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Covid-19 Vaccine: Debunking 10 harmful myths

What's the truth about the Covid-19 vaccines?

Throughout the pandemic, fake news has exploded online. Myths about coronavirus and vaccines have littered social media platforms and have unfortunately influenced opinions, sometimes throughout communities. If someone we trust shares a scary rumour over WhatsApp, it can be worrying and hard to challenge. When combined, these factors can make it hard to tell fact from fiction.

In this article, our Matron Cheryl Lythgoe looks at some of the most common myths about covid-19 vaccines and explains the truth. We also explore how you can talk to your loved ones if they’re hesitant about getting vaccinated.

Covid-19 myths - debunked

Myth 1: “The Covid vaccine was rushed and isn’t safe.”

“Rushed” implies that researchers weren’t following their usual rigorous standards and that corners are cut, but that isn’t the case. Rapid development and testing of vaccines isn’t common practice but that doesn’t mean to say it isn’t safe. Vaccine development is usually beset with the bureaucracy of process, funding issues, and waiting for panel dates. Due to the emergency situation, Covid vaccines haven’t been faced with these usual delays. 

The Covid-19 vaccine has had to meet all the expected robust clinical milestones with no safety shortcuts. No regulatory steps were omitted in the reported vaccine development. The independent medicines regulator (MHRA) have strict quality, safety, and effectiveness metrics that all medications (including vaccines) must pass prior to being administered. All the vaccines licensed within the UK have passed their stringent processes. Obviously, we do not have any long term data but currently these vaccines have been licensed as safe, effective and the best option to prevent infection and death.

Myth 2: “The vaccine affects your DNA.”

The types of vaccine that are licensed for use against Covid-19 do not interact with or alter your human genetic code (DNA). Messenger RNA (mRNA) is a small molecule that is made naturally by your cells, bacteria and viruses and provides a blueprint for protein manufacture. The Pfizer-Biotech and Moderna vaccines are based on mRNA which act as chemical negotiators within the body to provide it with a plan on how to develop an immune response against Covid-19. 

mRNA never enters the nucleus of the cell which is where our DNA is kept and therefore doesn’t interact with our DNA in any way. To genetically modify your DNA, you would need to insert a foreign DNA into the nucleus of a human cell and vaccines don’t have the capacity to do that. 

Myth 3: “The vaccine gives you Covid-19.”

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines uses a harmless virus that has been altered to replicate the Covid-19 virus to generate the immune response. None of the vaccines contain a live virus therefore they don’t contain any Covid 19-live strain. Vaccines do not give you the disease, instead they provide your body with the ability to recognise and fight the infection they are designed to protect against. 

Myth 4: “The vaccine won’t work against the new strains.”

All viruses mutate, that’s their normal strategy to survive. When we discuss the Covid-19 variants that refers to the versions of the virus that have undergone their natural mutation. Scientists and key clinicians currently expect the licensed vaccines available to protect against the existing known variants. Vaccine efficacy is continually being assessed and explored and we may find that the efficacy could lessen as more variants emerge over time. The ongoing research in vaccine development and efficacy will lead the way in how we manage ongoing immunity against existing and new strains. Early vaccination of the population will drastically cut virus spread and therefore reduce the presence of not only the original strain but also the new variants of that strain.   

Myth 5: “The vaccine causes severe side effects.”

All vaccines have the potential to cause side effects as they are engineering an immune response within your body. For most the vaccine causes mild side effects, like that of the seasonal flu vaccine. Most side effects resolve in a few days, and over the counter medications may ease that sore arm or slight temperature.  

Some people are known to have severe allergic responses to numerous things, and for those people any vaccination will be discussed and counselled on. Currently the MHRA has recommended that those with a history of significant allergic reactions should not have the Pfizer vaccine. The current data is telling us that eleven people in every million (or 0.0011%) will have a moderate to severe reaction. Severe allergic reactions have been found to occur within fifteen minutes of receiving the vaccine therefore most vaccination sites are asking recipients to wait to ensure their safety.

Myth 6: “I’ve been told that the vaccine contains pork/placental cells/eggs/alcohol.”

