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Covid Mythbusters - The Vaccine Edition

News of a new vaccine has been greeted with great expectations and enthusiasm from the general public. However, fears brought about by confusion and misinformation has led many to adopt a “wait and see” position (a YouGov poll suggests that 1 in 5 people are unlikely to take the vaccine once available). With the vaccine delivery already underway, we have pulled together some of the myths around the new COVID treatments and some clarification on the real facts.

YOU ONLY NEED THE FIRST DOSE

As has been widely mentioned, the vaccine will be delivered in two doses, approximately 2 to 3 weeks apart for all patients – as both are needed for effective protection, skipping the second jab is not a good idea. The two-stage vaccination is designed to prime the immune system to the infection and then boost it with the second dose.

Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed is Chair of the Commission on Human Medicines (CHM) Expert Working Group who advise on the quality, safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and the balance of benefit and risks before any vaccine is approved for use.

At a Downing Street press conference, he said “From the data that has been presented to us, people will be immune seven days after the second dose. Partial immunity does occur after the first dose, and we can see some protection occurring after day 12 of the first dose, but the best immunity is seven days after the second dose.”

On the safety of the vaccine, he said: “The trials had about 40,000 individuals and half of those received the vaccine and half received the placebo. From the data that has been provided most of the adverse effects were mild and short-lasting, and usually lasted for a day or two – similar to the kind of effects you get after any other vaccine.”

The MHRA has said that they will be actively monitoring the vaccination rollout using the ‘yellow card’ reporting system that allows anyone to report side effects that they believe may have been caused by the vaccine.

MHRA Yellow Card Reporting

THE VACCINE CAUSES SERIOUS SIDE EFFECTS LIKE HEART ATTACKS, BELLS PALSY AND EVEN DEATH

It’s been a week since the vaccinations began, and thousands have been given the vaccine with no reports of serious side effects of complications. Most side effects associated with vaccinations are a sore arm, tiredness, headaches or a general ‘achiness’, which can be treated with rest or over the counter medication.

Back in early November, a tweet from a US reporter claimed that “75% of vaccine trial participants experienced side effects” from the mRNA vaccine, which was deemed as false soon afterwards. According to the Moderna data, 10% of participants experienced tiredness and muscle fatigue, while 3.8% of the Pfizer-BioNTech triallists felt fatigue and only 2% fever.

Four people on the Pfizer vaccine trials developed Bells Palsy, which is a sudden but temporary weakness on one side of the face. At the moment, there is no direct causative link between the vaccine and this condition.

Putting this into perspective, this was 4 cases out of 22,000 triallists who received the jab, both genuine and placebo. This equates to 0.02%, which is roughly equal to the incidence of Bells Palsy found in the general population – in the UK there are 20-30 cases per 100,000 people per year, which is 0.02% of the population.

Regarding some allergies that have been reported in test subjects, 2 NHS nurses had an allergic reaction ‘more significant than average’ to the vaccine, but both had a history of allergies and were EpiPen carriers in case of anaphylaxis.

The chances of having an allergic reaction to the vaccine are estimated as being 1 to 760,000 – the MHRA has advised that as a precaution, those with a history of severe allergies (e.g. patients who carry an epi-pen) should postpone their vaccination.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine (NHS Website)

THE VACCINE WILL CHANGE YOUR DNA

Social media posts on this one were shared a thousand times over claiming that the vaccine would alter DNA, and “genetically modify” anyone who received it.

The mRNA (‘messenger RiboNucleic Acid”) carries instructions for the cells in the body to make protein (or part of one), triggering it to make an immune response and create antibodies. It gives the body instructions to produce a protein which is present on the surface of the coronavirus, which the immune system then learns to recognise and produce antibodies to fight this protein.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine utilises this method - it doesn’t enter the cells where DNA is stored, and the body breaks it down and gets rid of the messenger RNA after they have completed their instructions.

A vaccine and procedure like this has rarely been common knowledge among the general public, so this has more than likely caused confusion and lots of inaccuracies around this. While it's true that no mRNA vaccine has been approved before, there have been multiple studies of such vaccines in humans over the last few years. Put simply, being injected with mRNA does not in any way alter/modify the DNA sequence of a human body - genetic modification means deliberately inserting foreign DNA into the nucleus of a human cell, and vaccines do not do that.

