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December 10, 2020

Debunking COVID-19 vaccine myths: What you need to know

Pfizer's candidate has been granted emergency use authorization from the FDA, and vaccinations could begin by Dec. 14

Prevention Vaccines
covid-19 vaccine myths Andrew Harnik, pool/Sipa USA

Many people are concerned about the safety of potential COVID-19 vaccines, like one developed by Pfizer, which is on the verge of receiving emergency use authorization from the FDA. One by one, the Mayo Clinic debunks the myths about the vaccine being unsafe, which have circulated on social media.

Millions of Americans could be getting the country's first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine in a matter of days. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted an emergency use authorization for Pfizer's vaccine. The authorization came after an independent advisory committee reviewed data from Pfizer's vaccine trials and the agency's own scientists gave their stamp of approval.


LATEST: FDA authorizes Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine


Vaccine distribution began days later – about one week after the United Kingdom began its rollout. Canada also has authorized the vaccine. 

Though much of the U.S. has been awaiting this news, not everyone is ready to roll up their sleeves for a shot. 

A Gallup poll taken in November showed just 58% of Americans are willing to get the vaccine, up 50% from the month before. In New Jersey, a poll found 40% of residents would not get the vaccine due to anxieties about side effects, not understanding how the vaccine works and its potential cost. 

But those polls were conducted before Pfizer and Moderna had released data showing their vaccines were safe and about 95% effective.

The FDA has made moves to ensure people's confidence in the vaccine, announcing it will make all the COVID-19 vaccine data accessible to the public. The federal government also is expected to launch a campaign encouraging people to get vaccinated. 

The Mayo Clinic has released a list of debunked myths about COVID-19 that have circulated through social media and caused anxieties in Americans, noting that "Vaccines are perhaps the best hope for ending the COVID-19 pandemic."

Myth: COVID-19 vaccines are not safe because they were developed and tested quickly

In the Gallup poll, the most common reason people did not want to get the vaccine was concern the vaccine was developed too quickly, totaling 37% of those surveyed.

Several pharmaceutical companies around the world have pushed for a quick response to the need for a safe, effective vaccine. 

"This emergency situation warranted an emergency response. That does not mean the companies bypassed safety protocols or performed inadequate testing," according to the Mayo Clinic.

Pfizer's vaccine was studied in around 43,000 people and showed a 95% efficacy rating and had no substantial safety concerns. It was created through new technology that is free from materials of animal origin and synthesized by an efficient, cell-free process, the clinic said.

All vaccine manufacturers must track half the participants from their vaccine trials for two months after injection before it can be approved for emergency use authorization. The vaccine must be safe and effective in those populations, the clinic said.

Before the vaccine will reach American citizens, it must go through a safety review by the FDA and an independent panel of vaccine safety experts convened by the Advisory Committee on Immunization. 

While the process has been expedited due to the high need for a vaccine, no short cuts have been taken.

"None of these factors that contribute to the accelerated development of the vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 imply that safety, scientific or ethical integrity are compromised, or that shortcuts have been made," according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus research center.

Myth: I already had COVID-19 and I have recovered, so I don't need to get the vaccine

It's too soon to tell how long — if at all — those previously infected are protected from reinfection. 

"Early evidence suggests natural immunity from COVID-19 may not last long, but more studies are needed to better understand this," the Mayo Clinic said.

The CDC echoed their statements and said because of the lack of information, it will wait to give an official recommendation on whether or not to get a vaccine until more information becomes available.

The Mayo Clinic says those who have had and recovered from COVID-19 should still get the vaccine, though they should wait until 90 days after diagnosis.

Myth: COVID-19 vaccines have severe side effects

Early-phase studies of the Pfizer vaccine show that about 15% of people who took the vaccine experienced short-lived, mild symptoms. 

These included headaches, chills, fatigue, muscle pain or fever for a day or two. Mayo Clinic said side effects are a sign your immune system is responding to the vaccine, and are common with most vaccinations. 

Those who get the vaccine will not get COVID-19 either, the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus research center said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it is developing an app, "v-safe," which checks in on patients after they receive the vaccine. That way, if you develop symptoms or have concerns you can report them quickly. 

Myth: I won't need to wear a mask after I get vaccinated for COVID-19

It's too soon to say if those vaccinated can still carry and transmit the virus to others. 

Those vaccinated should still wear a face mask, practice social distancing and wash hands frequently after being vaccinated.

Johns Hopkins said because there is a limited supply of vaccines, it will take time to distribute enough of them to be effective. This means masks still need to be work because the virus could continue to spread.

While some people are slated to be vaccinated by the end of the year, rolling out the vaccine to the entire country and achieving herd immunity will take time. The Mayo Clinic said it's important to protect others and continue to follow CDC guidelines to avoid community spread. 

Myth: More people will die as a result of a negative side effect to the COVID-19 vaccine than would die from the virus

While clinical trials of the COVID-19 vaccines have shown mild short-term reactions in some patients, they have not resulted in complications or injury. 

The mortality rate of COVID-19 is 1-2%, which is 10 times higher than that of the seasonal flu. Mortality rates also vary widely based on age, sex or underlying health conditions.

Reactions to vaccines are common and not considered life-threatening or dangerous, according to the Mayo Clinic. Getting the COVID-19 vaccine will not infect you with the virus, as it is inactivated.

"While no vaccine is 100% effective, getting vaccinated is far better than not getting vaccinated. The benefits outweigh the risks in healthy people," the Mayo Clinic said.

The vaccine is not just about survival, it's about preventing the spread of the virus to others. 

Myth: COVID-19 vaccines were developed to control the population through microchip tracking or "nanotransducers" in the human brain.

This is false, Mayo Clinic said. There is no vaccine microchip that will track people or gather personal information into a database.

This rumor started when Bill Gates made a comment about a digital certificate of vaccine records over the summer.

The "digital certificate" he referenced was not a microchip, but rather a database of those vaccinated in order to keep track of the country's immunity rates. This technology is not tied to the development, testing or distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

Myth: COVID-19 vaccines will alter my DNA

The vaccines do not alter DNA, the Mayo Clinic said. 

Vaccine front-runners Pfizer and Moderna use messenger RNA technology that triggers your cells to create a protein. That protein then triggers an immune response, according to the CDC.

Messenger RNA does not interact with your DNA at all. In fact. mRNA is broken down by cells in the body after it follows its instructions.

Myth: COVID-19 vaccines were developed using fetal tissue

This is false. The mRNA COVID-19 vaccines were not created with fetal tissue, nor will they require fetal cell cultures when in the production process, according to the Mayo Clinic. 


This story was updated Monday, Dec. 14, 2020 to reflect the news that the FDA had authorized Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine. 

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