The Science of COVID-19: Coronavirus: Myths about COVID-19 vaccines debunked

Guyana, like the rest of the world, has begun vaccinating its population against COVID-19. Unfortunately, there are many rumours being spread, especially on social media, about the COVID-19 vaccines. This is creating too many vaccine skeptics, and is putting us all at risk of being stuck in the pandemic for longer than we should be. 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 COVID-19. Some persons, called “anti-vaxxers”, dedicate their entire lives to railing against vaccines, and are mostly behind the many myths that are being circulated about COVID-19 vaccines. Today, I will share some common myths being circulated about COVID-19 vaccines, so that you can be properly informed and help dispel these myths.

Dr Zulfikar Bux
Emergency Medicine Specialist,
Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation
Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine,
Vanderbilt Medical Center

Myth: The side effects of the COVID-19
vaccine are dangerous.
While the COVID-19 vaccine can have side effects, the vast majority are very short term and are not serious or dangerous. Some people experience pain where they were injected; body aches; headaches or fever lasting for a day or two. These are signs that the vaccine is working to stimulate your immune system. If you have allergies, especially severe ones that require you to be hospitalised, discuss the COVID-19 vaccine with your doctor, who can assess your risk and provide more information about if and how you can get vaccinated safely.
There has been recent evidence of rare blood clots in a small number of patients receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine. Experts have since advised that these are rare occurrences, and the benefits far outweigh the risks, and are advocating for its continued use. Thousands of Guyanese have already received this vaccine, and there has not been any reported case of blood clots associated with it.

Myth: The vaccine will alter my DNA.
These vaccines were designed using the RNA and DNA of the virus to create similar structures in the vaccines. These structures cannot alter our DNA in any shape or form. When our body detects them after being vaccinated, it produces antibodies that can be stored and deployed to effectively combat the SarsCov2 virus in the event we get exposed to it. It does not directly interact with our DNA in any way.

Myth: You can get COVID-19 from the vaccines
The COVID-19 vaccines cannot give an individual COVID-19. Regardless of the type of vaccine, none contains the live SarsCov2 virus. Any side effect, such as headache or chills, is due to the immune response, and not an infection.

Myth: The vaccine
contains a microchip
According to some, the vaccines were designed with a microchip inside, and will allow shadowy elites to track our 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, especially since each vaccine had undergone rigorous testing and analysis by many different international regulatory bodies.

Myth: 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 rumour 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 and cause abortions.

Myth: You should not take the vaccine if you’re breastfeeding
You and your breastfeeding baby need protection against COVID-19, like everyone else. You cannot get COVID-19, or give your baby COVID-19, by being vaccinated. The components of the vaccine are not known to harm breastfed infants. When you receive the vaccine, the small vaccine particles are used up by your muscle cells at the injection site, and thus are unlikely to get into breast milk. When a person gets vaccinated while breastfeeding, their immune system develops antibodies that protect against COVID-19. These antibodies can be passed through breast milk to the baby. Newborns of vaccinated mothers who breastfeed can benefit from these antibodies in the fight against COVID-19.

Myth: the COVID-19
vaccine was developed quickly, so it’s unsafe
Millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, and, thus far, it has been proven safe and effective. Although these vaccines were developed in record time, they would have gone through the same rigorous trials and authorisation process like every other vaccine, and would have met all safety standards. No step was skipped. The clinical trials and safety reviews actually took about the same amount of time as other vaccines. Scientists utilised existing technologies which saved most of the time that would have been needed to develop a vaccine from scratch. Also, this is the first time that there was such a worldwide focus and investment into the creation of a vaccine. Sufficient funding and collaboration meant that the process was also much more efficient.

Myth: I don’t need a
vaccine, since COVID-19 survival rate is high.
While the COVID-19 survival rate is high, the death rate is higher in the older population and those with other chronic illnesses. These people depend on others who are not as high risk to be vaccinated, so that the illness cannot spread to them.

We all have loved ones that are in the high-risk group, and we need to look out for them, and get vaccinated. Also, while the death rate is not high, the long-term effects of COVID-19 are devastating for many who have been infected. It ranges from damage to the lungs, kidneys and liver, to numerous issues associated with damage to the nervous system. Those with nervous system damage tend to be fearful, depressed, experience unrelenting pains, and get nightmares for no obvious reason.

Myth: Only the high-risk should be vaccinated
Regardless of your risk, you can still contract the infection and spread it to others; so, it’s important you get vaccinated. Once the vaccine is widely available, it’s recommended that as many eligible adults as possible get the vaccine. In addition, doctors are finding long term complications in those who are not high risk and had COVID-19.

Myth: I can move around without a mask once I’m vaccinated
Masking, handwashing and physical distancing remain necessary until a sufficient number of people are immune to the virus and cannot spread it to others. The best protection we can offer each other right now is to continue to follow current guidelines and mask up. As more people get vaccinated, experts will have a better idea of how long natural and vaccine immunity lasts. In any case, most of the vaccines require you to get two doses, and to wait about a month for your body to develop immunity.
COVID-19 can go away only if we all get vaccinated. Otherwise, we are stuck in this pandemic, and many more lives will be lost and negatively affected. Experts are advising that around 80% of the population needs to be vaccinated before we can bring this pandemic under control. I therefore encourage you to spread the word on the real facts of COVID-19 vaccine and help debunk the myths. You will be saving lives by doing this.

Article submitted
as part of the Ministry
of Health’s COVID-19
public information
and education programme.
For questions,
email [email protected]