VACCINES ARE MADE FROM ABORTED FOETUSES

Again, social media groups (specifically the anti-vaccination groups) have pushed this, claiming that the vaccines from AstraZeneca and Oxford University contain lung tissues from an aborted foetus. AstraZeneca confirmed that its vaccine was not developed using MRC-5 cells (cells originating from an aborted foetus decades ago), but it does use a different cell strain that was taken from a female foetus, which was used to breed the virus for the vaccine, but these cells are not used in the final jab.

Many vaccines are made in this way – existing vaccines for chicken pox and rubella use cells descended from foetuses aborted decades ago. The developers of the vaccine at Oxford University say that they worked with cloned cells, which is removed when the virus is purified and not used in the final vaccine.

This has had lots of exposure among the US population in particular, where the “anti-vaxxer” movement has a bigger base of supporters, which prompted the National Catholic Bioethics Centre (who consult with the Vatican on medical ethics issues and opposes abortion) to state that “one cannot accurately say that the vaccines contain any of the cells from the original abortion”.

IF YOU HAVE HAD COVID-19 AND RECOVERED, YOU DON'T NEED THE VACCINE

The COVID-19 vaccination protects by creating an antibody response without having to experience the sickness – recovering from a covid infection does not guarantee lasting immunity, which is why it is important that any covid-positive patients are vaccinated.

It’s still early days, but the immunity that patients get from an infection (‘natural immunity’) varies from person to person, although early evidence suggests that it does not last very long and there is a high risk of re-infection. The two-stage vaccines are designed to ‘prime’ the body’s immune system to fight the infection and then ‘boost it’ with long-lasting immunity.

We won’t know how long vaccine-induced immunity lasts until we have more data on how well it works.

IF I GET THE VACCINE, I DON'T NEED TO WEAR A MASK ANYMORE

It’s hardly the height of fashion or comfort, but wearing the mask will still save lives. At the very least, nobody can see you singing along to the music when you’re out shopping.

"...and iiii-EEE-iiiii will always..."

The new vaccine has a 90-95% success rate, but there is still research being done on whether it can be carried to others. The vaccination Protection is not instant – even with the millions of doses that the UK government has lined up for delivery from December, it is expected to take several weeks to get the population vaccinated. Until a substantial proportion of the population develops resistance, the advice is that we continue with the “three W’s” – wear a mask, watch your distance and wash your hands.

In one of our previous articles, we looked at whether “herd immunity” was a viable solution – this only works if 70-90% of the population is vaccinated (not infected).

Infections rates vary throughout the UK, so precautions must still be taken. The vaccine is one tool that will slow the spread of infection; we will most likely still be wearing a mask, social distancing and testing in the future. Until a substantial number of the population is vaccinated and develops resistance to COVID-19, the virus will continue to spread.

Office for National Statistics – Coronavirus infection Live Updates 

THE VACCINE IS JUST A WAY OF TRACKING PEOPLE WITH MICROCHIPS

(I mean, honestly - do I have to do this one?!)

OK, so Bill Gates is going to track our every move because the vaccine isn’t a vaccine at all – it’s a microchip designed to record whether you have been vaccinated or not.

Which – clearly – is false.

Surprisingly (or not, depending on your point of view), both Russian and US ‘advisers’ to their respective Presidents have talked about “covert mass chip implantation” programmes. When asked about the pandemic in an interview back in March 2020, Bill Gates speculated that eventually there will be “some digital certificate” that would show who recovered, who had been tested and who had received a vaccine but did not mention a microchip.

The Gates Foundation responded by saying "The reference to 'digital certificates' relates to efforts to create an open-source digital platform with the goal of expanding access to safe, home-based testing."

TACKLING MISINFORMATION

What has been quite prominent during the pandemic has been the impact of inaccurate or false stories around the virus. In a time of crisis - and easy access to so many different sources of information – patients want reassurance and to be fully informed before taking a vaccination.

‘Vaccine Hesitancy’ is something that the WHO identified as a future threat to public health because of the levels of misinformation; they defined it as a “delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability of vaccination services”. When reading or discussing health information, then keep in mind three things when confronted with controversial health messaging:

  • Check the credibility of the source sharing the information.
  • Examine the evidence underlying their claim.
  • Question whether the individual or company sharing the claim will profit from it in some way.

You can check out our previous Mythbuster articles here. FPM Members can get more information and support by accessing our Pandemic Toolkit section.


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