Social media is a place more and more of us are getting our news, especially around the latest coronavirus updates.

But as well as reputable outlets and organisations using the platform to share factual information about the virus, vaccine and restrictions, it has also become a place rumours circulate and take on lives of their own.

As the vaccine programme in Northern Ireland goes from strength to strength, Belfast Live spoke to Dr Gerry Waldron, Head of Health Protection at the Public Health Agency, as younger members of the population prepare to be called forward for their jab.

He addresses five of the biggest falsehoods around the coronavirus vaccines, from myths they cause infertility, to rumours that it will change your DNA.

Speaking to Belfast Live, Dr Waldron said: "It's really important that when people are getting information or hearing something about what's going on with the vaccines they should ask themselves, what is the source, where is that information coming from, is it a reputable source."

He said the advice from PHA is that these vaccines are "safe and effective" and when people are called to get their jab that they should not delay.

He said delays in people getting their vaccine will only result in us dealing with Covid and its consequences for longer than we need to.

Dr Gerry Waldron

Dr Waldron said he hoped the uptake would not slow down as we moved into vaccinating young members of the population and added that he hoped people would be aware of the need to get vaccinated.

He said: "If you look at vaccination in general terms, we have a very good record in Northern Ireland about uptake of most vaccines and when you are talking about younger age groups, if you take for example childhood vaccines, we have rates in excess of 90% plus plus for most of those childhood vaccinations so it just shows that parents in particular, who often tend to be young in their 20s/30s themselves, are committed to getting vaccinated so I hope that spills over into the Covid vaccine."

He added: "We are not really getting any indication at the moment that people might be reluctant to go and get their vaccines when they are called."

Dr Waldron said people listening to myths around vaccines was a concern, but not something that was exclusive to the Covid jab.

"It is a concern, but we have been here before not just with the Covid vaccine but practically any vaccine, we have people saying this happens and that happens, and it's right for people to be concerned and worried about anything they are taking, it shows they have a questioning mind but they should take it a little bit further than just going on picking up something on social media and thinking that must be true," he said.

"Find out where it is coming from, inform yourself of where it is coming from and make up your mind based on that."

What is the truth behind 5 of the biggest myths surrounding the vaccine?

Myth it causes infertility

The British Fertility Society and Association of Reproductive and Clinical Scientists have advised that there is absolutely no evidence, and no theoretical reason, that any of the vaccines can affect the fertility of women or men.

People of reproductive age are advised to have the vaccine and this includes those who are trying to have a baby as well as those who are thinking about having a baby, whether that is in the near future or in a few years’ time.

They also say you can have the vaccine during fertility treatment and have information on the vaccine and pregnancy and women who have had recurrent miscarriages.

To read the latest on the vaccine and fertility from the BFS and ARCS click here.

The PHA website states: "There have been unfounded rumours circulating widely that Covid-19 vaccines could cause infertility because of a similarities in the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 and proteins in cells in the placenta. There are no similarities between these proteins that could feasibly cause the immune system to affect the placenta. There is also no evidence that the immune response to the spike protein – either from infection with Covid-19 itself, or from the vaccine – has had any effect on the placenta or pregnancy outcomes."

Dr Waldron told Belfast Live: "We can say to people, whatever you are hearing about it, don't take it at face value, go back and I would say the first port of call is looking at our FAQs and in regards to fertility there's a lot of information there.

"I don't know where this myth originated in the first place but it almost doesn't matter, you hear these things and they have to be addressed.

"Who is saying that, what are the responsible bodies like the British Fertility Society, the Association of Reproductive and Clinical Scientists, what are they saying and they are saying there is absolutely no evidence.

"If I had to take anyone's word for it, I would take those rather than any unfounded or unsubstantiated rumour that might be coming from social media."

When asked what his advice would be to those who think they should delay getting the jab over fertility fears, he said: "I would say to them don't hold off because there's no evidence or biological plausible reason why the Covid vaccine would affect fertility.

"It is good that young people are worried about their fertility and what might affect their fertility, but the key thing that could affect young people's fertility is unprotected sex with sexual diseases and I think if there's a message going out there that people are concerned, that's the one action people can take.

"Certainly, the Covid vaccine, from all the evidence we have, is not going to have an adverse effect on fertility."

Myth it changes your DNA


Now it seems this myth have come about through confusion as to how certain types of the Covid-19 vaccine work as they are new.

On the PHA website, it states the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only RNA-based Covid-19 vaccine being used in the UK at present. When it becomes available later in 2021, the Moderna vaccine will be the second.

"Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines are a relatively new type of vaccine to protect against infectious diseases, but any that have been approved for use have been through robust checks for safety and effectiveness," it states.

"Covid-19 mRNA vaccines work by introducing a molecule (mRNA) into the body which instructs the body’s cells to build a protein similar to those found in the virus that causes Covid-19. The protein is then recognised by the immune system which produces antibodies which will provide protection against Covid-19 infection.

