Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe? Not according to my kitchen-fitter. Last summer, we had a number of ‘spirited’ conversations about Coronavirus. He had strong opinions on what the Government weren’t telling us.
His intentions were genuine; he worried about misinformation. And the online forums and groups that were drawing him in were compounding these worries. Spending excessive time online and in forums is a common reaction COVID-19 anxiety but can actually make things worse, which I covered in an earlier blog.
So I wasn’t surprised when, a fortnight ago, he forwarded a video to me, making a number of terrifying claims that I knew were based on a poor understanding of the science.
I really don’t believe these theories develop out of malice. They are the product of misunderstanding and a poor communication of, what can be, quite complex science.
But it’s my hope here, to bust 7 of the biggest vaccine myths out there and to shine a light on the science. If just one person turns down the vaccine and becomes sick because of the misinformation that is being spread, that would be a tragedy.
If you prefer, you can also watch me dissect these myths in a Youtube video, here:
Myth 1: The COVID-19 vaccine was ‘rushed’ through and is not safe
No one rushed the safety checks. All that changed was the time taken between the safety checks.
Trials will usually go through 3 phases:
- Phase 1: testing on a handful of people to check it is safety.
- Phase 2: testing in more people to check it is effective.
- Phase 3: testing in thousands of people to show that a vaccine actually protects people.
Usually, the time between each phase agonising. It’s a process of writing applications, having them rejected, re-submitting them, recruiting people for the trials, gaining committee approvals etc etc.
All of this stuff has still happened. But with the global investment and political pressure, the paperwork and red tape hasn’t been a blocker.
The other big factor, is that for the Pfizer and the Oxford vaccine, the building blocks for the vaccine were already in place. Coronavirus is actually a family of viruses and scientists have been studying relatives of COVID-19 for decades.
Myth 2: the vaccine is only 8% effective in over 65s.
This is completely incorrect. This 8% claim came from a German newspaper that has not been able to substantiate the claim at all.
Research published in the international medical journal, the Lancet, has confirmed that the vaccine is just as effective in over 65s as younger patients.
In fact, it’s likely the newspaper misinterpreted the figures. 8% of participants in the trial were aged between 56 and 69 but this nothing to do with effectiveness.
Myth 3: vaccines contain aborted foetal cells
There are no foetal cells in the vaccine. Scientists will sometimes use human cells to develop a vaccine but will filter them out of the final product.
What’s more, these cells have never been part of a living creature, they come from a cell line. A cell line is a long line of copies of copies of copies of one original cell.
These cells have been copied so many thousands of times, that some lines go back to the 60s and 70s, where the original cells did come from an aborted foetus. But the cells that scientists use now are just very distant replicas of those original cells.
Myth 4: The COVID-19 vaccine can modify your DNA and is not safe
The vaccine does not interact with your DNA at all. Unlike traditional vaccines, the Pfizer vaccine uses messenger RNA, or mRNA, which is where the confusion comes from.
If our DNA is a cook book for making all parts of our body, mRNA is a photocopy of one of the pages, which our body takes down to the kitchen and rips up once its done cooking.
The Pfizer vaccine uses its own mRNA to tell our body to make a piece of protein that looks like COVID-19. It trains our immune system ready for the real thing.
And what about that mRNA? The body will always destroy mRNA once its done with it. mRNA will never hang around to interact with our DNA.
Myth 5: The vaccine affects women’s fertility
The vaccine has no negative effect on women’s fertility. There is no evidence of this whatsoever from any of the trials.
The vaccines work by training the body to recognise and respond to a “spike protein” which is on the outside of the COVID-19 virus. It’s been argued that because a very small part of the placenta has some resemblence to a small part of the spike protein, the immune system might confuse the two but this just isn’t going to happen.
If it did, we’d expect the same to happen when people catch actual COVID-19. But despite the millions of women who have been infected, there is no evidence that any of them have had more problems getting pregnant as a result. We can therefore be confident, that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe for women hoping to become pregnant.
Myth 6: If you don’t know your NHS number, you won’t get the vaccine
This is nonsense! Your name and date of birth is all you need.
If you also know your NHS number, great! Take it with you on vaccination day and you’ll make things easier for the clerk on the front desk.
But Vaccine Centres will never turn you away or criticise you for not bringing this number with you.
Myth 7: the government is expecting a high volume of COVID-19 vaccine adverse drug reactions and is seeking software to help them to track this.
This one is actually true. But an adverse drug reaction IS NOT the same as a side effect.
Whenever a new treatment is rolled out, it can be hard to tell the difference between a side effect, and an unrelated symptom that coincides with having the vaccine. So we have to record everything that happens after a vaccine, whether we think its related or not. This can help us find patterns and draw conclusions.
For example, true story, after my vaccination, I developed conjunctivitis in my right eye. Do I think the vaccine caused it? No! I just had a completely unrelated eye infection. But… if it turned out that 25% of people who had the vaccine also developed conjunctivitis in their right eye, that might be a different story.
So yes, there will be a lot of adverse drug reactions. Yes, most of these will be irrelevant and unrelated to the vaccine. Yes, the only way we can sort the wheat from the chaff is to record it all. This does not mean the COVID-19 vaccine is not safe. This is standard practice and nothing you should be be worried about.