Addressing 13 COVID-19 vaccine myths
Written by Tim Newman on January 29, 2021 — Fact checked by Yella Hewings-Martin, Ph.D.
Of all the modern medical interventions we have at our disposal, few have been victim to as much falsehood as vaccines. As the world battles a pandemic, stripping the truth from the lies is more urgent than ever.
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All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Visit our coronavirus hub and follow our live updates page for the most recent information on the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 2010 and 2015, vaccines prevented an estimated 10 million deaths.
Scientists have worked tirelessly to create safe and effective vaccines to protect us against SARS-CoV-2. Now, as many governments roll out COVID-19 vaccines, scientists and medical experts are facing a new challenge: misinformation and associated vaccine hesitancy.
Some anti-vaxxers — individuals who believe vaccines cause a range of medical ills — dedicate their entire lives to railing against vaccines. In reality, vaccines have saved lives of millions of people.
Vaccine hesitancy is nothing new and, in many ways, perfectly reasonable. For instance, misinformation about the vaccines’ safety and potential effects on the body is rife on the internet. Also, the COVID-19 vaccines were developed unusually swiftly and use relatively new technology.
In this article, we will tackle these concerns head on.
Today, a significant percentage of the United States population, and the world at large, are nervous to take a shot that could save their lives.
In this article, we tackle some of the most common myths associated with the COVID-19 vaccines. Although it will not convince dyed-in-the-wool anti-vaxxers, we hope that this information will prove useful for those who are hesitant. We will cover the following myths:
1. The vaccines are not safe, because they were developed so fast
It is true that scientists developed the COVID-19 vaccines faster than any other vaccine to date — under 1 year. The previous record breaker was the mumps vaccine, which was developed in 4 years.
There are a number of reasons the COVID-19 vaccines were developed more quickly, none of which reduces its safety profile.
For instance, scientists were not starting from scratch. Although SARS-CoV-2 was new to science, researchers have been studying coronaviruses for decades.
Also, because COVID-19 has touched every continent on earth, the process of vaccine development involved an unprecedented worldwide collaboration. And, while many scientific endeavors face funding difficulties, COVID-19 researchers received funding from a wide range of sponsors.
Another factor that slows vaccine development is recruiting volunteers. In the case of COVID-19, there was no shortage of people who wanted to help.
Also, under normal circumstances, clinical trials are run sequentially. But in this instance, scientists could run some trials simultaneously, which saved a great deal of time.
These factors and more meant that the vaccine could be developed swiftly without compromising safety.
In short: identifying the virus was quicker; we already had experience with similar pathogens; technology has moved on since the 1980s; every government on earth had a vested interest; and there were few financial restraints.
Anyone who is interested in learning more about how scientists developed the vaccines so quickly, Medical News Today recently published a feature on the topic.
Stay informed with live updates on the current COVID-19 outbreak and visit our coronavirus hub for more advice on prevention and treatment.
2. The vaccine will alter my DNA
Some COVID-19 vaccines, including the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, are based on messenger RNA (mRNA) technology. These vaccines work differently to traditional types of vaccine.
Classical vaccines introduce an inactivated pathogen or part of a pathogen to the body to “teach” it how to produce an immune response.
By contrast, an mRNA vaccine delivers the instructions for making a pathogen’s protein to our cells. Once the protein is created, the immune system responds to it, priming it to respond to future attacks by the same pathogen.
However, the mRNA does not hang around in the body, and it is not integrated into our DNA. Once it has provided the instructions, the cell breaks it down.
In fact, the mRNA will not even reach the cell’s nucleus, which is where our DNA is housed.
MNT recently published an explainer about mRNA vaccines that provides greater detail about how they work.
3. COVID-19 vaccines can give you COVID-19
The COVID-19 vaccines cannot give an individual COVID-19. Regardless of the type of vaccine, none contains the live virus. Any side effects, such as headache or chills, are due to the immune response and not an infection.
4. The vaccine contains a microchip
A YouGov poll conducted in the U.S. last year asked 1,640 people a range of questions about COVID-19. An incredible 28% of respondents believe that Bill Gates plans to use the COVID-19 vaccinations as a vehicle to implant microchips into the population.
According to some, this microchip will allow shadowy elites to track their every move. In reality, our mobile phones already complete that task effortlessly.
There is no evidence that any of the COVID-19 vaccines contains a microchip.
Although the specifics vary from conspiracy theory to conspiracy theory, some believe that the vaccine contains radio-frequency identification tags. These consist of a radio transponder, radio receiver, and transmitter. It is not possible to shrink these components to a size small enough to fit through the end of a needle.
5. COVID-19 vaccines can make you infertile
There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines impact fertility. Similarly, there is no evidence that they will endanger future pregnancies.
This rumor began because of a link between the spike protein that is coded by the mRNA-based vaccines and a protein called syncytin-1. Syncytin-1 is vital for the placenta to remain attached to the uterus during pregnancy.
However, although the spike protein does share a few amino acids in common with syncytin-1, they are not even nearly similar enough to confuse the immune system.
The rumor appears to have begun courtesy of Dr. Wolfgang Wodarg. In December of last year, he petitioned the European Medicines Agency to halt COVID-19 vaccine trials in the European Union. Among his concerns was the syncytin-1 “issue” mentioned above.
Dr. Wodarg has a history of skepticism toward vaccines and has downplayed the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Wodarg and the former vice president and chief scientist of Pfizer Inc. pharmaceuticals joined voices to make claims about the vaccine producing infertility, thus stoking widespread fears.
However, there is no evidence that any COVID-19 vaccine affects fertility.