5 Covid-19 vaccine myths explained

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

Misleading:

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

False:

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

False:

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

Partially true:

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

True:

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.

                           
                               
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Jean Karl Soler
Jean Karl Soler
1 month ago

“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”

Every claim I made in the interview with Times of Malta is substantiated with peer-reviewed publications by top scientists in major, high-impact medical journals. I quoted the WHO 2019 pandemic guidelines, which precluded contact tracing, quarantine of contacts, border closures, entry/exit screening and other measures on the basis of a systematic literature review. I quoted (but this was not included) a Cochrane database of systematic reviews report on masks which concluded minimal to no benefit, as well as another systematic review which found benefit but which was based on lower quality data. I quoted infection fatality rate studies from Stanford University (number three in the world ranking), again published and carried on the WHO website. I quoted official positions against routine vaccination of healthy children by the vaccination advisory councils in Germany and the UK, as well as the WHO not recommending such on the basis of incomplete evidence of safety in this age group. This also holds for pregnant women, where the advice is individual risk assessment by your doctor. I quoted mortality and case number statistics from official sources, and the studies by Chaudhry which proved that lockdowns do not save lives back in 2020, and the more recent study by Bendavid which showed that more restrictive lockdowns do not reduce case numbers more than simple voluntary social distancing. I also referred to recent UK data which show a fall in case numbers after lifting restrictions, and factually disprove the mathematical models by Ferguson at Imperial College which predicted large protective effects of lockdown, and which have now been shown to be wrong, as Ferguson himself has admitted.

If anything is “dubious”, then all the sources I quote above are dubious. However, in making such a claim, the journalist should explain the basis of such a wild claim, since she is neither an epidemiologist nor a public health specialist, which all the people quoted above, instead, actually are.

I simply quote facts. That seems to be a dubious strategy, according to Shift news. Well, what can I say?

James Micallef
James Micallef
1 month ago

1) isn’t misleading, it’s perfectly true as is explained in the article itself. There really are no long-term impact studies (obviously, since the vaccines are new), and the vaccines are really not fully approved, only provisionally. Nothing misleading about that. The existing level of testing might be enough for most people and health departments, but might not be enough for some people, so fair enough.

2&3 are false, no contest (I have seen claims that actual ingredients tested for are not the same as the published one, but not from good enough sources to be sure)

4) being also true, the combination of 1 & 4 means there is a non-zero possibility of harm from the vaccine.

While statistically for the population as a whole, the risks of Covid truly outweigh the risks of the vaccines, there are going to be a few individuals for whom those risks are reversed. So people’s free will in respect of vaccination should be respected just like any other health-related chioces.

Jean Karl Soler
Jean Karl Soler
1 month ago
Reply to  James Micallef

Well said, Mr. Micallef.

Dave Alan Caruana
Dave Alan Caruana
1 month ago

I read the interview with Jean Karl Soler and would not consider it ‘dubious claims’. While I am not an epidemiologist or even a doctor, I do have a strong scientific background and unlike conspiracy theorists coming up with wild assertions, Dr Soler does back up his claims with legitimate, peer-reviewed scientific data.
It is a fact that rules regarding covid19 seem to be inconsistent and change from day to day, starting with first being told that masks are ineffective and don’t protect anyone to the current situation where not wearing one is deserving of a fine.
Publishing fake information and conspiracy theories is one thing, having an informed opinion that is backed up by scientific data is another. Challenging scientific opinions, even those held by the mainstream, is not a bad thing in itself.

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