False: The Journal of Medical Ethics confirmed vaccines cause more harm than benefit in younger age groups.

By: Sam Doak
January 4 2023

Share Article: facebook logo twitter logo linkedin logo
False: The Journal of Medical Ethics confirmed vaccines cause more harm than benefit in younger age groups.


The Verdict False

The paper cited does not make this argument. The existing evidence shows mRNA vaccines to be safe and effective.

Claim ID 3561be34


In recent weeks, Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen has criticized COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Bridgen, who was suspended from Parliament for repeatedly breaching rules concerning paid lobbying and the declaration of financial interests, has often questioned the safety of vaccines both online and in the House of Commons.

Among a series of tweets on this topic in the last few weeks, Bridgen posted an excerpt of a paper published in the Journal of Medical Ethics concerning vaccine mandates in American universities. Communicating his interpretation of the paper's findings, Bridgen tweeted, "Now the BMJ's Journal of Medical Ethics confirm vaccine causes more harm than benefit to younger people. The roll out must be suspended and children must not be put at risk through these experimental mRNA treatments."

Shortly after posting this tweet, Bridgen was interviewed by Laurence Fox on GB News. In this interview, he told the former mayoral candidate that he wished to see constituents contact their MPs about vaccine-related harms.

In Fact

The article cited by Andrew Bridgen does not show that mRNA vaccines cause more harm than benefit in younger age groups, nor does it make this claim. Speaking to the Mail Online, a spokesperson from the Journal of Medical Ethics clarified that arguments presented in papers do not reflect the views of the journal itself, as is standard in academic publishing. They stated that "the views, analysis, and conclusions reached in its content belong to the authors, not the journal itself."

On the actual arguments put forward, the spokesperson clarified that "'the article develops an argument about the ethics of mandatory Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Covid vaccine booster doses in some American universities. It does not claim that Covid vaccines are unsafe, only that based on the available evidence, the risk-benefit ratio doesn't justify mandating booster shots in college students, in the authors' opinion." This is an important distinction, as weighing whether to require individuals to consent to vaccination is not the same exercise as determining whether they are safe or a net positive. Many vaccines, including those for the flu, are considered safe and effective but are not mandated. 

Responding to this paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics, a collection of high-ranking medical professionals from the universities Harvard, MIT, and Tufts have since raised concerns about the methodology employed in this paper. The primary issue raised by this group was that it only looks at hospitalizations when weighing the costs and benefits of vaccination. On this point, they stated, "hospitalizations averted is not the only marker of morbidity that is relevant to the college student population and given the rarity of severe disease requiring hospitalization in young, generally very healthy adults, hospitalization is not a good choice for a marker of COVID-19 related morbidity."

Following on from this point, their response notes that universities may have further reason for wishing students to get vaccinated beyond concerns relating to hospitalization. On this topic, they stated, "We have also strived to minimize the risk of missed classes, severe illness, and need for prolonged medical leaves of absence given the potential adverse academic consequences of illness for students."

The available evidence overwhelmingly points to COVID-19 vaccinations being a safe and effective means to mitigate risks associated with the disease. The Centers for Disease Control advises that "serious side effects that could cause a long-term health problem are extremely rare following any vaccination, including COVID-19 vaccination. The benefits of COVID-19 vaccination outweigh the known and potential risks."

The U.K.'s Office of National Statistics (ONS) published a study in March of 2022 on vaccine safety for young people. An ONS spokesperson told Logically, "We found no evidence in this study of increased risk of death (neither all cause nor cardiac-related) soon after vaccination."

They also said that their most recent data for age-standardized mortality rates shows that between February 2021 to July 2022, "the COVID-19 mortality rate for unvaccinated people is higher than that of vaccinated people (any dose) in all months, and this can be broken down further by dose, time since dose, age group and sex."

The Verdict

The Journal of Medical Ethics has not confirmed that mRNA vaccines cause more harm than benefit in younger age groups. The paper shared by Andrew Bridgen reflects the opinions of its authors, not the journal. Furthermore, it weighs the pros and cons of vaccine mandates in American Universities, not vaccination itself. Since its publication, concerns have been raised about its sole use of hospitalization as a measure of harm when COVID-19 has the potential to cause a range of adverse effects beyond this. To date, no research has surfaced that supports the argument that COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe in younger age groups. This claim has therefore been marked as false.

The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a lot of potentially dangerous misinformation. For reliable advice on COVID-19, including symptoms, prevention, and available treatment, please refer to the World Health Organization or your national healthcare authority.

Would you like to submit a claim to fact-check or contact our editorial team?

Global Fact-Checks Completed

We rely on information to make meaningful decisions that affect our lives, but the nature of the internet means that misinformation reaches more people faster than ever before