Opinions and myths determine the politics. Only facts determine the outcome.
The comment section of this column has logged numerous opinions by our readers regarding the COVID pandemic, and many readers have also emailed me various opinions as well. I thank them all and appreciate the level of engagement by readers of this column. We all harbor opinions about a wide variety of subjects and COVID-19 is, of course, no exception. It is, however, difficult to identify a time when the gap between opinions (or myths) and facts has loomed so large.
So, now is as good a time as any to address the dichotomy between the strong opinions and myths about COVID, and the simple facts regarding COVID. The information that follows is based on reports from Johns Hopkins University Medicine, other leading university medical research centers, The Cleveland Clinic, and the United States Center for Disease Control.
Myth: “Natural immunity” following COVID is better than the immunity one gets from a vaccine.
Fact: COVID-19 often produces long-term health issues that do not occur with the vaccine, making the disease itself a far less desirable way to attain immunity. While the Cleveland Clinic recently found that there was no reinfection among employees of the Clinic who had previously contracted COVID-19, the Cleveland Clinic states, “This is still a new virus, and more research is needed. It is important to keep in mind that this study was conducted in a population that was younger and healthier than the general population. In addition, we do not know how long the immune system will protect itself against reinfection after COVID-19. It is safe to receive the COVID-19 vaccine even if you have previously tested positive, and we recommend all those who are eligible receive it.” While there have been some breakthrough cases among vaccinated people, the vaccine vastly reduces severe illness, and, therefore, reduces the need for hospitalization. The vaccine provides remarkable protection against the disease.
Myth: The vaccine can cause the disease itself.
Fact: None of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines in the United States contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. This means that the COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19.
Myth: The COVID-19 vaccine can affect women’s fertility.
FACT: The COVID-19 vaccine will not affect fertility. The COVID-19 vaccine encourages the body to create copies of the specific spike protein found on the coronavirus’s surface. The vaccine does not contain syncytin-1 (a totally unrelated spike protein involved in pregnancy) as has been falsely reported in some social media.
MYTH: Researchers rushed the development of the COVID-19 vaccine, so its effectiveness and safety cannot be trusted.
FACT: Studies have demonstrated that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both very effective and reported few if any serious or life-threatening side effects. There are many reasons why the COVID-19 vaccines were able to be developed so quickly. Here are just a few:
- The technology used in the COVID-19 vaccines by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna was in development for decades, so the companies could start the actual vaccine development for COVID-19 early in the pandemic.
- COVID-19 genetic information was available very early in the outbreak, so scientists immediately started working on vaccines using existing mRNA technology.
- The vaccine developers didn’t skip any testing steps, but conducted some of the steps on an overlapping schedule to gather data faster.
- Vaccine development projects had plenty of resources, as governments invested in research and/or paid for vaccines in advance.
- COVID-19 vaccines were created using messenger RNA (mRNA), which allows a faster approach than the traditional way that vaccines are made.
- Mass media, including social media, helped companies find and engage volunteers, and many were willing to help with COVID-19 vaccine research.
- Because COVID-19 is so contagious and widespread, it did not take long to determine the efficacy of the vaccine among volunteers who were vaccinated. Rarely did they become infected with COVID.
- Companies began making vaccines early in the process — even before FDA authorization — so some supplies were ready when authorized.
MYTH: The side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine are dangerous.
Fact: The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines can produce normal side effects, but they are generally very short-term —not serious or dangerous. Some people experience discomfort 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.
Myth: If one is young and healthy and, therefore, not at risk for severe complications of COVID-19 they don’t need the vaccine.
Fact: Regardless of your personal risk of getting very sick from COVID, you can still contract the infection just like anyone else, and spread it to others. Even if you don’t get very sick from COVID, you can still make other people very sick. The vaccine not only protects you but your family and community as well.
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 vaccines do not enter the nucleus of the cell where DNA resides. The mRNA causes the cell to make protein to stimulate the immune system, without affecting your DNA.
MYTH: The messenger RNA technology used to make the COVID-19 vaccine is brand new.
FACT: The mRNA technology behind the new coronavirus vaccines had been in development for almost two decades. Scientists began creating mRNA technology at the turn of the last century to enable the country to respond quickly to a new pandemic illness, such as COVID-19. Operation Warp Speed made funds available to focus mRNA technology on COVID-19 and to pay for the roll-out of the vaccine. The development of this technology did not begin with Operation Warp Speed.
Myth: The current vaccines cannot protect against emerging variants of COVID.
Fact: So far, the current vaccines recognize these variant viruses and induce excellent immunity against them. It is, of course, possible that new variants, yet to have emerged, may be more resistant to the vaccines. Variants are produced from time to time when the virus replicates in human cells. That means the unvaccinated population, those who remain susceptible to infection, are the primary source of new variants. This is another reason why everyone should get vaccinated.
Myth: Many have died and have been injured by the vaccine.
Fact: The vaccines are remarkably safe. Here is what is known as of this date. More than 351 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered in the United States from December 14, 2020, through August 9, 2021. During this time, deaths occurred among 0.0019% of those who received a COVID-19 vaccine. FDA requires any death to be reported following COVID-19 vaccinations—not whether the vaccine was the cause. A review of available clinical information, including death certificates, autopsy, and medical records, has not established any causal link to COVID-19 vaccines.
President Trump made a wise decision when he approved funding the use of mRNA technology for a COVID-19 vaccine, and for the procurement and distribution of the vaccine. President Biden also deserves credit for the massive effort currently underway to get the country vaccinated.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell referred to the COVID-19 vaccine as a miracle. How often can we make an appointment with a miracle?
All comments regarding these essays, whether they express agreement, disagreement, or an alternate view, are appreciated and welcome. Comments that do not pertain to the essay’s subject or which are ad hominem references to other commenters are not acceptable and will be deleted.