Click bait or the real deal? What’s really true about the COVID-19 vaccine

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Have you ever seen a news title that got your attention, so you read the article and realize the headline had little to do with the full story?

Sometimes news and social media posts may contain partial truths, misleading headlines, or the limited experience of a few people. When it comes to making decisions about your health, it’s important to gather information from qualified and trained health professionals and medical organizations that are impartial and trustworthy.  It’s also wise to talk to your doctor about making a decision based on your personal medical condition.

With so much misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine floating around online, we thought it would be helpful to share some of the biggest myths we’ve discovered and what the experts say. We’d like to thank the Johns Hopkins Medicine website for providing this important information to help people make an informed choice about getting the vaccine. (*See our footnote about the history and experience of Johns Hopkins and why we consider it to be a trusted source.)

See our source for this information: Johns Hopkins Medicine list of myths and facts about the vaccine.

An Important Note about Breakthrough Infections

First we would like to address some information that is true but should be fully understood before making a choice about the vaccine.

Although you can get COVID-19 after being vaccinated, the vaccines are good at protecting you from severe forms of the virus which may require hospitalization and/or can lead to death or long-term health problems. According to information from the Johns Hopkins website, breakthrough cases can happen in people who are fully vaccinated, partially due to waning immunity of those who received the vaccine early on and because of the new delta and omicron variants that are circulating. This is an expected occurrence for a small percentage of those receiving any vaccine, since no vaccine for any disease is 100% effective in preventing infection in every person who receives it.

Myths and Facts

And now, here are some commonly-held beliefs about the vaccine and what the experts have to say.  (All information below is taken from the Johns Hopkins Medicine website with the exception of the update from the CDC on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.)

MYTH: Researchers rushed the development of the COVID-19 vaccine, so its effectiveness and safety cannot be trusted.

FACT: There are many reasons why the COVID-19 vaccines could be developed so quickly and be effective. Here are just a few:

  • The COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna were created with a method that has been in development for years, so the companies could start the vaccine development process early in the pandemic.
  • The vaccine developers didn’t skip any testing steps, but conducted some of the steps on an overlapping schedule to gather data faster.
  • Some types of COVID-19 vaccines were created using messenger RNA (mRNA), which allows a faster approach than the traditional way that vaccines are made.
  • Because COVID-19 is so contagious and widespread, it did not take long to see if the vaccine worked for the study volunteers who were vaccinated.

See the Johns Hopkins website for the full list of reasons.

MYTH: The messenger RNA technology used to make the COVID-19 vaccine is brand new.

FACT: The mRNA technology behind the new coronavirus vaccines has been in development for almost two decades. Vaccine makers created the technology to help them respond quickly to a new pandemic illness, such as COVID-19.

MYTH: If I’ve already had COVID-19, I don’t need a vaccine.

FACT: Evidence continues to indicate that getting a COVID-19 vaccine is the best protection against getting COVID-19, whether you have already had COVID-19 or not.

  • study published in August 2021 indicates that if you had COVID-19 before and are not vaccinated, your risk of getting re-infected is more than two times higher than for those who were infected and got vaccinated.
  • While evidence suggests there is some level of immunity for those who previously had COVID, it is not known how long you are protected from getting COVID-19 again. Plus, the level of immunity provided by the vaccines after having COVID-19 is higher than the level of immunity for those who had COVID but were not subsequently vaccinated.
  • Getting vaccinated provides greater protection to others since the vaccine helps reduce the spread of COVID-19.

At the time of vaccination, be sure to tell your care provider about your history of COVID-19 illness, including the kind of treatment, if any, you received and when you recovered. Wait until your isolation period ends before making an appointment to get the vaccination.

MYTH: The side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine are dangerous.

FACT: The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines can have side effects, but the vast majority are very short term —not serious or dangerous. The vaccine developers report that some people experience pain where they were injected; body aches; headaches or fever, lasting for a day or two. These are signs that the vaccine is working to stimulate your immune system. If symptoms persist beyond two days, you should call your doctor.

(12/18/21 update from CDC on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine: CDC prefers Americans over the age of 18 get Pfizer or Moderna, as studies showed those mRNA vaccines provide more protection against COVID-19 and more cases of blood clots were reported in people who got the J&J vaccine, though the occurrence is still rare.)

If you have allergies — especially severe ones that require you to carry an EpiPen — discuss the COVID-19 vaccine with your doctor, who can assess your risk and provide more information about if and how you can get vaccinated safely.

MYTH: Getting the COVID-19 vaccine gives you COVID-19.

FACT: The vaccine for COVID-19 cannot and will not give you COVID-19. The two authorized mRNA vaccines instruct your cells to reproduce a protein that is part of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which helps your body recognize and fight the virus, if it comes along. The COVID-19 vaccine does not contain the SARS-Co-2 virus, so you cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine. The protein that helps your immune system recognize and fight the virus does not cause infection of any sort.

MYTH: The COVID-19 vaccine was developed with or contains controversial substances.

FACT: The first two COVID-19 vaccines to be authorized by the FDA contain mRNA and other, normal vaccine ingredients, such as fats (which protect the mRNA), salts, as well as a small amount of sugar. These COVID-19 vaccines were not developed using fetal tissue, and they do not contain any material, such as implants, microchips or tracking devices.

MYTH: The COVID-19 vaccine enters your cells and changes your DNA.

FACT: The COVID-19 vaccines are designed to help your body’s immune system fight the coronavirus. The messenger RNA from two of the first types of COVID-19 vaccines does enter cells, but not the nucleus of the cells where DNA resides. The mRNA does its job to cause the cell to make protein to stimulate the immune system, and then it quickly breaks down — without affecting your DNA.

MYTH: The COVID-19 vaccine can affect women’s fertility.

FACT: The COVID-19 vaccine will not affect fertility. The truth is that the COVID-19 vaccine encourages the body to create copies of the spike protein found on the coronavirus’s surface. This “teaches” the body’s immune system to fight the virus that has that specific spike protein on it.

Confusion arose when a false report surfaced on social media, saying that the spike protein on this coronavirus was the same as another spike protein called syncitin-1 that is involved in the growth and attachment of the placenta during pregnancy. The false report said that getting the COVID-19 vaccine would cause a woman’s body to fight this different spike protein and affect her fertility. The two spike proteins are completely different and distinct, and getting the COVID-19 vaccine will not affect the fertility of women who are seeking to become pregnant, including through in vitro fertilization methods. During the Pfizer vaccine tests, 23 women volunteers involved in the study became pregnant, and the only one who suffered a pregnancy loss had not received the actual vaccine, but a placebo.

Getting COVID-19, on the other hand, can have potentially serious impact on pregnancy and the mother’s health. Learn more about coronavirus and pregnancy. Johns Hopkins Medicine encourages women to reach out to their medical providers to discuss other questions they have about COVID-19 as it relates to fertility or pregnancy.

DRTx Vaccine Access Hotline

Again, we thank the medical experts at Johns Hopkins for providing the above information.

DRTx provides this information so that people with disabilities can make an informed choice about getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

People with disabilities who still have questions or who are having trouble getting the vaccine because of their disability can call our Vaccine Hotline for assistance at 1-800-880-8401.

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* Johns Hopkins Medicine receives 4 million hospital patients and has 325,000 emergency room visits annually. Its physicians see 902,000 patients annually. In its 125-year history, countless medical advances have been made by Johns Hopkins physicians and scientists including the creation of CPR, developing the first and only effective treatment for sickle cell disease, and inventing the first implantable and rechargeable pacemaker.