St. Clair County’s Emergency Management Agency Director Herb Simmons has heard every conspiracy theory about the COVID-19 vaccines that propagate through social media.

He’s been hearing them since the vaccines first started coming out earlier this year, heightening the necessity for the county’s regular streaming coronavirus updates, during which Chairman Mark Kern and county health officials plead with residents to get vaccinated.

“There’s been myths and conspiracy theories for as long as the vaccine has been out there,” Simmons said. “There’s all sorts of theories out there that they’re putting microchips in you and stuff like that and I think for some people, common sense takes over and they know that’s not true.”

But there remains a high percentage of the metro-east’s population that fall in line with misinformation, Simmons said, and that’s made the push to get people vaccinated harder. Outreach has also become a fight against fear.

The county’s COVID-19 update, which was streamed live on Facebook daily and now airs just once a week on Wednesdays, always includes reminders to for citizens to get their shots. Simmons regularly lashed out in frustration at COVID-19 deniers and conspiracy theorists who “trolled” the county Emergency Management Agency’s social media pages.

But, he says he has noticed an uptick of people “coming around” to getting vaccinated, inspired perhaps by his online lectures, fear of the more contagious delta variant, or negative personal experience with the virus.

Since July 25, the average weekly rate of new vaccinations in St. Clair County has skyrocketed from 372 to 724.

Either way, Simmons said it’s welcomed news.

“You can’t stress the fact enough that it’s the best tool in our toolbox to defend against the virus,” he said. “ It’s really simple, you’re talking about people’s health and their life and death. That’s one thing you can’t dispute.”

Misinformation has become so widespread that Jennifer Nuzzo, a noted epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, has called for a national plan to address it.

Charlie Shields, president and CEO of Truman Medical Centers/University Health in Kansas City, has never seen anything like this.

“The level of misinformation that is out there is frankly unprecedented,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen something like this happen ... this constant barrage (that) people are getting on social media or emails with these outlandish stories.”

Here are seven common misconceptions health officials hear from those resistant to getting vaccinations:

The vaccine will make you magnetic

This is the first myth busted on the CDC’s “myths and facts” about the vaccines list. The CDC also offers a list of credible sources for vaccine information, including the nonprofit Immunization Action Coalition,

The CDC responded to social media videos making the rounds of vaccinated folks sticking coins and refrigerator magnets to their arms to “prove” that the shots contain metal ingredients like, say, microchips.

But physicians who watched the videos speculated that people were sticking the magnets to their bodies with tape or saliva.

The vaccines do not make you magnetic.

They don’t “contain ingredients that can produce an electromagnetic field at the site of your injection. All COVID-19 vaccines are free from metals,” the CDC says.

The vaccines make women infertile

There is no evidence that the vaccines cause infertility, Dr. Carrie Wieneke, chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Kansas Medical Center, said at a recent COVID briefing.

This myth evolved from a false report on social media that claimed the spike protein — the recognizable crown-shaped bumps that let the virus penetrate host cells — on the new coronavirus is similar to a spike protein involved in the growth of the placenta during pregnancy, says Johns Hopkins.

“Therefore, if we give you the vaccine it will attack your ovaries and therefore render a female infertile,” Wieneke said, describing the myth. “That has not been proven.”

The two spike proteins are completely different, and getting vaccinated won’t affect the fertility of women trying to get pregnant, including through in vitro fertilization, Johns Hopkins says.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine has debunked this myth, Wieneke said. So has the CDC, which says there is no link between any of the vaccines and fertility.

“If you are trying to become pregnant now or want to get pregnant in the future, you may receive a COVID-19 vaccine when one is available to you,” says the CDC. “There is currently no evidence that any vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, cause fertility problems.”

The vaccine alters my DNA

This myth continues to make the rounds even after medical experts have spent months explaining how the vaccines work.

The vaccines encourage your body to create copies of the spike protein found on the surface of the coronavirus, thus teaching your immune system to fight the virus “that has that specific spike protein on it,” Johns Hopkins researchers explain.

