News travels fast, and misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine is easy to come by. Conspiracy theories and anti-vax propaganda have aggressively spread falsehoods about the vaccine through social media channels – making it hard to determine fact from fiction. As a result, many people have become confused, scared, and untrusting of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Vaccination is our best weapon to bring the COVID pandemic to an end. In this blog, I’ll set the record straight and explain what’s true and what’s false about the COVID-19 vaccine.
COVID-19 Vaccine Myths
Myth 1: “I don’t trust the vaccine. There’s not enough science behind it.”
Fact: The COVID-19 vaccine was developed rapidly due to the emergent nature of the pandemic, and it was released under emergency authorized use by the FDA. However, that does not mean that the vaccine skipped safety protocols or was not tested.
In fact, mRNA vaccines (like the COVID-19 vaccine) have been studied for decades. This research laid the groundwork for the COVID-19 vaccine. So, the technology used in the COVID-19 vaccine was not new or developed specifically for the pandemic – it already existed.
The COVID-19 vaccine has also gone through the same clinical study protocols as all other vaccines. No regulatory steps were skipped. The initial Pfizer vaccine study included about 43,000 people, while the Moderna clinical trial studied approximately 30,000 people. The safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine continues to be monitored through ongoing studies.
Myth 2: “I already had COVID-19, so I’m immune. I don’t need the vaccine.”
Fact: We still don’t know exactly how long immunity lasts after contracting COVID-19. However, we do know reinfection is possible. In some cases, people who got COVID a second time were sicker than they were during the first infection. Rather than get sick again (and not know how the virus will affect you a second time), it’s safer to get the vaccine.
New strains of COVID-19 are also popping up around the world, and in the United States. Natural immunity will not protect you from these variants. However, scientists believe that vaccination will provide you with some level of protection because the variants are not yet different enough to make the vaccine ineffective.
Myth 3: “If I get vaccinated, I can stop wearing masks.”
Fact: This is partly true, and partly false. The truth is that the CDC has stated it’s safe for fully vaccinated people to be maskless in a home or private setting if:
- Others in that setting are fully vaccinated
- Others in that setting are not fully vaccinated, but are of the same household and aren’t at risk for severe illness.
However, we are still learning about COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccine. Right now, there’s not enough data to know if you can spread COVID-19 to others after being vaccinated: So far, data suggest that people who are vaccinated are far less likely to spread the virus, but this hasn’t yet been definitively proven. Until this is better understood, keeping physical distance and wearing your mask will continue to be important.
We also know there have been “breakthrough” cases of COVID-19 in people who received their shots, which means that it is possible (although rare) to get sick with the virus after being vaccinated. For this reason, it’s better to be safe than sorry and wear your mask if you’re around others.
Myth 4: “The COVID-19 vaccine causes infertility.”
Fact: None of the COVID-19 vaccines have been linked to infertility or miscarriage. This myth is a prime example of misinformation that circulated online as part of a sophisticated disinformation campaign believed to have been created by a groups with anti-vax views.
The claim focused on the placenta – stating that the antibodies created by the COVID-19 vaccine would adversely react with a protein that’s made in the placenta, resulting in miscarriage or infertility. The truth is that these two proteins are completely different, and there is no scientific link to back this claim.
Myth 5: “I’m pregnant. The vaccine isn’t safe for pregnant women.”
Fact: There is limited data on the COVID-19 vaccine in pregnant women. This is typical, since most clinical studies exclude pregnant women out of an abundance of caution. But the FDA does collect data on individuals who were vaccinated shortly before and during pregnancy, and the data do not identify any safety concerns for pregnant women or their babies.
Conversely, there IS data showing that contracting COVID in pregnancy can be dangerous for both moms and babies. Pregnant women are at increased risk for severe illness when compared to women who are not pregnant. That’s why the CDC recommends pregnant women talk to their doctor about getting the shot and recommends COVID vaccination even for moms who are nursing.
Myth 6: “The COVID-19 vaccine alters your DNA.”
Fact: The vaccine does not interact with or alter your DNA in any way. The COVID-19 vaccines currently available are messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines – like Pfizer and Moderna – and viral vectored vaccines (like Johnson & Johnson).
- mRNA vaccines: These vaccines teach your body how to make a specific protein that is unique to COVID-19. This protein triggers an immune response in your body, teaching it to recognize and attack the real virus. Once your body has read the vaccine “instructions,” it gets rid of the mRNA.
- Viral vectored vaccines: Vaccines like the Johnson & Johnson vaccine contain a harmless type of common virus, called an adenovirus, that has been engineered to carry the genetic code for the SARS-2 spike protein. This is another way your body can learn the instructions for combating COVID-19. This type of vaccine was also used to make the Ebola vaccine that has been authorized for use by the European Medicines Agency.
For the record, I eagerly got vaccinated back in January. Since then, my wife and children have signed up as soon as they were eligible. Getting vaccinated is the right thing to do—not just for yourself, but for the people around you.