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The truth behind 7 COVID-19 vaccine myths

Woman getting vaccinated for COVID-19

Can the vaccine hurt your heart? What about your fertility? Experts address the most common (and worrisome) COVID-19 vaccine myths.

Rosemary Black

By Rosemary Black

It’s safe to say that most of us have had it with the coronavirus pandemic. After 2 years of uncertainty, masks and restrictions, we’re ready to get back to the things and people we love. Yet one of the best tools we have to stop the spread of COVID-19 isn’t as popular as experts had hoped.

We’re talking about COVID-19 vaccines. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 15% of American adults still hadn’t rolled up their sleeves as of December 2021. To figure out why, the bureau sent out a national survey. Responders gave several reasons for not getting vaccinated. Nearly half were worried about potential side effects. Many said they didn’t trust the government or the vaccines. And 23% weren’t sure whether a COVID-19 vaccine would even protect them.

Making decisions about your health and the health of your family can be tough. So it’s important to have all the facts. Here, experts clear up some of the most common (and unexpected) vaccine myths.

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Myth: COVID-19 vaccines were developed too fast to be safe.

Fact: Creating a vaccine is a complex process, says Waleed Javaid, MD. He’s the director of infection prevention and control at Mount Sinai Downtown in New York City. Thankfully, scientists weren’t working from scratch.

We’ve been using vaccines to protect against infectious diseases for over a century, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Over time, scientists have learned how to make vaccines better and safer.

Plus, this isn’t our first tango with a coronavirus. The world saw the 2003 SARS coronavirus outbreak that ended a year later. Another, called MERS, was found in 2012 and still lingers in small outbreaks, primarily in the Middle East. Since then, vaccine experts have been studying coronaviruses. And they had already developed a “starter kit” vaccine that could be customized to fight different COVID strains.

The vaccines then had to go through rigorous clinical trials. Each of the 3 approved COVID-19 vaccines met all the same safety standards as any other vaccine before them.

Myth: The COVID-19 vaccine won’t protect me from getting COVID-19.

Fact: No vaccine offers 100% protection. But studies show that between 80% and 90% of people who receive the COVID-19 vaccine are protected from serious illness and death, says Dr. Javaid.

These vaccines prompt your body to make immune cells that will remember how to fight COVID-19 in the future. And this lowers your chance of getting COVID-19, dying from it and spreading it to others.

What about all the new variants, such as Delta or Omicron? Well, COVID-19 vaccines can prevent new variants from emerging in the first place. Each time a virus spreads to a new host, it has a chance to mutate (aka change). The more people who are vaccinated, the less likely the virus is to spread. And this helps stop new variants from forming.

Recommended reading: Long COVID is now a disability. What does that mean for you?

Myth: COVID-19 vaccines contain dangerous ingredients.

Fact: You could find many of the vaccine’s inactive ingredients in your pantry. Here are some examples:

  • Sugars (such as sucrose, or table sugar). They help vaccine molecules keep their shape during freezing.
  • Lipids (fats and oils). They surround and protect the vaccine’s active ingredients.
  • Salts (sodium chloride, or table salt). They help stabilize the shot’s ingredients.

The vaccine’s active ingredient is what instructs your cells to create an immune response. The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines contain messenger RNA (mRNA). The Johnson & Johnson/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine has a harmless version of the common cold virus. Read more on each COVID-19 vaccine type here.

What don’t the vaccines contain? Preservatives, tissues (such as aborted fetal cells), latex, metals or antibiotics.

Myth: COVID-19 vaccines contain microchips.

Fact: “There are no microchips in the vaccines,” Dr. Javaid says. “All electronics around us, like cellphones, have microchips, but the vaccines do not.” The goal of the vaccines is to fight COVID-19, not track your movement. (Microchips are pricey. So it doesn’t make sense from a fiscal point of view, either.)

Plus, nothing from the vaccine lingers. Once your body produces an immune response, it gets rid of all the vaccine ingredients. Nothing hangs around.

Myth: The COVID-19 vaccines change our DNA.

Fact: “It’s impossible for an mRNA molecule to have such an effect on our DNA,” says Serhat Gumrukcu, MD. He’s the executive director of translational research at the Seraph Research Institute in Los Angeles. He’s also on the infectious diseases and vaccines committee at the American Society of Gene & Cell Therapy.

Vaccines are simply messengers. They deliver directions to cells so that they can build protection against the virus. But they don’t have the tools to change your DNA. And they don't enter the nucleus of your cells where your DNA is.

Myth: The COVID-19 vaccine causes heart inflammation in young adults.

Fact: Since April 2021, there have been more reports of heart inflammation (called myocarditis) in young adults after they received an mRNA vaccine. But it’s very rare.

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“More than 250 million people in the U.S. have received the vaccine, and there have been about 1,300 verified cases of myocarditis so far,” Dr. Javaid says. “This is around 6 cases out of a million who received the vaccines.”

What does that number mean, really? Well, researchers in Ohio compared rates of myocarditis from the vaccine to those that occur in people who have been infected with COVID-19. For young men, rates of myocarditis after infection turn out to be about 450 per million.

In general, myocarditis is uncommon. Symptoms include chest pain, fatigue, shortness of breath and rapid heartbeat.

Myth: COVID-19 vaccines can affect a person’s fertility.

Fact: “There has been no data to support this myth,” says Dr. Gumrukcu. According to the CDC, there’s no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine causes any problems with pregnancy or the future health of the child.

For example, a 2022 study out of Boston University followed more than 2,000 women and their partners who were trying to get pregnant for up to a year. Researchers found that getting COVID-19 caused a short-term decline in male fertility. But vaccination didn’t impact fertility in either partner.

So are you ready to jump on board? We cover what to do before, during and after your vaccination.

And don’t forget to download the Optum Perks app to see how much you could save on prescription medication. You can search for, save and share coupons. And find the best prices at pharmacies near you.

 

Additional sources
COVID-19 vaccine survey: U.S. Census Bureau
How COVID-19 vaccines were developed: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Myocarditis after COVID-19: medRxiv (2021). “Risk of Myocarditis from COVID-19 Infection in People Under Age 20: A Population-Based Analysis
COVID-19 vaccines and pregnancy: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Study on COVID-19 infection and vaccination on fertility: American Journal of Epidemiology (2022). “A prospective cohort study of COVID-19 vaccination, SARS-CoV-2 infection, and fertility”

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