The mRNA — messenger ribonucleic acid — in the vaccines enters your cells but does not “enter your nucleus, and that’s where the DNA is,” Dr. George Turabelidze, Missouri’s state epidemiologist, says in the new myth-busting YouTube videos.

After the mRNA causes the cell to make the spike protein it breaks down without affecting your DNA, researchers say.

“Also, as you know from the name, this is an RNA vaccine, not DNA vaccine. And you simply cannot merge RNA with DNA without specific steps, and the virus does not have those steps to make it happen so that it can incorporate itself into your DNA,” Turabelidze said.

The vaccines are experimental

“Recently I’m hearing this word that I wasn’t hearing before, that this is an experimental vaccine,” Turabelidze said.

“And this is very misleading because when you say experimental vaccine that means that you didn’t go through the entire process of experiment completely and come to conclusions and prove it. And it is not true at all.”

The COVID vaccines went through the same clinical trial phases any new drug goes through, involving tens of thousands of people, “large studies in multiple countries, different age groups, races, circumstances,” said Turabelidze.

“So when parties talk about ‘Oh, I’m not getting (an) experimental vaccine,’ they were misled by people who, I don’t know, have some kind of agenda to confuse people. This is not an experimental vaccine,” said Turabelidze.

The vaccines are being distributed under Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, with full approval pending. Their development was accelerated, Turabelidze said, but “there were no corners cut here.”

“It wasn’t invented in February 2020,” said Turabelidze. “That technology already existed for several years and the vaccines with similar ideas of mRNA were already developed and used, for example, successfully, against Ebola.

“There are several steps in the vaccine development. Because it was such a huge emergency on a global scale, some steps were done in a parallel fashion, not one after another ... that also shortened the (development) period.”

Thousands of healthy people have died from vaccinations

The CDC says reports of death after vaccination are rare.

The Reuters Fact Check team recently researched social media posts claiming that thousands of U.S. vaccine recipients have died as a result of being vaccinated. The news agency concluded that the posts took government information out of context.

The Food and Drug Administration requires healthcare providers to report any death after COVID-19 vaccination to VAERS — the U.S. Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System — “even if it’s unclear whether the vaccine was the cause,” according to the CDC.

As of July 26, VAERS had received 6,340 reports of people who died after receiving a COVID vaccine since Dec. 14, 2020 — 0.0019% of more than 342 million doses given in the United States.

But there is no proven connection between their deaths and the vaccine, the CDC says.

And anyone can submit information to VAERS, including patients and parents, which means the reports could contain information that is inaccurate, coincidental or unverifiable, the CDC notes on its website.

The vaccines contain microchips

This is possibly the oldest misconception still rolling around on the internet — and still debunked by public health officials across the country who keep telling people there are no microchips in the vaccines.

In an Economist/YouGov survey of 1,500 American adults earlier this month, 15% of respondents said it was “probably true” that the COVID-19 vaccines contain microchips. Another 5% thought it was “definitely true.”

The myth took off after a comment Bill Gates made in early 2020 about the possibility of digital certificates to store people’s vaccine records.

He didn’t mention microchips, but lots of other people did, including the head of the Russian Communist Party who suggested some kind of covert chip implantation scheme. National surveys showed people believed it, particularly Republicans.

“Actually, such a highly technological vaccine has surprisingly simple ingredients, such as fats ... salt, some sugar, and that’s pretty much the main ingredients in this vaccine,” said Turabelidze.

This rumor is “not even remotely supported by any evidence or any biological need to do that,” he said.

I already had COVID. I don’t need the vaccine.

That’s a very logical argument that has some merit “because we still don’t know exactly what is the best time to vaccinate after you’ve had a natural infection,” Turabelidze said.

But it’s not true, he said.

“There is developing science showing that after natural infection, your immunity can last quite a bit. But what we do know also from the science, is that immunity from the vaccine produces much higher levels of antibody than you can possibly get from natural immunity,” said Turabelidze.

“So because of that and because we do not know how long natural immunity may last, you could easily be immune for a year or two, but some other person could only be immune for six months.

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