This article originally appeared on BeMedWise. An up-to-date version can be found here.
The number of new COVID-19 cases in our country is increasing again. This is occurring almost entirely in unvaccinated individuals. Despite this, the vaccination rates are declining. One of the major deterrents to vaccination is the misinformation being spread by social media and some news outlets. This blog will identify and attempt to dispel some of the common myths about COVID-19 vaccines.
Myth #1 ─ They are dangerous because we don’t know enough about the side effects.
When it comes to vaccinations, over a century of experience has shown that side effects are almost always seen within the first two weeks after the immunization, and definitely by two months. Since there have been over 365,800,000 doses of the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccines given over the last 8½ months in the U.S alone, there is little likelihood that there are any unknown short or long-term side effects.
As far as being dangerous, the most important point about vaccine side effects is that they are usually minor compared to the complications of the disease. And even though there may be more serious side-effects, like a nerve disorder, blood vessel clots, and heart infections, they are rare, usually resolve, and far out-weigh the risks of the disease. For COVID infections, as of August 30 there have been 648,051 deaths (current mortality 1.6%), and many more cases of serious illness requiring hospitalization, prolonged COVID symptoms lasting 12 weeks or more (up to 50%), and severe long-term organ damage.
In general, you must be cautious about attributing side effects or complications to any form of treatment. As demonstrated by the symptoms manifested by people in clinical trials getting a placebo, we all have many symptoms or conditions at one time or another. It is important to recognize that for a symptom or side effect to be considered due to a treatment, it must happen significantly more often than it would normally occur in a given population. For example, there was a concern that Bell’s Palsy was a complication of the vaccine until it was determined that the rate of Bell’s Palsy after the vaccine was the same as in an unvaccinated population.
Like all vaccines, the coronavirus vaccines have side effects. Systemic side effects are common, but predominantly minor, and may include headache, fatigue, joint and muscle pain, and tenderness at the injection site. Rates include:
- 48% after the first dose and 62% after the second dose for the Pfizer vaccine;
- 74% after the first dose and 82% after the second dose for the Moderna vaccine; and
- 55% after the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Myth #2 ─ It is 100% effective so wearing a mask and social distancing aren’t needed.
While getting the COVID-19 vaccine significantly reduces your risk of becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), there is still a chance that you can get a COVID-19 infection, although it will be milder. This chance is higher with the Delta strain, which is the predominant form in the U.S right now. The only way to reduce this risk is for more people to get vaccinated and use other CDC recommended preventive measures.
It is important to remember that the maximum protection does not occur until two weeks after your final shot (one for Johnson & Johnson and the second for Pfizer and Moderna). However, those with weak immune systems or are otherwise immunocompromised may not develop full immunity and need a booster at some future date yet to be determined.
The vaccines primarily prevent severe illness and death from COVID-19. In fully vaccinated people it may also protect against mild infection. The effect of full vaccination on the rate of asymptomatic infection and the spread of the virus is being studied, but it is unknown at this time. However, real world experience supports significant reductions in transmission of the virus by fully vaccinated individuals.
If you are vaccinated but have unvaccinated individuals (such as children) or immunocompromised people living in your household, you may still want to take precautions such as face masks and social distancing indoors or avoiding crowded spaces to protect yourself and them. It is especially important to wear a mask if you are going into a crowded situation where there are likely to be unvaccinated people, even if it is outdoors.
Myth #3 ─ The vaccine is not needed if you already had COVID.
While there is some immunity after a COVID infection, it is quite variable among people, the duration is uncertain, and it doesn’t offer much protection from variants. The immunity from the vaccine is more effective at building immunity, lasts longer, and is effective against current variants.
Myth #4 ─ Young and healthy people are at low risk and don’t need it.
Now that so many older people are protected, hospitals are seeing more younger patients with serious COVID infections. Plus, they are not at a significantly lower risk for “Long COVID” syndrome either.
Even if young and healthy people have mild disease, they are still spreading COVID to other unvaccinated people — especially children under 12 years old and occasionally to vaccinated individuals.
Myth #5 ─ They were not fully FDA approved before they were used so they might not be effective and/or safe.
Many people are concerned that the emergency-use status indicates uncertainty about the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness. In reality, the emergency status designation is about timing, not safety and effectiveness.
The approval process for any medication is a long and red-tape-ridden process. The emergency status is a way of bypassing a lot of the red tape to make the medication/vaccines available as soon as it’s clear that they are safe and effective. It is not an indication of doubt. In fact, the COVID-19 vaccine development included Phase III clinical trials and met the same rigorous standards as all other vaccines used in the U.S. Its use is based on the recommendations and requirements of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).
There has also been concern about how rapidly the vaccines were developed. While the mRNA COVID vaccines were developed quickly, the technology that allowed this rapid development was developed specifically for this reason and has taken decades to develop. It will also allow for more timely development of flu shots.
Other contributing factors were a high level of coordination among various groups working with COVID and developing coronavirus vaccines, the large amount of resources devoted to the development, and the nature of the COVID infection that allowed trials to fill up quickly, such as widespread disease, high level of contagiousness, and the level of public awareness.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Pfizer vaccine on August 23, 2021, hopefully increasing confidence among those hesitant to get the vaccine.
Myth #6 ─ It’s possible to get COVID from the vaccine.
Since none of the vaccines contains a part of any type of coronavirus, an active infection is impossible. It may be possible to acquire COVID at a vaccination center to make it appear that way, but this is easily prevented if everyone is taking the appropriate precautionary measures.
A similar but equally inaccurate myth is that vaccines can be shed, i.e. vaccine components being released or discharged outside of the body and affecting others. This can only happen with live virus vaccines, which none of the COVID vaccines are.
