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Jeff Cercone
By Jeff Cercone April 26, 2022

Social media posts twist facts about hepatitis outbreak in kids, Johnson & Johnson vaccines

If Your Time is short

  • An outbreak of hepatitis in children has sickened dozens of children in at least 11 countries.

  • Officials at the World Health Organization and the UK Health Security Agency said that COVID-19 vaccines are not a factor, as most of the children diagnosed with hepatitis are not vaccinated.

  • The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has not been approved for anyone under 18.

An outbreak of acute hepatitis with unknown origin has sickened dozens of children, most in Europe and North America. Now some on social media are falsely portraying its spread as a side effect of COVID-19 vaccines.

An Instagram post on April 22 shares a screenshot of a tweet that suggests the hepatitis outbreaks are related to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. It reads, "Until proper long term safety studies are done, it is every healthcare providers (sic) duty to assume it is related."

The tweet reads, "Kids are getting hepatitis. It’s being caused be (sic) an adenovirus. J&J had an adenovirus vector. Couldn’t possibly be related." 

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

At least one child has died and 17 have received liver transplants among the 169 cases in 11 countries involving children ages one month to 16 years old as of April 23. The vast majority of the cases are in the United Kingdom, according to the World Health Organization. It said adenovirus is a possible cause for the outbreak, but that investigations are ongoing.

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that can be caused by viruses, among other things, according to the CDC. Adenoviruses are common viruses that can cause a range of cold-like symptoms, the CDC said. It was detected in at least 74 of the hepatitis cases, the WHO said.

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an emergency alert on April 21 because of an outbreak involving nine children in Alabama. The agency urged doctors to test for adenovirus infection in hepatitis cases and report them.

The CDC did not respond to a request for comment.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a viral vector vaccine that uses an adenovirus, but it cannot replicate and make you sick, according to the Mayo Clinic. What’s more, it has not been administered to children — the vaccine is only approved for people 18 and older. 

Further, claims of a connection to any COVID-19 vaccines are not supported, the WHO said, because "the vast majority of affected children did not receive COVID-19 vaccination."

The UK Health Security Agency also said there is no link to a COVID-19 vaccine because none of the confirmed cases in the UK are known to be in patients who have been vaccinated. Most of the hepatitis cases there involve children under 5, they said. No vaccines have yet been approved for children under 5. 

Our ruling

An Instagram post alleges that a recent outbreak of hepatitis in children is related to the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

Health officials at the WHO and in the UK said there is no connection to any vaccine because most of the cases involved children who aren’t vaccinated. The J&J vaccine is not approved for anyone under 18, and children under 5 are not eligible for any available COVID-19 vaccine. We rate this claim False.

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Social media posts twist facts about hepatitis outbreak in kids, Johnson & Johnson vaccines

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