Debunking the myths and conspiracy theories around the Covid vaccine
History was made this week when the UK became the first country in the world to approve a coronavirus vaccine.
And the first doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech jab, made in Germany, are set to arrive in Britain anytime today and will be sent to 50 hospitals in the coming days.
As a result of the speed of development and anti-vaxxer conspiracy theories circulating online, there is a huge amount of anxiety around the new vaccine.
Tom Phillips, from the leading fact checker charity Full Fact, warned: ‘Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen wave after wave of misinformation which undermines confidence in potential coronavirus vaccines… Bad information ruins lives.
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‘In previous pandemics and health crises around the world, this kind of misinformation has cost lives.’
So at Metro.co.uk we’ve done some research to find out the truth behind the main rumours on the internet at the moment. Here are the myths debunked:
‘The vaccine changes your DNA’
The main conspiracy theory about the vaccine currently is that it will alter your DNA. A Facebook post claims:
The new vaccine for Covid-19… will literally alter your DNA. It will wrap itself into your system. You will essentially become a genetically modified human being.
But this is not true and does not explain accurately how this kind of jab works.
The Pfizer vaccine – alongside the majority of the Covid-19 vaccine candidates – is an RNA injection.
Traditional vaccines are produced using weakened forms of the virus, but RNA-based jabs instead use the virus’ genetic code.
When a person is injected, a molecule is introduced into the body which tells cells to produce a coronavirus spike protein.
This protein, or antigen, is then recognised by the immune system which produces antibodies and T-cells in preparation against the infection.
It means if a person gets Covid-19, these antibodies are then triggered to fight the virus. It doesn’t change the body’s DNA or ‘wrap itself into your system’.
RNA vaccines are generally viewed positively as they don’t involve using part of the virus itself, and are cheap.
The Oxford University and AstraZeneca vaccine is not an RNA vaccine but instead uses a harmless cold virus from chimpanzees modified in a lab to look like coronavirus when it enters the body.
Another claim suggests that the Pfizer jab is ‘too cold’ to be a real vaccine and is actually alive.
It is correct that the vaccine has to be stored at -70 degrees Celsius, but that’s just to stop it from degrading. No vaccine is ‘alive’.
And the coronavirus vaccine is not the only vaccine which needs to be stored at very low temperatures – the Ebola vaccine had to be transported at -60 degrees Celsius.
But it’s important to note a number of things have led to the fast development of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Firstly, although Covid-19 is a new virus, scientists didn’t start completely from scratch. They already had years of vaccine research from studying SARS and MERS, which are in the same family of coronaviruses.
Trials have been able to take place much quicker because tens of thousands of volunteers signed up across the world – and because the virus is spreading so quickly.
Trials are conducted by half of the patients getting the vaccine, and the other half get a placebo.
Then after a certain number of people catch the virus, researchers compare how many ill people had the vaccine and how many had the placebo. If the virus is spreading quickly, the results will be obtained faster than usual.
Another reason the process was sped up was due to a huge amount of global cooperation. Usually scientists have to wait a long time for funding, trial participants and regulatory approval, alongside all the other research happening across the world.
But because Covid-19 was the number one priority for everyone, there’s no longer any waiting. These vaccines have gone through exactly the same safety procedure any other jab would go through and no steps have been skipped.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, moved to reassure BBC Breakfast viewers this morning that the vaccine is completely safe.
‘I completely understand the anxieties,’ he said, ‘To tell you plain and straight, I genuinely have said to my 78-year-old mum, who’s probably listening now, that you must have this vaccine, or any of the approved vaccines, as soon as they are available.
‘This is really important because you are so at risk.’
He added he is ‘very confident’ in the ‘thoroughness, rigour and caution’ which the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency exercises when approving any type of vaccine.
When asked about the UK being the first to approve the vaccine, Professor Van-Tam responded: ‘I don’t think the US or European regulators will be very many days behind us in authorising the Pfizer vaccine.’
‘Vaccine is more likely to kill you than Covid-19’
A tweet claiming coronavirus does not kill 99.99% of people has been circulating on social media – suggesting it is not as dangerous as it is.
It has further been claimed Dr Elisa Granato, one of the first participants in a UK Covid-19 vaccine trial, died. She didn’t, and she is alive and well today.