It is also a myth that you have to worry about being restricted from activities due to a positive viral test for COVID-19 after vaccination. The vaccine does not contain active virus and will only result in increased coronavirus antibodies that will not affect the viral test.
Myth #7 ─ The choice to remain unvaccinated only affects you.
Refusing the COVID-19 vaccine impacts many people other than yourself including your loved ones, people you come in contact with, and even the country as a whole. When you choose not to be vaccinated you are a risk to others who are not vaccinated, as well many who are. It is also creating an increasing backlash of anger toward you as an unvaccinated individual.
When you assume being unvaccinated has no effect on vaccinated individuals you are incorrect for three reasons.
- Vaccines aren’t 100% effective, so you can still carry and spread the virus to your vaccinated loved ones and contacts that did not respond to the vaccine. This is especially true of any contact with compromised immune systems that do not respond as well to the vaccines.
- Not everyone who wants a vaccine can get one, such as people who are on cancer chemotherapy and children under 12 years old. These vulnerable Americans must count on others to get vaccinated.
- Remaining unvaccinated, or being part of a moderately-sized group of people who are also choosing to remain unvaccinated, allows the virus to continue to replicate. This creates mutations, such as the Delta variant which is causing 98.8% of new COVID cases. This may eventually result in variants that are completely resistant to the immunity induced by natural infection or immunization.
Finally, the pandemic will not end just because the vaccines exist and are being given to a lot of people. They have to be given to enough people to reach herd immunity. The percentage of the population that needs to be immunized to reach this increases as the variants become more contagious, like the Delta virus. This is because it takes a smaller number of viruses and less exposure time to catch the illness, much less than the 15 minutes for the original strain. Some experts even believe that herd immunity is no longer possible since the percentage of vaccination/infection rate needed for herd immunity is now higher than the protection rate of either the vaccine or the COVID infection.
It is important to point out that the same reasoning applies to the use of face masks and practicing social distancing.
Myth #8 ─ The vaccine affects fertility.
For something to be a complication it actually has to happen to even be associated with the potential cause. Although there have been many reports of heavy menstrual bleeding, there have been no reports of reduced fertility as a complication of a COVID vaccine. See Myth #1.
It’s all based on a rumor about the biochemistry of SARS-CoV-2 of all things. The rumor is that the coronavirus spike protein, which is mimicked when you get a vaccine, also mimics a protein on the surface of placental cells. So the myth is that when you’re making an immune response to the COVID-19 spike protein, you could also make a response to a placental protein resulting in reduced fertility. There is no actual biochemical evidence that this is true.
While there is no evidence of the vaccine affecting fertility in women, there is preliminary evidence that COVID-19 infection may cause fertility problems in men. This is based on a small study and requires more research.
The COVID-19 vaccines contain a tracking microchip.
The best way to address this myth is to look closely at the video on which it was based. It is clear from analyzing this video that it is a compilation of out-of-context or manipulated news and interview footage.
The only microchip involved, and the source of the rumor, is a proposed one that would be put on the syringe label containing vaccine authentication information and expiration dates, as well as to track syringes to see where they are used. The COVID-19 vaccine solutions do not contain microchips.
The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 mRNA vaccine alters DNA.
In our bodies, messenger RNA is created from DNA in the cell nucleus and enters the rest of the cell (cytoplasm) to create proteins to perform various functions. It is broken down after this and does not re-enter the nucleus to interact with DNA. The mRNA from the vaccine enters the cytoplasm, where it creates proteins that provide immunity to COVID, and is broken down without entering the nucleus.
Ingredients in the COVID-19 vaccine can cause you to become magnetic.
COVID-19 vaccines do not contain metallic or other ingredients that can produce an electromagnetic field at the site of your injection.
The only ingredients found in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are the COVID-19 mRNA for the spike protein, lipids (fats) that help deliver the mRNA into your cells, and a few other common ingredients that help maintain the pH and stability of the vaccine. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has no lipids and the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein is part of a recombinant, replication-incompetent adenovirus type 26.
COVID-19 vaccines were developed using eggs or fetal tissue.
Those with egg allergies do not need to worry about allergic reactions to the vaccines from egg protein, although other components may rarely result in an allergic reaction.
No fetal tissue was used in the development of any of the three COVID vaccines used in this country.
COVID-19 vaccines must be stored at extremely low temperatures because of preservatives in the vaccines.
Cold temperatures are required due to the fragility of mRNA and the lack of preservatives. If there were preservatives, the vaccines could be stored at higher temperatures.
The Bottom Line
The COVID pandemic will be with us for a long time if we continue on our current path. A major contributor to this is the large percentage of unvaccinated individuals, most of whom have declared that they are unlikely to get vaccinated, and widespread refusal to use face masks and social distancing when indoors in public settings.
It is most likely these myths about COVID-19 vaccinations that are the primary cause of this reluctance (notwithstanding those affected by inequality or lack of access). Therefore, we must find a way to educate everyone to dispel these myths and encourage them to get vaccinated. Only then can we approach herd immunity and potentially end the pandemic, at least here in the United States. Unfortunately, it is those who choose to remain unvaccinated and unmasked that are the hardest to convince.
Until such time that these people are vaccinated, children under 12 years old and our unvaccinated/partially vaccinated citizens will be susceptible to COVID and all of its associated complications, while many of our fully vaccinated citizens could get breakthrough infections.
The NeedyMeds website has a database of over 100 nationwide resources for those who have been impacted by COVID-19. For those looking for information on receiving a coronavirus vaccine, all adults and children over 12 years old can receive the vaccine free of charge. There may be options for children ages 12-18 to get vaccinated even if their parents don’t grant permission. Search online for your state’s requirements, area’s locations, and appointment availability.