There have been many claims around the ingredients of the Covid-19 vaccine, from foetal cells to microchips, again many are based on fallacy not fact. The vaccine was originally developed through utilising replicated human kidney cells which have been filtered out of the final product. The claim around microchips refers to an interview with Bill Gates who stated that ‘we will have some digital certificates’. He was referring to the infrastructure for safe, home-based testing – not the vaccine. The vaccines also don’t contain any egg proteins so is safe to give to anyone with egg allergies. The British Islamic Medical Association have also recommended people who are eligible should have the vaccine as it doesn’t contain pork gelatine and negligible alcohol. 

Myth 7: “The vaccine can cause issues with fertility.”

Misinformation is appearing online, claiming that the antibodies produced by the spike proteins, which enable the virus to bind with host cells, of Covid-19 will bind to placental proteins preventing pregnancy.  This would be scientifically implausible but is yet another myth increasing anxiety and worry.  Antibodies to the spike protein have not been linked to infertility after Covid-19 infection. If following a natural Covid-19 infection the spike proteins did cause infertility or miscarriage, we would see trends in infertility, miscarriage, and stillbirth this has not been the case.

There is no evidence to suggest the vaccine affects fertility, which is thought to be secondary to the fact that the vaccine does not contain the live virus. Therefore, the current evidence suggests that it is thought not to increase the risk of infertility, miscarriage, still birth or congenital abnormalities; this was confirmed in a statement by the World Health Organisation. For those breastfeeding mums there is no evidence to suggest the vaccine puts your baby at risk through breastfeeding. The vaccine trials, as with most medication and vaccine trials, did not contain any children or pregnancy cohorts so the data available is post trial data.  

Myth 8: “If I’ve had my Covid-19 vaccine I don’t need to socially distance or wear a face mask.”

Even when you’ve had your vaccine it’s vitally important that we still adhere to the current guidelines.  Therefore, the hands, space, face advice is still relevant. The current licensed vaccines all have achieved a good level of efficacy at preventing severe illness which is what the trial protocol’s end goal was. It is not yet clear on their impact of transferability and immunity and further research will be able to evaluate this question. Remember – it’s still important to have the vaccine to prevent severe illness from Covid-19.

The existing rules also apply if you have any medical appointments. Please do ensure that you observe the hands, face, space advice and contact your medical facility for information on their latest process for seeing patients. 

Myth 9: “Delaying the second dose means I will lose any protection received in the first dose.”

Following the roll out of the vaccines a pragmatic decision was made by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) that it was a sensible balance between risking a slight decrease in first dose efficacy and mass vaccination. There is currently no evidence on the longevity of protection the first dose provides, but this is not thought to drop significantly, therefore it would be safer and more sensible to delay the second dose to enable more of the population to have a reasonable level of immunity. The public health decision was that it is far preferable to balance vaccinating twice the number of people with a slightly decreased level of protection than to vaccinate half that amount with only slightly greater protection.

Myth 10: “I don’t need the vaccine if I’ve already had Covid-19.”

It is not yet apparent what the natural immunity response level reached is, or for how long after infection someone has protection against Covid-19. The current evidence appears to suggest that contracting Covid-19 again is not common but as this is a new developing phenomenon, we still have lots of research to do.  It is still recommended, irrespective of your previous immunity response, to have the vaccine when offered. Those who are awaiting a Covid-19 test results, have just been diagnosed with Covid-19, or are still in isolation should delay their vaccination, the vaccinations centres will be able to advise on the current recommended timescales. 

How to talk to a vaccine hesitant loved one?

Vaccination is always a hotly debated topic for some, though the majority of the population strongly supporting the national rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine.

If you have a family member, loved one or friend who’s anxious about the vaccine, don’t provide pressure but rather provide support, fact-based information, and the ability to have an open non-judgmental discussion. Even if you don’t understand their thinking, remember that their fears and concerns are real to them. You can share the medical facts by passing on this article.

Unfortunately, we're unable to help members access a COVID-19 vaccine as this is a service being closely monitored and administered through the NHS. Our GP 24/7 helpline offers advice and support relating to COVID-19, but we're unable to offer any further help with regards to accessing vaccines.

Medically reviewed by Cheryl Lythgoe on 17th February 2021. Keep up-to-date with the latest guidelines on coronavirus at gov.uk