University of Manchester, agreed the new policy doesn’t amount to an outright ban, noting health officials have said they could revisit the move. She added there is no evidence COVID vaccines are not safe.
“The overwhelming evidence is they are safe and make a huge difference to whether you need to be hospitalised,” Cruickshank wrote in an email.
At the same time, she said she’s concerned about the change because it’s less than what the country does to combat the flu, even though COVID is still causing significant death and hospitalization.
“We do not know what this will mean in terms of their immunity and protection from the severe impacts of COVID, all of which are reduced by vaccination,” Cruickshank wrote.
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.
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