EXPLAINER: Busting 9 Covid-19 vaccine myths
MANILA, Philippines — Even though the Philippines is still waiting and gearing up for the arrival of Covid-19 doses from different manufacturers, there are already many rumors and myths about the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness.
These myths, which spread as fast as the Covid-19 itself, cause fear and worry for some Filipinos, as reflected in a survey conducted by Pulse Asia, which revealed that 47 percent of Filipinos said they do not want to be vaccinated due to safety concerns.
Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. last month has also talked about strengthening the government’s information drive to counter anti-vaxxers–people who disagree with the use of vaccines for various reasons–on social media.
In this piece, INQUIRER.net tries to debunk some of the common myths about Covid-19 vaccines with facts and explanations provided by medical experts.
One of the biggest myths about the Covid-19 vaccine is that the development was rushed. This raises questions about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.
According to Dr. Thaddeus Stappenbeck, Chairman of the Department of Inflammation and Immunity at Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute, the different pharmaceutical companies did not rush the development of their vaccines.
The vaccines undergo thorough clinical trials in several countries involving thousands of volunteers allowing the panel of vaccine experts to determine whether the vaccines are safe and effective against the Covid-19.
The Johns Hopkins Medicine, on the other hand, explained why the Covid-19 vaccines had been developed “quickly.” Among the reasons, they stated on their website were:
- “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.”
- “China isolated and shared genetic information about Covid-19 promptly, so scientists could start working on vaccines.”
- “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 paid for vaccines in advance.”
- “Some types of Covid-19 vaccines were created using messenger RNA (mRNA), which allows a faster approach than the traditional way vaccines are made.”
- “Social media helped companies find and engage study volunteers, and many were willing to help with Covid-19 vaccine research.”
- “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.”
- “Companies began making vaccines early in the process — even before FDA authorization — so some supplies were ready when authorization occurred.”
The U.S.-based nonprofit organization Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins Medicine, and Cleveland Clinic explained that the Covid-19 vaccines would not give a person Covid-19. The vaccines do not contain the SARS-CoV-2 or the virus that causes Covid-19.
While Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s vaccines use mRNA (messenger RNA), it is entirely harmless, according to researchers and medical experts.
“When the mRNA enters your cells, it instructs them to make a piece of the “spike” protein that’s present on the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. Those protein pieces don’t actually harm your body, but they do trigger your immune system to mount a response to fight them off,” said Dr. Stappenbeck.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the vaccines protect individuals against Covid-19.
“Covid-19 vaccination works by teaching your immune system how to recognize and fight the virus that causes Covid-19, and this protects you from getting sick with Covid-19,” CDC stated on its website.
However, Mayo Clinic said that a person can still get infected with the disease before or after few days of receiving vaccine doses.
“Keep in mind that it will take a few weeks for your body to build immunity after getting a Covid-19 vaccination. As a result, it’s possible that you could become infected with the virus that causes Covid-19 just before or after being vaccinated,” it clarified.
Those who got infected and recovered from the Covid-19 disease should still receive the vaccine. Experts from the CDC advises recovered patients to get the vaccine due to risks of re-infection.
“[Y]ou should be vaccinated regardless of whether you already had Covid-19. That’s because experts do not yet know how long you are protected from getting sick again after recovering from Covid-19. Even if you have already recovered from Covid-19, it is possible—although rare—that you could be infected with the virus that causes Covid-19 again,” the health institute said.
However, individuals treated with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma for Covid-19 should wait for at least 90 days before getting a jab of the vaccine. The CDC also recommended recovered Covid-19 patients consult their doctor before getting vaccinated.
The mRNA used in Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s vaccine will not change or alter a person’s DNA. It only enters cells to make a protein that triggers an immune response. However, it does not enter nor affect the nucleus of the cells where the DNA is located.
“[W]e’ve heard this rumor a lot. We have two vaccines now referred to as mRNA vaccines, and there’s no way that mRNA can turn into DNA. And there’s no way that mRNA can change the DNA of our human cells,” said Dr. Katherine O’Brien of the World Health Organization (WHO).
“What mRNA is, it’s the instructions to the body to make a protein. Most vaccines are developed by actually giving a protein or giving a small, tiny component of the germ we’re trying to vaccinate against. And this is a new approach where instead of giving that tiny little part, instead, we just give the instructions to our bodies to make that tiny little part and then our natural immune system responds to it,” O’Brien explained in a video uploaded by WHO.
