COVID-19 Vaccination: Debunking the Myths

There are many myths surrounding the COVID-19 vaccination and the safety of it all. Given the vital importance of these vaccines to the health and safety of our community, we hope that providing factual information about these vaccines will help overcome these myths. Dr. Michael Newstein, Dr. Dost Sarpel, and Dr. Peter Smulowitz of Milford Regional Medical Center, as well as Dr. Elizabeth Siraco of Milford Regional Physician Group have the facts.

MYTH: The COVID-19 vaccine can affect women’s fertility or pregnancy

FACT: The COVID-19 vaccine will not affect fertility. The truth is that the COVID-19 vaccine encourages the body to create copies of the spike protein found on the coronavirus’s surface. This “teaches” the body’s immune system to fight the virus that has that specific spike protein on it. Confusion arose when a false report surfaced on social media, saying that the spike protein on this coronavirus was the same as another spike protein called syncitin-1 that is involved in the growth and attachment of the placenta during pregnancy. The false report said that getting the COVID-19 vaccine would cause a woman’s body to fight this different spike protein and affect her fertility. The two spike proteins are completely different and distinct, and getting the COVID-19 vaccine will not affect the fertility of women who are seeking to become pregnant, including through in vitro fertilization methods.

Preliminary studies on the safety of the mRNA vaccines among pregnant women (most of whom were front-line healthcare workers) did not show any signals that the vaccines are unsafe during pregnancy.* On the other hand, getting COVID-19 can have potentially serious impact on pregnancy and the mother’s health. Pregnant persons with COVID-19 are at increased risk for severe illness and death as compared with non-pregnant persons. Getting vaccinated is one of the key ways to help prevent this from happening, and is recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

*Shimabakuro TT, et al. Preliminary findings of mRNA Covid-19 Vaccine Safety in Pregnant Persons. N Engl J Med 2021;384:2273-82.

MYTH: If I’ve already had COVID-19, I don’t need a vaccine.

FACT: People who have gotten sick with COVID-19 will still benefit from getting vaccinated.

Due to the severe health risks associated with COVID-19 and the fact that re-infection with COVID-19 is possible, especially in light of the surge in the Delta variant, people should get a COVID-19 vaccine even if they have been sick with COVID-19 before. Evidence suggests natural immunity from COVID-19 may not last very long, and that immunity from the vaccine is more protective than the body’s natural immune response to infection. In fact, there is evidence that getting vaccinated after getting COVID-19 induces an especially high level of immunity.

MYTH: Researchers rushed the development of the COVID-19 vaccine, so its effectiveness and safety cannot be trusted.

FACT: Studies found that the two initial vaccines are both almost 100% effective at avoiding serious illness or death, and that they are remarkably safe. There are many reasons why the COVID-19 vaccines could be developed so quickly. Here are just a few:

• The COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna were created with a method that has been in development for years, so the companies could start the vaccine development process early in the pandemic. In addition, these two vaccines were created using messenger RNA (mRNA); the biology of these allow a faster approach than the traditional way that vaccines are made.

• The vaccine developers didn’t skip any testing steps, but conducted some of the steps on an overlapping schedule to gather data faster.

• Vaccine projects had plenty of resources, as governments invested in research and/or paid for vaccines in advance.

• Social media helped companies find and engage study volunteers, and many people were willing to help with COVID-19 vaccine research. The clinical trials were able to enroll large numbers of volunteers to get vaccinated enabling quicker trial results.

• Because COVID-19 is so contagious and widespread, it did not take long to see if the vaccine worked for the study volunteers who were vaccinated.

• Clinical trials for the COVID-19 vaccines were done with the same rigor applied to all vaccine trials, and the results were reviewed and approved by multiple independent advisory panels. Increased collaboration, use of new technology and more funding meant that vaccine developers could work quickly during this pandemic

• The initial tests of the vaccines involved tens of thousands of people, and now we have experience with several hundreds of millions of people getting the COVID-19 vaccines. They have proven remarkably safe.

MYTH: The technology used to make the COVID-19 vaccine is brand new.

FACT: The mRNA technology behind the new coronavirus vaccines has been in development for almost two decades. Vaccine makers created the technology to help them respond quickly to a new pandemic illness, such as COVID-19. The other vaccine platform uses a weakened adenovirus, which has been studied extensively for other vaccines.

MYTH: Getting the COVID-19 vaccine means I can stop wearing my mask and taking coronavirus precautions.

FACT: Individuals who get the COVID-19 vaccination still need to practice infection prevention precautions. Keep your mask on in public indoor places and even places where you cannot socially distance outdoors until further notice. Vaccines do not stop the coronavirus from entering your body; however, they do prevent you from becoming very ill or dying from COVID-19. It is now known that vaccinated people can transmit the virus even if they have no symptoms, though this is usually associated with large indoor gatherings among people not wearing masks

MYTH: Getting the COVID-19 vaccine gives you COVID-19.

FACT: The vaccine for COVID-19 cannot and will not give you COVID-19. The two authorized mRNA vaccines instruct your cells to reproduce a protein that is part of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which helps your body recognize and fight the virus if it comes along. The COVID-19 vaccine does not contain the SARS-CoV-2 virus, so you cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine. The protein that helps your immune system recognize and fight the virus does not cause infection of any sort.

MYTH: The side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine are dangerous.

FACT: The COVID-19 vaccine can have side effects, but the vast majority are very short term — not serious or dangerous. The vaccine developers report that 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 symptoms persist beyond two days, you should call your doctor. If you have allergies — especially severe ones that require you to carry an EpiPen — 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. We have learned that most vaccinated patients, even ones who have allergies, tolerate the vaccine very well.

MYTH: The COVID-19 vaccine enters your cells and changes your DNA.

FACT: The two COVID-19 vaccines available to us are designed to help your body’s immune system fight the coronavirus. The mRNA from two of the first types of COVID-19 vaccines does enter cells, but not the nucleus of the cells where DNA resides. The mRNA does its job to cause the cell to make protein to stimulate the immune system, and then it quickly breaks down — without affecting your DNA. The mRNA is like “an instruction manual for your immune system” and disappears after it tells your system how to make antibodies to the virus

MYTH: The COVID-19 vaccine was developed with or contains controversial substances.

FACT: The first two COVID-19 vaccines to be authorized by the FDA contain mRNA and other, normal vaccine ingredients, such as fats (which protect the mRNA), salts, as well as a small amount of sugar. These COVID-19 vaccines were not developed using fetal tissue, and they do not contain any material such as implants or tracking devices.

There is not a microchip in the vaccines. This false rumor started after comments about digital vaccine records. State electronic immunization records help patients and physicians track vaccines they have received. Another false claim was made about a company that has a version of its syringe that contains a microchip within the label that helps providers confirm a vaccine dose’s origin. The chip itself is not injected into the person getting the vaccine. There are simply no electronic components in the vaccines. The mRNA, lipids (fat bubble), salts and other stabilizing agents are routinely used in other medicines.

Receiving a COVID-19 vaccine also will not make you magnetic, including at the site of vaccination which is usually your arm. COVID-19 vaccines do not contain ingredients that can produce an electromagnetic field at the site of your injection. All COVID-19 vaccines are free from metals.

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