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5 Myths About the Coronavirus Vaccine

The new coronavirus vaccine has already begun its rollout here in Florida, with healthcare workers being given priority with the limited supply. But in the coming months, it will gradually be available to all. In the meantime, however, our family practice doctors are concerned about the flood of false information concerning the vaccine. We address some of the most extreme myths floating around on the Internet and social media.

Myth #1: You can get COVID-19 from the vaccine.

Fact: There is no live or dead piece of the virus in either of the vaccines being distributed. The vaccine uses “messenger RNA” to draw a picture of what the virus looks like. This allows the body’s immune system to recognize it and mount a defense (known as “sero-conversion”) when it encounters the actual coronavirus.

This myth appears to have arisen because some vaccines—measles, mumps, and chickenpox, for example—do contain live, weakened viruses to teach the body how to fight them.

“These [coronavirus] vaccines don’t have anything to do with the virus,” Dr. Emily Landon, an infectious disease expert at the University of Chicago Medicine, told the Chicago Tribune. “There’s no virus involved in the process of doing this at all, which is why it can be made so much faster [than traditional vaccines].” The older-style vaccines must be incubated for months, as in the case of the flu vaccines, most of which are grown in chicken eggs.

Like the flu vaccine, it takes several weeks for your body to develop enough antibodies to fight off the virus. So if someone is exposed to the coronavirus shortly after receiving the injection, they may still get COVID-19 and think the vaccine caused it.

Myth #2: The vaccine isn’t safe because it was developed too fast.

Fact: Part of the reason the vaccine was able to be developed so quickly was because the Chinese sequenced the genome and released it to the public in January of last year. This gave pharmaceutical manufacturers a head start on vaccine development.

Another reason is, as we noted above, the vaccine was not developed in the traditional way.

“Vaccine-making typically takes several years,” Dr. Roshni Mathew, pediatric infectious diseases physician and the associate medical director for infection and prevention and control at Stanford Children’s Health, told CNET.

“In the case of COVID-19 vaccines, several steps that typically occur in sequence occurred in parallel. The safety and efficacy safeguards, however, are still in place and vaccines will not be approved for civilian use until they meet all the required standards,” Mathew said.

Myth #3: The “messenger RNA” (mRNA) vaccines can alter your DNA.

Fact: In short, mRNA and DNA are two entirely different molecules, and will never interact with each other. So the mRNA never enters the nucleus of your cells where the DNA resides, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

In addition, once the cells understand the instructions from the mRNA vaccines (to create a “picture” of the spiked coronavirus so the immune system can recognize and fight it), they then destroy the mRNA.

“Genetic modification would involve the deliberate insertion of DNA into the nucleus of a human cell, and vaccines simply don’t do that,” Mark Lynas, a visiting fellow at Cornell University’s Alliance for Science group, told Reuters.

Myth #4: The vaccine contains a microchip the government will use to track you.

Fact: No it doesn’t. This myth arose from a comment made by Microsoft founder Bill Gates. He mused about the possibility of creating “digital vaccine certificates” to track who had and hadn’t received the vaccine.

The fact is, such technology doesn’t exist. The syringes themselves contain a radio frequency identification (RFID) device to track when and where the vaccine was administered. But the RFID chip cannot be injected into the body.

“If someone [who believes in this theory] has a phone in their hand, I would say you’re being tracked right now,” Thomas Hope, a COVID-19 researcher and professor of cell and developmental biology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told the Tribune. “Why would someone else have to do it?”

Myth #5: If you’ve had and recovered from COVID-19, you don’t need to be vaccinated.

Fact: This one is less clear-cut, because we still don’t know how long immunity lasts after recovery from COVID-19. Early indications are that antibodies are still present in the body for at least three months. But the science is less certain after that.

As for the vaccine, the period of immunity is also unknown at this point. So for now, “we should think about [the vaccine] as maybe in the same zone as a tetanus shot, where you might need a booster every few years,” National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins, M.D., said in a recent AARP tele-town hall. “If we’re lucky, it would be like measles, where once you’re immune, you’re immune for life, but that would be really lucky,” he added.

If you hear something scary about the vaccines, or have any questions about them, please feel free to check with us. These vaccines are too important, not only to our public health but also to helping bring an end to the pandemic, to have the initiative fail because of unsubstantiated rumors.

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