Despite Malta’s successful vaccination rate against Covid-19, and the wealth of reliable information at our fingertips, myths about the Covid-19 vaccine keep infiltrating social media chats and comment boards.
On the whole, a lot of disinformation related to the pandemic, which is having devastating effects in countries like the US, has largely bypassed the island’s social media chatter. Nonetheless, misleading information is gaining traction.
The most recent example is the interview of Jean Karl Soler to the Times of Malta on Monday where he makes numerous dubious claims about Covid-19 and about the vaccine. Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci had reported Soler to the Medical Council over his comments criticising the timing of lockdowns, the use of face masks in public spaces and the universal vaccination of healthy young people.
Below are five of the most common reasons individuals are sceptical about the Covid-19 vaccine.
The Covid-19 vaccines have not been tested enough, not been fully approved
This statement includes claims that the Covid-19 vaccine trials have not yet been completed and so the results cannot be peer-reviewed, and that the vaccines have not yet been fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA – the US) and the European Medical Agency (EMA – EU).
The speed with which the Covid-19 vaccines were developed and distributed has nothing to do with cutting corners but was made possible thanks to unprecedented levels of cooperation between governments, private industry, and NGOs to come up with an effective, safe vaccine that was backed by enormous financial commitments in order to develop them.
It may feel like the Covid-19 vaccine appeared out of nowhere, but researchers were able to build on a wealth of past scientific evidence including studies of other coronaviruses and on the production of vaccines. Scientists have also been studying and working with mRNA for decades and clinical trials have been carried out or are ongoing on mRNA vaccines for influenza, cytomegalovirus, HIV-1, rabies, and Zika virus. Beyond vaccines, cancer research has used mRNA to trigger the immune system to target specific cancer cells.
All the Covid-19 vaccines being administered were granted Emergency Use Authorisation by the FDA and Conditional Marketing Authorisation by the EMA and have been through all the normal phases of vaccine testing, including animal and human studies. The results of different clinical trials have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals including the New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet.
The data on long term protection and safety will continue to be collected over the coming years (allowing up to two years of follow-up on participants). This is why the completion date for the clinical trials has to be a few years in the future.
This is also the reason the vaccines have not yet been fully approved by regulatory agencies such as the FDA and EMA. In short, not enough time has passed to show how long the vaccines remain effective so regulatory agencies such as the FDA want to review more data covering a longer period of time before granting full approval. If anything, this should be a testament to how rigorously these agencies are monitoring the Covid-19 vaccine data.
The mRNA vaccines will alter your DNA
While a conventional vaccine uses a weakened or inactivated version of whatever pathogen it aims to protect against in order to trigger an immune response, the Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna use messenger RNA technology (mRNA).
mRNA vaccines work by introducing an mRNA molecule into the body which instructs cells to build a disease-specific antigen. The antigen is then recognised by the immune system which produces antibodies to fight the real thing.
One can think of it as an instruction manual for our cells to create the spike proteins of the novel coronavirus. This allows our immune systems to build antibodies to fight against future infection, without needing to use the live virus that causes Covid-19. Moreover, it is just a temporary message because the cell breaks down and gets rid of the mRNA after it is finished using those instructions.
The introduction of mRNA into human cells does not change the DNA of the human cells and if these cells replicate, the mRNA would not be incorporated into the new cells’ genetic information. So no, the vaccine can’t damage or alter your DNA and it does not “wrap” itself around anything in the body.
We don’t know what’s in them
We do know what is in the four types of Covid-19 vaccines just like we know that there are no foetal tissues, no heavy metals, no microchips, no implants or tracking devices and neither are the vaccines a placebo. It is quite unbelievable that these things need spelling out, yet here we are.
The vaccine has serious side-effects
Two vaccines – the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the US and the AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe – have been linked to an increased chance of a rare type of blood clot and although researchers and regulators stress that the benefits of the vaccines outweigh the risks, several countries restricted the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine to certain age groups, and Denmark opted out of using it altogether. J&J, meanwhile, paused the distribution of its vaccine to some countries. Understandably, this created confusion and fear.
As of 24 April, out of the 8 million people vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the US, about 16 people had developed these blood clots. Similarly, the number of reported blood clots related to the AstraZeneca vaccine worldwide compared to the doses administered remains extremely small.
Ultimately, there will always be the risk of serious side effects, even in the most common medications. This is why there are pharmacovigilance officers that collect, monitor and assess information from healthcare providers and patients on the adverse effects of medications to make sure that drugs on the market are safe.
The result? Even the sheet of paper from inside a box of paracetamol will list the possible side effects, some of which may be serious, but they cannot compare to the immense benefits of paracetamol.
Still, you cannot tell me what to do
In Malta, people cannot be forced to take the vaccine but there is a growing debate about whether employers can ask unvaccinated personnel to take weekly tests and while there are genuine considerations about the extent to which vaccines can be made ‘mandatory’.
Yet, making comparisons between vaccine passports or proposed vaccine requirements to oppressed groups, and any references to the treatment of Jews by the Nazi doctors is morally grotesque.
Moreover, those claiming that their choice not to get the vaccine doesn’t affect anyone make a number of false assumptions. They assume that vaccinated individuals cannot get infected (and no, just because vaccinated people might get sick does not mean you should avoid the vaccine). They also assume that those who want the vaccine can simply get one, without considering that there may be individuals who cannot be vaccinated such as cancer patients or young children.
The majority of hospitalisations and deaths in countries like the US are now among unvaccinated individuals. By not being vaccinated or being part of a group of people who are choosing not to get the vaccine, you’re allowing the virus to continue to replicate.
When it’s allowed to continue to replicate, it will create mutations over time to adapt to their environment and improve their survival, which could then create variants that are completely resistant to the immunity created by natural infection or immunization.
People also cannot be told what information to consult and those whose minds are made up will look for information that reinforces their ideas and beliefs. But there is a wealth of reliable information about the Covid-19 vaccine and containing the spread of the virus depends as much on the access of this information as it does to access to the vaccine itself.
Giving space to “controversial” views for clickbait is just irresponsible.