Have You Heard These Myths About the COVID-19 Vaccine?
These facts can help put your fears about the coronavirus shot to rest
From the weird and wacky to the downright dangerous, myths about the COVID-19 vaccine are all over the internet and social media. Even your own family and circle of friends may have been swayed. Do you yield to the fear? Not if you have the facts.
Here’s the most important fact of all, brought to you by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA): The available vaccines are safe and “remarkably effective,” preventing COVID in up to 95% of adults.
“The virus is frightening,” says Cathleen Morrow, M.D., chair of family medicine at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire. “And it’s only natural that people may be worried about the vaccine. But the more they know more about it, the more their fears are eased.
“It always helps my patients to learn that the COVID vaccine isn’t a virus that’s been chopped up and injected into you. Instead, it’s more like the instruction manual when you buy furniture at Ikea. It tells your body how to fight the disease. Understanding the science can make a big difference.”
Here are six common fears, and the facts you need to know.
Fear #1: The mRNA COVID vaccine will mess with your genes and change your DNA.
Fact: The Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines never enter the nucleus of your cells, where your DNA is stored. (DNA is the genetic code that determines your traits.) Instead, Dr. Morrow says, they’re made with messenger RNA (mRNA), which is another type of genetic material that carries instructions for cells to make certain proteins.
In this case, the mRNA in the vaccine tells your body how to make that spike-shaped protein you see on every coronavirus image. Once your cells start churning out their own spikes, your immune system springs into action.
“Your body is really smart,” explains Dr. Morrow. “When it sees that protein, it says, ‘I don’t like this,’ and proceeds to make antibodies to fight it.” Even though the spikes your body makes are completely harmless, they teach your body what to do if the real virus comes along. “So if you get exposed to the coronavirus, your body recognizes it and refuses to let it in.”
Bottom line: The mRNA has zero contact with your DNA, and once the instructions are delivered, your body disposes of it.
Fear #2: The vaccine isn’t safe because it was developed too quickly.
Fact: Although the drug companies Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna moved at lightning speed, they followed all necessary safety protocols while developing and testing their vaccines. And the FDA applied all its usual standards before giving approval.
“Just because the vaccines managed to get to market quickly doesn’t mean they aren’t safe,” says John Segreti, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “They were very rigorously tested on tens of thousands of people [nearly 44,000 for Pfizer’s vaccine and about 30,000 for Moderna’s]. That’s typical for vaccine trials. I’m very comfortable with the safety and efficacy of the vaccines.”
And while the COVID vaccine is the first one using messenger RNA, the technology has been here for about 30 years, Dr. Segreti says. Scientists were able to build on the work that had already been done.
Other factors helped move things along, too: “Manufacturing of the mRNA vaccine is easier to scale up than more traditional vaccines. That meant it could be produced faster.” he says. “The government and the private sector saw the urgent need and provided a lot of financial resources to make it happen.”
Fear #3: The vaccine has side effects that are worse than the virus itself.
Fact: The vaccine does not contain any of the live virus, so it can’t make you sick with COVID. Yes, some people do experience side effects. Most are mild to moderate, such as sore arm, fever, and muscle aches. They usually go away in a few days.
On very rare occasions, the vaccine has triggered severe adverse reactions; those are the ones you may have heard about on the news. There are two things to understand about these: First, every person was quickly treated and recovered. Second, the chance of it happening to you is exceedingly small. In fact, it’s about .001%, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
“The CDC reports that with the first 1.9 million doses of the vaccine, only 29 people had anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that can cause trouble breathing or swallowing, fast heartbeat, swelling, or other serious problems,” says Dr. Segreti. “That’s about the same number of people who get anaphylaxis from penicillin—and that’s considered rare.”
To make sure you’re okay, you’ll be monitored by a health care team for 15 minutes after your shot. That monitoring period is about 30 minutes for people who have a history of severe allergies to other things, like certain foods, medications, or bee stings.
One last detail: As of February, deaths from COVID-19 were nearing the half million mark. Reported deaths caused by the vaccines? Zero.
Fear #4: I already recovered from COVID, so I shouldn’t get the vaccine.
Fact. If you’ve already had COVID-19, you may have some immunity, but you might still be reinfected with the virus. “We don’t know how long your natural immunity lasts,” Dr. Segreti explains. “It’s possible that you may be able to get infected again and spread the virus, even if you don’t have any symptoms.”
One caution: If you have COVID, Dr. Segreti advises, wait until you’re completely recovered before getting your shot. If you were treated with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, you should also wait about 90 days after you’ve recovered.
Fear #5: The vaccine will cause infertility or miscarriage.
Fact: There’s not much data on the vaccines’ effect on pregnant women or their babies, but one thing is clear: Expectant mothers are at greater risk of becoming severely ill from COVID.
“There aren’t any studies yet that specifically looked at pregnancy,” Dr. Segreti says, “but there’s no evidence that the vaccine causes premature delivery or fetal death. But because women can potentially experience more serious disease, in my opinion, the overall benefit of the vaccine outweighs the risks.”
The same is true for nursing mothers, says Dr. Segreti. “There’s no evidence that the vaccine causes any problems, and potentially it can protect the baby because the immunoglobulin (a kind of antibody) in the milk is transferred to breastfeeding babies.”
There’s also no association between the vaccine and infertility. “Taking the vaccine is a decision each woman needs to make herself after talking it over with her doctor.”
Fear #6: The vaccine contains a microchip.
Fact: This is 100% not true. In December 2020, the two COVID-19 vaccines were approved by the FDA. They include things like messenger RNA and a variety of salts, fats, sugars, and acids. Total ingredients? About 10. That’s it. No tracking microchip from the government or Bill Gates. “I have no idea how a rumor like that got started, or why people would think that was true,” says Dr. Segreti. “It’s absolutely false. Besides, the vaccine needles are pretty small. I’m not sure how you could even insert a microchip through them.”
The information in this story is accurate as of press time and posting. To limit the spread of the coronavirus, it’s important to continue practicing social distancing (keeping at least 6 feet away from people outside your household) and washing your hands frequently. You should also be appropriately masked any time you’ll be in public. According to the CDC’s latest guidance, this means layering a disposable surgical mask underneath a snug-fitting cloth mask or placing a mask fitter over your cloth mask to ensure a tight fit. Because the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, we encourage readers to follow the news and recommendations for their own communities by using the resources from the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department.