COVID-19 Vaccine Myths

Vaccines save lives; fear endangers them.

Jeffrey Kluger

I got my COVID-19 vaccine today and I won’t lie, it was emotional. I feel immensely privileged and honored to be amongst the first in the world to be vaccinated, and the magnitude of the moment was overwhelming.

So many people have questions about the vaccine. I realized recently not only the staunch anti-vaxxers, but even my reasonable, level-headed friends and family have their doubts and fears. I am by no means an expert on vaccinations, but I am a (little) doctor which means I do know a bit more than your average Joe on Facebook (though he would disagree), and I feel some sort of obligation to educate those who want to be educated (those that don’t want to be educated needn’t read further). Knowledge should be shared, especially when it has the potential to save lives.

Below are some common myths doing the rounds on social media, and some concerns that my friends and family have raised.

Myth: The COVID-19 vaccines were developed too quickly and therefore can’t be safe.

I understand this concern. The discovery of a vaccine is a breakthrough moment in the pandemic. Its a big deal. It’s understandable that people would be worried that such a massive feat was achieved in less than a year. Surely it must be risky? Shortcuts had to have been taken? You can see it that way, but consider this: Every pharmaceutical company, vaccine developer, scientist and brilliant mind across the globe, the entire world, has been working on this at the same time. Every effort and urgency was directed into the development of a vaccine. It was prioritized as no other vaccine or medication has been before. Clinical trials were expedited and money was pumped into them. With this amount of energy behind a task, the timeline for success is bound to be accelerated. But no steps were skipped. Collective effort yields quick results.

Also, the technology that was used to develop the various vaccines is not new. Vaccines have been around for a while, the science behind them is very well understood, and the methods and techniques that have been used to develop them are pre-existing. We are living in the 21st century here. We communicate in real-time with people on the other side of the world; we fly across oceans 36000 feet in the air in metal containers (that’s crazy!); we are talking about self-driving cars in the near future – we are achieving a lot crazier things than making a vaccine quickly.

Myth: The vaccine is not that effective anyway.

The Johnson and Johnson vaccine that healthcare workers in South Africa are currently getting is 57% effective against moderate to severe COVID, in other words, the kind of COVID that puts you in bed for a few days and leaves you a little short of breath. This doesn’t sound like great odds. 50:50 is a gamble if you ask me. But it is 85% effective against severe COVID (the hospital admission kind) and 100% effective against death – not really a gamble anymore.

What about the variant? It’s true that the vaccines may be slightly less effective against the new variant but not much. The mutation in the virus is small and the vaccine produces quite a broad immune response – meaning your body will still be able to recognize the variant virus and fight against it. Also, the more chance the virus has to spread the more chance it has to mutate, therefore we need to continue to vaccinate as many people as we can to prevent any further mutations.

Myth: The vaccine can alter my DNA

As soon as we start talking about DNA people become wary – it sounds dodgy right? Well, some vaccines do contain mRNA, which is a kind of genetic material, that codes for a specific part of the virus that our immune systems can recognize and mount a response to. Think of it as a recipe for making protein. The mRNA is the recipe; it enters your cells and teaches them how to make viral protein (not the entire virus itself), which is then recognized by your immune system. However, this genetic material never enters the nucleas of your cells, which is where your own DNA is stored and protected, and as such, it cannot actually alter your DNA.

Myth: You can get COVID-19 from the vaccine.

None of the vaccines contains live coronavirus and therefore you cannot get COVID-19 (or test positive for it) from the vaccine itself. People have tested positive shortly after receiving the vaccine, however. This only means that they were infected by the actual virus either a few days before their vaccination or before the vaccine had started to work. Immunity is a process that takes about two weeks, and during that time you can easily become infected by the real virus.

Myth: The side effects of the vaccine are severe

In the clinical trials, one common side effect noted was injection site reactions (pain and inflammation at the site of injection). Others include body aches, fever, fatigue and headaches. While they are fairly common, they are short-lived and are actually a good thing – they indicate that your body is doing was it needs to be doing in order to fight the virus. In any viral illness, the symptoms you experience, such as fever, are not caused by the virus itself, but by your immune system doing its job. So a couple of days worth of mild side effects means the vaccine is working. Of course, as with any medication or vaccine (or peanut butter sandwich) the risk of more severe reactions does exist, especially allergic reactions – which is why those receiving the vaccine are monitored closely and doctors are on stand by should somebody react this way. Plus, there are a whole bunch of doctors and nurses getting the vaccine before you so we can give you a first-hand account of the side effects (It’s been 5.5 hours since my shot, so watch this space.)

There are of course a few other concerns that I have not mentioned, specifically those that tend toward microchip/government control/tracking device conspiracy theories but I’m leaving those out on purpose – they are really not worth my time, and the people who have those concerns should have stopped reading this post long ago. I focused only on the most reasonable fears; the ones that discerning minds might have, not the ridiculous.

I hope in some small way I have dispelled some misconceptions around the vaccine and eased some fears. I’ve included some links below because I believe in doing your own research and not taking my singular word as truth. I am by no means an expert, and I may have oversimplified in places (doctor readers, please excuse) so read more and learn more and be educated. Education is freedom and knowledge is power. The most beautiful thing about the information age is that we have access to so much more knowledge than we ever have before, and as a result, we really can make educated and informed decisions.

Finally, I’d like to say that I want the world to go back to normal just as badly as any other person. I want to go to a concert, travel, stay out past 11pm (not really), see people smile… And this is step one!

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/covid-19-vaccines-myth-versus-fact

https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2021/01/419691/covid-19-vaccine-fact-vs-fiction-expert-weighs-common-fears

I didn’t go into how vaccines are made but this video explains it nicely

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