The COVID-19 vaccines now available from Pfizer and Moderna were developed as a defense against a deadly global virus. Now the vaccine itself needs some defense against misinformation becoming increasingly prevalent on social media.
Follow the facts. When in doubt, seek reputable medical sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local providers like Hartford HealthCare.
Here are five common vaccine myths:
1. The COVID-19 vaccine gives you . . . COVID-19.
The myth: If you feel healthy, you don’t need a vaccine.
Reality check: Measles and chickenpox vaccines use live, though weakened, viruses to elicit an immune response. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use a new technology known as messenger RNA (mRNA). Rather than delivering a virus, these vaccines contain part of the virus’ genetic information that helps your body’s cells produce a viral protein that stops COVID-19.
“When you get a vaccine,” says Dr. Virginia Bieluch, Chief of Infectious Diseases at The Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain “we often get a little bit of fever, a sore arm, some muscle aches – you may not feel well for a day or so – and that’s often attributed to a side effect of the vaccine. But it’s really your immune system working. And that’s good.”
2. The vaccine changes your DNA.
The myth: An mRNA vaccine will change your body’s DNA.
Reality check: This is what happens when people confuse RNA with DNA, the molecule that contains our unique genetic code. The mRNA vaccine does not contain DNA and is incapable of altering it. An mRNA vaccine delivers the virus’ genetic information so your body can form a response.
3. There’s a microchip in the vaccine!
The myth: The government and big business, with a push from Microsoft founder Bill Gates, have conspired to place a microchip in each vaccine as part of a broader citizen-surveillance scheme.
Reality check: That technology does not exist. And imagine if it did: Every vaccine developer would have to join the scheme. If you’re really worried about being tracked, throw away your cellphone.
4. The vaccine isn’t safe because it was developed so fast.
The myth: Vaccine makers cut corners to bring their product to market first.
Reality check: Moderna conceived the first COVID-19 vaccine within 48 hours of receiving the virus’ genomic sequence from Chinese scientists in January. That’s fast.
How fast? Operation Warp Speed wasn’t formed until May 15. But no corners were cut. Credit mRNA technology for this remarkable turnaround. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are the first developed using mRNA. Researchers were experimenting with mRNA as far back as 1990, when ribosomes of mice in University of Wisconsin laboratories responded to mRNA injections.
“There’s anxiety about how rapidly this has all taken place,” says Dr. Bieluch. “People are understandably concerned and I get it. We’ve never seen a vaccine developed this quickly.
“But we’ve heard from the pharmaceutical companies. They’re not interested in cutting corners and not interested in producing an unsafe vaccine. We all have to place our trust in them and assume they’re doing as good a job as they can as the experts in the area.”
In a few rare cases, people have had a severe allergic reaction to the Pfizer vaccine. The National Institutes of Health says it’s preparing a study, expected to last a few weeks, to determine what component of the vaccine causes the reaction.
5. The vaccine is worse than getting COVID-19.
The myth: Let COVID-19 run through the world until we establish herd immunity naturally.
Reality check: Herd immunity would require hundreds of millions of cases worldwide. That is a worst-case option. As it is, COVID-19 will likely become the world’s leading infectious disease killer in 2020, exceeding deaths from tuberculosis, malaria and HIV. Vaccination of most of the world’s population will be needed to help stop COVID-19.
“One of the concerns is about people in line for a two-shot vaccine,” says Dr. Bieluch. “They may get the first one and not want to get the second one because of what they thought was a side effect. I encourage people, don’t do that.”
Don’t believe the hysteria. Don’t be afraid of the COVID-19 vaccine. It is, no myth, a lifesaver.
If you’re 75 or older and wanted to schedule your COVID-19 vaccine, log into your MyChartPlus account and find a Hartford HealthCare vaccine clinic near you. If you don’t have a MyChartPlus account, set one up here.
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