The Kansas City Star
Have you heard that after you get the COVID-19 vaccine you’ll become magnetic?
Do we need to say it? That’s not true.
From the beginning of the pandemic public health officials have waged war on two fronts: against this new virus and an ocean of myths, rumors and misinformation.
Medical experts have begged Americans to get their information about COVID-19 from credible sources, not from people who play doctor on Facebook, cable news or conspiracy theory websites.
And yet, in Mobile, Alabama, the county health director recently had to reassure one person who got vaccinated that the vaccine was made by a pharmaceutical company and not a U.S. Army biological laboratory.
And in COVID-ravaged southwest Missouri, Ozarks Healthcare CEO Tom Keller has fought off rumors that Bill Gates put a microchip in the vaccine. “I’ve heard everything. It’s ridiculous,” he told Bloomberg.
Health officials worry that misinformation is making people afraid to get vaccinated and confusing those who have concerns and questions about the shots, slowing what they believe is the best path out of a pandemic that has ruled American life for more than 17 months.
Fighting back, Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services has created a series of YouTube videos debunking vaccine myths.
“There is a subset of the population and a group of people, probably in any area, who still are very thoughtful about this. But I think the misinformation campaigns have gone on … and contributed to this a lot,” Dr. Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and control for the University of Kansas Health System, said this week.
In a new guide for families, educators, health professionals, journalists and local governments on how to address vaccine falsehoods, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy called misinformation a “serious threat to public health.”
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, 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.”
Last week Truman became the first hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, to require all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, a decision made partly to demonstrate to the public that the vaccines are safe.
“I think sometimes staff are listening to some of the same false information that’s out there as others,” said Shields. “We’re asking people to listen to our infectious disease docs, our experts. Listen to the national experts. This is safe. It works.”
— Myth: 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, vaccineinformation.org.
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.
— Myth: 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-19 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.”
— Myth: 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.
—Myth: 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.”
— Myth: Thousands of healthy people have died from vaccination
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 health care 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.
— Myth: 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.
— Myth: 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.
“Because we don’t know that yet, it is still recommended you get vaccinated even if you had an infection.”