A study conducted and published by Dr. Akiko Iwasaki, Waldemar von Zedtwitz Professor of Immunobiology at Yale School of Medicine, and Yale M.D. Ph.D student Alice Lu-Culligan quashed rumors linking Covid-19 vaccines with infertility.
Iwasaki and Culligan found that the vaccines will not affect or damage the placenta’s protein called syncytin-1. They also noted that there had been no official and scientific reports yet citing Covid-19 vaccines as a cause for infertility.
They stated that some women were still able to get pregnant after receiving jabs of Covid-19 vaccines — either after contracting the disease or during the clinical trials of the vaccines.
Their study similarly reflected Johns Hopkins Medicine’s opinion concerning the myth.
“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 syncytin-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,” experts from Johns Hopkins Medicine explained.
“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. During the Pfizer vaccine tests, 23 women volunteers involved in the study became pregnant, and the only one who suffered a pregnancy loss had not received the actual vaccine, but a placebo,” they added.
Still, while Covid-19 vaccines can not cause infertility, contracting the disease might pose a potentially serious impact on pregnancy and the mother’s health.
Last month, the Department of Health (DOH) reminded people still to keep their masks on and wear face shields after being vaccinated against Covid-19.
“We want to remind our people that the Covid-19 vaccine is not a magic pill. We still don’t have sufficient evidence to have that assurance that [people] won’t get infected [after being vaccinated],” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in an online briefing.
Likewise, John Hopkins Medicine said other preventive measures such as social distancing and frequent hand washing should still be observed after receiving the vaccines.
“Vaccines do not stop the coronavirus from entering your body; they only prevent you from developing moderate to severe Covid-19. It’s not yet clear if people vaccinated for Covid-19 can still carry and transmit the virus, even when they themselves don’t get sick.”
Dr. Stappenbeck detailed that receiving the first shot of the Covid-19 vaccine does not automatically make a person immune from the disease.
He added that it takes at least a week to 10 days for the body to develop antibodies after getting the vaccine.
According to the Philippine Society of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (PSAAI), those who have a history of allergic reactions that are not related to vaccines or injectable medications can get the Covid-19 vaccines.
This means that those who have allergic reactions to food, airborne allergens, insects, and latex rubbers can get vaccinated.
Meanwhile, those who have experienced immediate allergic reactions to any other vaccines should consult their allergist for further evaluation.
PSAAI noted that patients who will get shots of the vaccine must be observed for at least 30 minutes after vaccination.
Individuals who will show signs of an allergic reaction to the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine or any of the vaccine’s components such as polyethylene glycol (PEG) and polysorbate should not receive a second dose.
The Covid-19 vaccine may cause mild side effects. However, these are mostly short-term and not serious, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
“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.”
PSAAI said pain, redness, and swelling in the area where the vaccine was injected are some of the most common side effects of Covid-19 vaccines. This might also be accompanied by headache, fever, fatigue, chills, and muscle pain.
These symptoms can be relieved with paracetamol, pain reliever, putting cold compress at the injection site, and drinking plenty of fluids.
Meanwhile, the less common side effects include hives or swelling, coughing, sneezing, itchy nose and/or eyes, and red eyes. Experts at PSAAI recommend taking anti-allergy medicines and continuing maintenance medicine for asthma and allergic rhinitis.
Anaphylaxis, or difficulty in breathing, is a rare side effect according to PSAAI. Those who will experience this must receive 1 mg/ml of Epinephrine and visit their allergist.
Since the Covid-19 is caused by a virus and not a bacteria, WHO said that antibiotics can not be used as a cure or prevention for the disease. However, those who are or will be hospitalized for Covid-19 may receive antibiotics due to possible bacterial co-infection.
Vitamins and mineral supplements can not also be used as a treatment for Covid-19. It is also not allowed to be an alternative for the vaccine.
“Micronutrients, such as vitamins D and C and zinc, are critical for a well-functioning immune system and play a vital role in promoting health and nutritional well-being. There is currently no guidance on the use of micronutrient supplements as a treatment of Covid-19,” WHO said on its website.
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