The United States just approved the first vaccine for COVID-19 prevention. Yet as scientists explain how the new vaccines are made and experts are expressing their confidence in their safety, many myths about these are circulating. (Myths about other vaccines have circulated for years; see why they’re still circulating for measles and keeping that disease from being eradicated.)
Yet as of now, many Americans are reluctant when it comes to trusting the vaccine due to the number of fast-spreading conspiracy theories. So, we’re airing out the truth and debunking the most dangerous myths about the coronavirus vaccine.
Here’s what the experts say:
Myth: Taking a COVID Vaccine Will Give You COVID
No, a COVID-19 vaccine will not give you COVID-19. According to the CDC, none of the vaccines in development in the United States use the live virus that causes COVID-19. Instead, the Pfizer vaccine, which just earned emergency use authorization, and the Moderna vaccine, which is seeking it now, are made of messenger RNA (mRNA). That’s what the coronavirus’s genetic material is made of. The mRNA essentially teaches the immune system how to recognize and fight off the virus before you encounter it. The CDC does note that this process can cause symptoms, such as a fever. But warns this is a normal sign that the body is building immunity to the virus. It doesn’t give you COVID-19.
Myth: A Vaccine Won’t Work If You’ve Already Had COVID
Those who have had COVID-19 in the past will still benefit from a vaccination. Although relatively rare during the pandemic thus far, there is still a possibility for reinfection of the COVID-19 virus.
Following any sickness, your body develops antibodies that can fight off future infection of the virus. This is called natural immunity. However, experts say this natural immunity should not be relied on. “We know that people have been getting COVID-19 two and three times, so you can get it once, and your body will build some antibodies, but because there are different strains, you can get it a second and third time,” said Robert Hawkes, director of the physician assistant program at Florida Gulf Coast University. “So [natural immunity] does not give you extra protection.” A vaccine is still recommended for preventing the disease.
Myth: The Flu Vaccine Prevents COVID
Although the two illnesses share similar symptoms, they are different viruses and there is no evidence that supports the claim that taking the flu vaccine will serve as protection from COVID-19. It is possible, however, to get sick with influenza and the coronavirus simultaneously, which would cause an immense strain on the body and your overall health—and on hospitals, if things get bad. This is why health officials stress the need to get a flu shot more now than ever, especially as flu season picks up.
Myth: The COVID Vaccine Is Being Rushed
Pharmaceutical companies have invested a significant amount of resources into developing a vaccine for COVID-19 in a timely manner. The emergency circumstances of the global pandemic have allowed for increased funding and prioritized efforts that have not been seen for past vaccinations, looking at about eight months for development compared to the typical five to 10 years. The shortened time to market has not been accomplished through bypassing protocols or eliminating thorough testing. And despite a push from government officials, the FDA did not authorize emergency use of the coronavirus vaccine without completing a rigorous independent review with multiple stages of clinical trials.
“The urgency of the situation is a pressure that I think is substantial on all of us,” said Stephen Hahn, MD, FDA commissioner. “Our career staff recognize that and are working with great speed. But also we’ve maintained a commitment to using data and science, and we will continue to do that.”
According to the FDA, a biopharmaceutical manufacturer must have followed study participants for at least two months after completing the vaccination series, and found the vaccine safe and effective, in order to receive emergency use authorization.
Myth: The Vaccine Will Solve Everything
Like most vaccines, scientists anticipate that the COVID-19 vaccine will not be 100 percent effective. And unfortunately a vaccine is not going to be a quick fix for the pandemic. Once a vaccine is authorized, distribution will take a while, as supplies will initially be limited. The federal government will monitor distribution of the vaccine across the United States while the CDC will oversee vaccine distribution at the state and local levels.
“You’re talking hundreds of millions of doses that need to be made, and they’re not going to be available all at once,” said Amesh Adalja, MD, infectious disease expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “They’re going to trickle out over time, and there are going to be priority groups set for those who should receive the vaccine first.”
The National Academy of Sciences released a four-phase approach for allocation of the COVID-19 vaccine, which has started distribution for those who need it most, such as healthcare workers. Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated that an optimistic timeline for all Americans to have access to the vaccine would be April 2021.
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