As the COVID-19 vaccine continues to be distributed, public health officials must learn to combat the next hurdle in the pandemic cycle: how to convince the public, specifically vaccine-hesitant groups, to accept the vaccine. This is no easy feat, considering anti-vaccination groups have been around since 1796, when the first vaccine was introduced.
Typically, people are more concerned with vaccines administered to children rather than those given to adults due to a long-term myth that the Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism in children. Now, with the introduction of the new Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, this concern has spread to adult vaccinations. According to recent polling data, 35% of healthcare workers are reluctant to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Although it is understandable and expected that people would be timid about a new vaccine, pushback against the COVID-19 vaccine may pose a serious threat to combating the pandemic.
Understanding the following facts vs fiction is critical to diminishing vaccine hesitancy; staying informed may lead to staying safe.
General myths and misconceptions debunked
MYTH: Natural immunity is better than vaccine-acquired immunity.
FACT: Vaccines contain antigens that allow the immune system to recognize a pathogen, so you’re still making memory cells that will aid in facilitating a more efficient immune response against that specific pathogen if you encounter it again. The risks and potential mortality that come with contracting a disease far outweigh any benefit that there may be (if any) from gaining antibodies from the pathogen itself over a vaccine.
MYTH: Vaccines contain unsafe toxins.
FACT: There are many ways to create a vaccine and sometimes a safe additive called an adjuvant is added to stimulate a stronger immune response to the vaccine and make it more effective overall. Adjuvants make vaccines more effective in various ways including allowing for antigens to persist for longer in the body, which gives the person’s immune system enough time to produce antibodies against the pathogen. Adjuvants can also increase shelf life in multi-dose vaccine vials like the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Some people see adjuvants as a threat to their/their child’s health, but there are no unsafe levels of any toxins in vaccines.
MYTH: There is no point in vaccinating for diseases that have low prevalence rates where they live.
FACT: Even if a disease has been virtually eliminated in an area, it’s still important to vaccinate against it because if someone in the community does happen to acquire the disease it could quickly become an outbreak if others did not protect themselves against it. It’s also important to vaccinate if you can to contribute to herd immunity; think of it as a way to protect yourself and those around you. Along these lines, those who have already had COVID-19 can still benefit from getting vaccinated because of the possibility of reinfection and protecting others.
COVID-19 myths debunked
MYTH: The COVID-19 vaccine can alter your body’s DNA.
FACT: This is false. Vaccines cannot alter your DNA. When it is injected into a person, the COVID-19 vaccine stimulates your body to create a specific defense against the coronavirus, leaving your DNA unchanged.
MYTH: Any adverse side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine are dangerous and have indefinite long-term consequences.
FACT: Those with (severe) allergies (i.e., anaphylactic reactions) have been advised to hold off on getting the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. However, any reactions experienced by the rest of the public after receiving the vaccine are mild and not long term. Short-term side effects may include soreness at the site of injection and headaches or fever lasting about a day.
Vaccine hesitancy is a major public health problem that continues to demand attention now more than ever. You can help public health specialists navigate the anti-vaccination movement by educating yourself and others on the importance of COVID-19 vaccination.
Vaccines and immunization: Myths and misconceptions, WHO, October 2020
The MMR vaccine and autism: Sensation, refutation, retraction, and fraud, NCBI, Indian Journal of Psychiatry, April 2011
Retracted Wakefield paper that initially caused fear about the MMR vaccine, The Lancet, February 1998
Vaccine Myths Debunked, PublicHealth.org 2021
Common Vaccine Safety Questions and Concerns, CDC