That wasn’t new guidance, as that story suggested. That language had been used on the page since at least early April, according to archived versions of the page.
In North America, it wasn’t until May 5 that Canada authorized the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in children 12 to 15 years of age. Then the U.S. Food and Drug Administration followed with its own expanded authorization of the vaccine for that age group on May 10. (Canada and the U.S. had previously authorized use of the vaccine for people 16 and older in December 2020.)
The Strategic Advisory Group of Experts met May 27 to propose recommendations to the WHO on the use of COVID-19 vaccines, and SAGE’s interim guidance on the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines was released June 15.
As it relates to vaccines for children, the guidance documents for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines advise against use for individuals under age 18, as more information on those vaccines’ safety and efficacy in children is still needed.
However, the guidance document for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, or BNT162b2, said:
WHO interim guidance on the Pfizer–BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, June 15: For children and adolescents COVID-19 is rarely severe. Evidence suggests that adolescents, particularly older adolescents, are as likely to transmit SARS-CoV-2 as adults. WHO recommends that countries should consider using BNT162b2 in children aged 12 to 15 only when high vaccine coverage with 2 doses has been achieved in the high priority groups as identified in the WHO Prioritization Roadmap.
Children 12-15 years of age with comorbidities that put them at significantly higher risk of serious COVID-19 disease, alongside other high-risk groups, may be offered vaccination.
There are currently no efficacy or safety data for children below the age of 12 years. Until such data are available, individuals below 12 years of age should not be routinely vaccinated.
But those recommendations weren’t added to the WHO’s advice page until June 22, after social media posts based on the out-of-date guidance went viral.
So far, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is the only COVID-19 immunization authorized for children 12 and older in the U.S., although Moderna completed a trial and submitted its application for this age group to the Food and Drug Administration on June 10. Both companies are conducting additional trials in younger children as well.
Editor’s note: SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over our editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation. The goal of the project is to increase exposure to accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines, while decreasing the impact of misinformation.
World Health Organization. COVID-19 advice for the public: Getting vaccinated. Internet Archive Wayback Machine. Archived 25 Jun 2021.
World Health Organization. COVID-19 advice for the public: Getting vaccinated. Internet Archive Wayback Machine. Archived 21 Jun 2021.
World Health Organization. COVID-19 advice for the public: Getting vaccinated. Internet Archive Wayback Machine. Archived 8 Apr 2021.
McClorey Hackett, Karen. “The WHO Says Children Should Not Receive COVID-19 Vaccines.” Precision Vaccinations. 21 Jun 2021.
World Health Organization. “Interim recommendations for use of the Pfizer–BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, BNT162b2, under Emergency Use Listing.” Interim guidance. 15 Jun
World Health Organization. “Interim recommendations for use of the Moderna mRNA-1273 vaccine against COVID-19.” Interim guidance. 15 Jun 2021.
World Health Organization. “Interim recommendations for the use of the Janssen Ad26.COV2.S (COVID-19) vaccine.” Interim guidance. 15 Jun 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Key Things to Know about COVID-19 Vaccines. Cdc.gov. Accessed 25 Jun 2021.