"This introduction of mRNA into your body does NOT change the DNA of the human cells, it is read by cells to make a protein to mount an immune response, then will be destroyed within days by your body. It will not be incorporated into your DNA."

Dr Waldron told Belfast Live, this myth was a case of people "adding two and two together and getting 9 million".

"It is ingenious really the way science has come up with it as a new way of dealing with a coronavirus," he said.

"We never had a vaccine against a coronavirus before and it is an interesting way of doing it."

But he said because of it being new people have got the notion it will get into their genes but he says " it doesn't".

"What happens is the RNA gets into the cell, produces the protein, encourages the cell to produce the protein and then the RNA is destroyed, it has no effect whatsoever on DNA, it is a messenger to produce a response," he said.

"Once it has done its job it is gone and doesn't change the cell but you can see how some kind of logical flawed thinking would change Messenger RNA into something that changes your DNA, it doesn't."

Myth it's not safe due to speed it was approved

Health workers preparing to vaccinate members of the public at the SSE Arena

Concerns over the speed of which a vaccine was created have been voiced and on the PHA website, they debunk the myths about the safety of the vaccines because of this.

"There may be a misconception that vaccine research takes a long time but it isn’t the research that takes the time – it’s all the steps beforehand, like getting funding and approval," it states.

"What’s sped up in the development of a Covid-19 vaccine is the funding. The UK Government funded trials to get them up and running quickly.

"The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and Medicines Research Authority have sped up the process of approval – things like administrative paperwork that used to take months is now being done in days. This is what’s brought down the time for delivery of the clinical trials.

"Processes have been streamlined and run in parallel. The length of the trials themselves has not been shortened, and the usual safety measures remain in place and high standards must still be met.

"It has also been enabled by new technology, including the ability to rapidly manufacture vaccines. And supply – the vaccine is being produced already so that as soon as it’s known to be safe and effective it can be made available."

Dr Waldron said this was a much more reasonable query compared to come of the other myths circulating, but added it again is unfounded.

"When in the history of mankind have we ever had a vaccine within a year of discovering the disease, this is an absolute first," he said.

"I have mentioned about the hurdles that new medications and vaccines have to jump through and that has happened with this and the difference being that what happened with Covid was millions and billions of pounds, dollars, Euros, you name it, was thrown at this problem to discover the vaccine so the process was accelerated.

"What would have happened in the past is people with ideas about new vaccines would have spent the first couple of years scrabbling around looking for grants to make the thing work, that step didn't have to happen this time round.

"The will was there, the huge global cooperation took place and it's not just the three vaccines approved here, there are a load of other vaccines out there so I think people should be assured and need to be assured that all the appropriate steps to get this vaccine to the stage where it is considered safe and effective and in a position to be released for a vaccination programme as it is now were taken, there was nothing sloppy about the way this went down.

"The big difference was huge international cooperation and facilitating of financing it were key things. It does show I suppose what the world can do when it is faced with a really difficult problem and you wonder what other problems are out there that could be simply solved if we made the same kind of effort."

Myth that you don't need the vaccine if you have already had Covid-19


At the moment it is unclear if you have already contracted Covid-19 whether you will have long term immunity. So the PHA is advising people who have tested positive for Covid-19 in the past, or have tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies, should still go for their vaccines when called.

But the advice from PHA also states that vaccination should be postponed until clinical recovery from Covid-19, for at least four weeks after onset of symptoms or four weeks from the first PCR positive test in those who did not have symptoms.

Dr Waldron told Belfast Live: "We know so little about Covid, we have had it just over a year, what we do know is if you have had Covid before you do get a certain level of immunity but what we don't know is how long that immunity lasts.

"That is why we are recommending that everyone, even those who have had Covid, should be getting the vaccine because the worst thing that will happen is it will have no effect, but at best it boosts their immunity."

Myth that the jab will give them Covid-19

SSE Arena vaccination centre

There have been concerns and rumours circulating that the jab gives people Covid-19, but this is not the case. None of the three vaccines currently approved for use in the UK are live vaccines.

On the PHA website, they say the vaccines being used "produce a protective immune, antibody, response which can be measured by serology blood tests".

"They do not affect a PCR swab test, which is the basis of diagnosing Covid-19 infection by detecting viral RNA in the nose and throat.

"They also do not affect the results of Lateral Flow Device (LFD) tests. PCR tests will be used as part of the vaccine effectiveness assessment in those who are vaccinated and subsequently develop symptoms of Covid-19.

Dr Waldron added: "Well that is one thing that can be put to rest, it doesn't give you Covid, it isn't a live vaccine."

He continued: "People will get side effects and may feel a bit rubbish but that's not down to the vaccine that is down to the immune response and you could almost argue if you get those kind of side effects it's a sign your immune system is actually working and things are getting underway. It doesn't necessarily mean that if you don't get those your immune system isn't working as people react to it in different ways."

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