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VaxxFacts: Debunking Covid-19 vaccine myths

VaxxFacts: Covid-19 myths busted

VaxxFacts: Covid-19 myths busted

Published Sep 17, 2021


Cape Town – Even before the outbreak of Covid-19, the World Health Organisation in 2019 listed “vaccine hesitancy” as one of the top 10 threats to global health. The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has once again given rise to widespread vaccine hesitancy as anti-vaxxers spread misinformation about the potential risks of vaccines on social media.

More than 4.5 million people worldwide have already died from Covid-19, and medical experts agree that Covid-19 vaccines are the only way to curb the spread of the Coronavirus.

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Virologist and director of research at the University of the Western Cape, Professor Burtram Fielding debunks common Covid-19 vaccination myths that may keep people on the fence when it comes to deciding whether to get the jab:

The vaccine contains the virus and will make you sick

Both the Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines contain small parts of genetic material of the virus that causes Covid-19. Once injected, these small parts get converted to parts of the virus’s “spike” protein – which is responsible for the attachment of the virus to your cell once the virus gets into your nose or mouth. Once the small part of the spike protein is produced, the body’s immune system is activated. It is the activation of the immune system that causes some people to feel ill, including fever, headache, fatigue, etc.

Once you have had the vaccine, you still have a 50% chance of becoming infected and developing symptoms, but your chances of severe symptoms and being hospitalised decreases by 90%. Minor vaccine side effects are reported on a daily basis and these can be treated.

Vaccine side effects could be life-threatening

Side effects are normal, and in fact, are a sign that your body is building an immune response to the virus. Mild side effects include pain or redness at the site of the injection, mild fever, chills, diarrhoea, headache, and muscle and joint aches. These should clear within a few days, and they are not unique to the Covid-19 vaccine. Adverse side effects, such as blood clots or inflammation of the heart muscle, are extremely rare, but can be treated.

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The Covid-19 vaccine will give me blood clots

Vaccine-induced Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia is an extremely rare condition, but local experts and treatments are available. The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) has confirmed that no major safety concerns were identified in the healthcare workers who partook in the initial Sisonke vaccine trial. Another extremely rare but observed side effect, is inflammation of the heart muscle. The number of cases reported for both of these extreme side effects is a very small fraction of a percentage if you look at the millions of doses being administered for the vaccine. Both of these can be treated, but we need to be aware that there is a very minimal risk.

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The Covid-19 vaccine will alter my DNA

Messenger mRNA vaccines, such as the Pfizer vaccine, work by instructing cells in the body to make a protein that triggers an immune response. Injecting mRNA into your body will not interact with, or do anything to the DNA of your cells. Human cells break down and get rid of the mRNA soon after they have finished using the instructions. On the other hand, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine contains a small piece of viral DNA, which once injected, gets converted to mRNA. Once this is done, it follows the same process as the mRNA vaccines.

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The vaccine contains cells from aborted foetuses

The vaccines used in South Africa do not contain cells from aborted foetuses. Adds Dr Aaminah Martin, of UWC’s Campus Health Care Centre: “Some of the vaccines have been developed from foetal cell lines (from aborted foetuses from more than 40 years ago), in a laboratory process for research and manufacturing, but contain no actual foetal cells.”

The vaccine can’t be effective because it was a rush job

The technology to formulate the vaccine has been around for the past decade or so. This allowed this vaccine to be formulated quite quickly. The development of the vaccine was a multinational response, with laboratories around the world sharing information. As such, the vaccines were extensively trialed and tested before being released. They are constantly monitored and all side effects are reported on a daily basis.

I have had Covid-19 so I don’t need the vaccine

Based on current evidence, both the vaccine and natural infection offer protection from Covid-19. In fact, a recent study from Oxford reported that those who have recovered from Covid-19 have a 13-fold lower risk of infection with the Delta variant when compared to fully vaccinated individuals. But, taking the vaccine after natural infection can boost the immune system even further, offering “better” protection. My opinion, based on Covid-19 data, and data from other Coronavirus studies: If you are at high risk of severe Covid-19 and have been infected longer than nine months ago, it would be worthwhile to consider taking the vaccine.

There are animal products in the vaccines so they are not halaal

The vaccines do not contain any animal products. Depending on the vaccines available in South Africa, the vaccine can contain either a small piece of virus mRNA or DNA. The vaccines also contain fats, salts, sugars, and stabilisers to protect the small piece of genetic material. The different vaccines also use different “technologies” to transfer small pieces of virus mRNA or DNA into the cell. Much of what is found in the Covid-19 vaccines are also found in other vaccines that have been used for decades.

Additional comment on myths from other UWC experts:

The vaccine contains a microchip or barcode

There is no microchip or tracking device in the vaccine. As the Department of Health explains, vaccine manufacturers are required to declare their ingredients to the South African Health Product Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) before they are cleared for use. They do not contain microchips or tracking devices. It’s also untrue that a magnet will stick to your arm once you have the vaccine.

The vaccine could make me infertile

To date, there is no vaccine that has been reported to cause infertility, said Dr Aaminah Martin, of UWC’s Campus Health Care Centre.

Only people with A-blood types are susceptible to Covid-19. I am B-positive so I don’t need to get the vaccine

Your blood type does not predispose you to Covid-19 infection, nor is there any proof that it protects you from Covid-19 infection, said Dr Aaminah Martin, of UWC’s Campus Health Care Centre.

The Covid-19 vaccine causes brain damage or neurological disorders

While the vaccine may cause some mild side effects, these should go away within a few days. There is no evidence that vaccinations cause neurological illness. Adds Dr Aaminah Martin, of UWC’s Campus Health Care Centre: “It has also been found that the risk of developing clots in the brain is no higher in those vaccinated than those who are not vaccinated.”