After spending almost an entire year in lockdown, Americans have new hope of stopping the spread of Coronavirus. This hope comes in the form of vaccines produced by two companies, Pfizer and Moderna. The record-breaking speed of production has many skeptical about the efficacy and safety of the vaccines. Despite the efforts made by companies like Facebook and Twitter to limit the spread of misinformation, myths, rumors, and conspiracy theories are spreading like wildfire around social media platforms. With the combination of civil distrust and how quickly news can travel online, it is important to make sure correct information is being circulated. So let’s debunk the most common myths about the Covid-19 vaccines with facts backed up by science.
Myth: The vaccine was rushed and not properly tested.
Fact: Though both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were developed in record time, this speed did not compromise safety or efficacy. Things like volunteers, plenty of available resources, and running parallel trials contributed to speeding up the process without rushing or cutting corners. Normally it can take years to raise enough money, interest, and resources to develop a vaccine, but companies were able to do so in record time due the high demand for an end to the pandemic.
Neither Pfizer nor Moderna skipped or rushed trial phases. They did compress some phases by running trials in parallel instead of one after another. Moderna tested their vaccine on 30,400 volunteers and Pfizer tested on more than 43,000. The data from these trials have been reviewed by the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research team and their Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee. After reviewing all of the information, the FDA granted both vaccines Emergency Use Authorizations. The parameters for vaccine authorization have not been changed, meaning these vaccines passed by the same standards as all other vaccines authorized by the FDA.
Myth: Getting the vaccine means putting the Covid-19 virus into my bloodstream
Fact: While traditional vaccines for diseases like polio and the flu do use virus samples, this is not the case for the Covid-19 vaccines. These vaccines use mRNA, a genetic code that creates proteins that are similar to the virus. When they get released into your bloodstream, the body believes that these proteins are the virus and create the necessary antibodies to fight them off. These antibodies work against the real virus too and give the body the protection it needs. Since the vaccine uses essentially a decoy version of coronavirus, there is no way to get the virus from the vaccine.
Myth: Getting the vaccine will change my DNA
Fact: There is no way for the vaccine to change a person’s DNA. As the above point describes, the vaccine uses mRNA to instruct our bodies to create antibody proteins that fight the virus. The mRNA only interacts with our cells from outside of the nucleus, a protective bubble that protects our DNA, so it can never reach our DNA to alter it. The mRNA simply triggers a natural response in the body to help us build up our immunity to the virus.
Myth: The side effects of the vaccine are severe/worse than the virus itself
Fact: The trial participants’ most commonly reported side effects are all normal immune responses to any foreign materials in the body. Things like swelling at the injection site, soreness, fever, redness, and tenderness are common reactions to any vaccine and can vary from person to person. These symptoms are usually mild if present and go away after a day or two. More severe versions of these symptoms were rarely reported in both trials (8.8% for Pfizer and 0.2%-9.7% for Moderna). These severe symptoms also went away after a couple days. Whether mild or severe, the CDC advises not to worry about flu-like symptoms as long as they go away after a day or two.
Myth: The vaccine causes Bell’s Palsy (facial paralysis)
Fact: The origin of this myth is a viral YouTube video and Facebook post made by a woman named Khalila Mitchell. Mitchell claimed to be a nurse who developed Bell’s Palsy after getting the vaccine. PolotiFact reporter Daniel Funke, found that there were no records of any nurses with that name at the hospital she claimed to work at, or anywhere else he could find.
This myth probably gained so much momentum because the FDA-released Moderna vaccine data, revealed that four participants reported Bell’s Palsy after getting the vaccine. Three of these individuals were in the trial group and one was in the placebo group. In order for a reported symptom to be considered a viable side effect, it needs to have a strong enough correlation in the trial group and not in the placebo group. In the trial only .0197% of participants developed Bell’s Palsy, which is very similar to the national average rate (.023%). This means that there is no demonstrated correlation between getting the vaccine and developing facial paralysis.
Myth: Once I get the vaccine I won’t need to wear a mask/the pandemic will be over.
Fact: The CDC still recommends that people who have been vaccinated wear a mask when in contact with others outside the household. Experts are still learning the extent of the protections offered by the vaccine and encourage us to utilize all tools we have to stay safe. Unfortunately this means continuing to wear masks, limiting large gatherings, and social distancing for the meantime.
Myth: I don’t need the vaccine because I’ve already recovered from Covid-19
Fact: Once someone recovers from an infection, they develop what is known as natural immunity. The length and efficacy of this immunity varies from person to person and is different for different diseases. Since Covid-19 is a new disease, experts are not yet sure how long natural immunity to Covid-19 lasts. Therefore getting the vaccine is important for staying immune even if you already have natural immunity.
The Bottom Line:
2020 was a year that challenged us in both unprecedented and unfortunately familiar ways. A public health crisis combined with civil unrest and political change has put everyone in uncomfortable positions this year. It is no surprise that one result of 2020’s madness is a sense of paranoia and distrust in authority. Whatever perspective you have, it is natural to be skeptical at a time like this. This is why, now more than ever, it is important to be fact-checking information and uncovering biases everywhere. In a time where health is political, misinformation can be lethal.