It was suggested earlier this week pubs, restaurants and cinemas may be given the powers to turn away customers if they have not been vaccinated.
Speaking on Sky News on Monday, Mr Gove said the most important thing to do ‘is make sure that we vaccinate as many people as possible’.
But when asked if people would have to prove they had been vaccinated to enjoy freedoms such as going to the pub, theatre or sporting event, he replied ‘no’.
He said the Government would rely on the scientific arguments to convince people to have the vaccine, but acknowledged it would be a challenge persuading the ‘small minority’ who are reluctant.
Ingredients of vaccines
Traditional anti-vaxxer conspiracy theories – which have fuelled misinformation around the Covid-19 vaccine – generally surround the ingredients in the injections.
Here’s a breakdown of what ingredients vaccines do contain, all of which are safe:
- Aluminium salts: These help your body create a better immune response to vaccines, so are necessary to make vaccines ore effective. Aluminium salts are present present in our food, air and water, including breast milk.
- Formaldehyde: This is used to inactivate a virus. The tiny amount which may be left in these vaccines is safe, and our bodies normally contain this in the bloodstream anyway.
- Antibiotics: Antibiotics such as neomycin are present in some vaccines to prevent bacterial contamination when the vaccine is made. Trace amounts of antibiotics in vaccines rarely, if ever, cause allergic reactions.
- Egg protein: Influenza and yellow fever vaccines are produced in eggs, so those with severe egg allergies should be aware of allergic reactions, although it is usually only a very small amount.
- Gelatine: Some vaccines contain gelatine to protect them against freeze-drying or heat. People with severe allergies to gelatine should avoid getting these vaccines.
And here’s what vaccines don’t contain:
- Antifreeze: This is typically made of ethylene glycol, which is unsafe. Confusion has arisen, because polyethylene glycol (a chemical used in antifreeze but also personal care products like skin creams and toothpaste) is used in vaccines and is safe.
- Mercury: Methylmercury, which is found in fish and other animals, can be toxic and lead to adverse effects in humans. Thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative, was removed from most childhood vaccines in 2001. Thimerosal contains a different form of mercury called ethylmercury (which is processed by the body very differently than methylmercury) and does not have the same negative effects. Thimerosal is still used in the manufacture of some vaccines to prevent contamination, but it is removed at the end of the manufacturing process. In some cases, a tiny amount of thimerosal remains but the amount is so small it is not possible for it to have any effect.
- Fetus tissue: A few vaccines (including the Oxford University Covid-19 jab) involve growing the viruses in human cell culture. Two cell lines provide the cultures needed for producing vaccines, which were developed from two fetuses in the 1960s. They were aborted for medical reasons, not for the purpose of producing vaccines, and the cell lines have an indefinite life span, meaning no new aborted fetuses are ever used. No fetal tissue is included in the vaccines, either, so children are not injected with any part of an aborted fetus.
The information above was obtained from the American Academy of Paediatrics.
A large-scale study last year also found there is no link at all between the MMR vaccine and autism.
There were concerns mercury in vaccines caused autism, but in fact, autism rates have actually increased since mercury was removed from injections.
‘Bill Gates will use it to control the world’
There have been a number of claims that Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates is going to use the vaccine to control the world. A Facebook post said:
Isn’t it Amazing that Bill Gates Owns The Patent For Coronavirus and Owns The Vaccine. He is also A Partner n [sic] the Lab In Wuhan China.
None of this is true. There is no patent for Covid-19 (although a patent exists for a different coronavirus, which is possibly where this has come from).
Although Mr Gates’ foundation has funded research into potential vaccines, there are many different candidates and he does not own a patent.
The ‘lab in Wuhan China’ is believed to be a reference to claims Covid-19 originated in bats kept in a laboratory in the Chinese city, but this was claimed as a possibility in a paper which has not been peer-reviewed. There is no evidence for this.
It has also been claimed Mr Gates plans to ‘implant trackable microchips’ into vaccines. There is no evidence to support these claims.
It is thought the rumours originated because the Gates Foundation has funded technology that could store someone’s vaccine records in a special ink administered at the same time as an injection.
But it would not allow people to be tracked and personal information would not be entered into a database, and is more like an invisible tattoo than a microchip.
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