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Stempel College epidemiologists explain some of the most common COVID-19 vaccine misconceptions

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From social media to advice shared by family and friends, we are continually bombarded with misinformation.

To help us decipher what is fact and what is not, Dr. Melissa Ward, an epidemiologist and postdoctoral associate in the Community-Based Research Institute, and Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology at FIU’s Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work, explain some of the most common COVID-19 vaccine misconceptions.

1. MYTH: Researchers rushed to develop the COVID-19 vaccine, so it’s not safe.

FACT:  Although COVID-19 vaccines were developed in record time, that does not mean they are not safe. All the vaccines that are currently available in the United States went through full safety testing, including Phase III clinical trials, which are the strongest study designs we have to test new medical treatments in humans. In Phase III clinical trials, tens of thousands of volunteers received either the vaccine or placebo injection (think of a placebo as a dummy vaccine, made of saltwater). These thousands of volunteers were then monitored for months to see if the group that received the vaccine had a higher proportion of serious adverse reactions compared to the group that received the placebo. The Phase III clinical trials showed that COVID-19 vaccines were very safe and greatly reduced COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

Also, the mRNA technology that was used in the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines had been in development for years, long before we knew what COVID-19 was. Additionally, in the U.S., we have a very robust vaccine safety monitoring system, which allows health officials to take swift action if serious adverse reactions occur. If you receive the COVID-19 vaccine and experience an adverse reaction, you can report it here or here.

2. MYTH: The COVID-19 vaccine can affect a women’s ability to have children.

FACT: There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine affects fertility, in women or men. Often, myths around the COVID-19 vaccine start like a game of telephone, where one person passes an incomplete piece of information onto another person, and then that person tells the next person a piece of what they think they heard, and so on. With social media, sometimes these games of telephone go viral, and that is what has happened with this myth.

Early on, some scientists raised theoretical concerns that the proteins involved with the COVID-19 vaccine response might be similar to those involved with pregnancy, and so the COVID-19 vaccine might interfere with pregnancy. However, there is no evidence that this is true. Millions of women have received the COVID-19 vaccine, and there has been no data to show that it negatively affects fertility or pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) notes that “claims linking COVID-19 vaccines to infertility are unfounded and have no scientific evidence supporting them” and “recommends vaccination for all eligible people who may consider future pregnancy.” ACOG also “recommends that pregnant individuals have access to COVID-19 vaccines.”

3. MYTH: If you already had COVID-19, you don’t need to get the vaccine.

FACT: If you already had COVID-19, you should still get the vaccine. It is true that if you recover from getting sick with COVID-19, your body will produce antibodies that offer some level of protection against getting COVID-19 again in the future. However, researchers are still studying how long these antibodies may last. From what we know so far, this protection doesn’t seem to last very long. This is why getting vaccinated if you’ve already had COVID-19 is still very important. The COVID-19 vaccine triggers a very strong immune response. This means that if you get the COVID-19 vaccine, your immune system will likely have the antibodies and tools it needs to fight COVID-19 for a longer time compared to if you get sick with COVID-19. There is also evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine offers stronger protection against variants of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19).

Individuals who have COVID-19 should wait until they are fully recovered before getting the vaccine, so that they do not risk giving COVID-19 to others. More guidelines on when to get the vaccine after you have had COVID-19 is available from the CDC here.

4. MYTH: Getting the COVID-19 vaccine means you are completely immune and can’t get infected.

FACT: While getting the COVID-19 vaccine greatly reduces your risk of becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), it is important to remember that no vaccine is 100 percent effective. There is still a small chance that you can get COVID-19. If you are vaccinated but have unvaccinated individuals (such as children) or immunocompromised people living in your household, you may still want to take precautions to protect yourself and your household, such as wearing a mask indoors or avoiding crowded spaces.

It is also important to remember: the more SARS-CoV-2 spreads, the more opportunities it will have to mutate into more dangerous variants. The COVID-19 vaccine is the most effective tool we have to prevent the spread and mutation of SARS-CoV-2 in our communities because it breaks cycles of transmission. The more people that get the vaccine, the fewer people will get sick with COVID-19, which reduces the number of opportunities SARS-CoV-2 has to mutate.

5. MYTH: Because the long-term side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine are still being studied, it is safer not to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

FACT:  Although researchers are still studying the long-term side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine (so far, significant longer-term side effects have not been observed), this does not mean that it is safer to avoid getting the COVID-19 vaccine until these studies have been completed. We know for sure that a significant proportion of people who have had COVID-19 experience long-term health conditions, even after they have recovered from their initial infection, and even if they are young or initially did not experience any symptoms. Known as “Long COVID,” long-term impacts of COVID-19 may include fatigue, difficulty breathing, chest pain, joint or muscle pain, and depression or anxiety. We are still learning more about Long COVID but getting the COVID-19 vaccine greatly reduces the risk of getting COVID-19, which in turn reduces one’s risk of experiencing long-term chronic conditions such as Long COVID.

It is important that each individual consider their own risks and benefits when deciding whether to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but it is also important to remember that getting COVID-19 has the potential to become a serious chronic health condition.

To help you get the answers you need in order to make the best decision for you and your family, the team at FIU Research Center in Minority Institutions (FIU-RCMI) has put together additional resources on frequently asked questions about COVID-19, in both English and Spanish, which you can find here.

For more facts about the vaccine or to find a vaccination site near you, visit the Health Foundation of South Florida and learn why others are saying I DID IT!

This story is a repost from FIU News