Since its outbreak during the late year 2019 till date, it’s still alarming that some people in different places do not believe in the COVID-19 existence; they still believe that the virus is not as serious as it is claimed to be because of its flu-like illness and the tendency for such illness to be life-threatening. There has been various widespread misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines including false claims about their safety, efficacy, ingredients, side effects and purpose.
In Nigeria today, some individuals still believe that the COVID-19 is business as usual for the health and pharmaceutical sectors, and also that some doctors seem to diagnose every form of fever and malaria as the Coronavirus. Others also claim that the COVID-19 virus is also a means by various government parastatals to enrich their pockets, thereby creating a form of “infodemic” of disinformation especially through all social media avenues. This creates more unbelievers in COVID and create vaccine skeptics.
Individuals with high number of followers in their various social media accounts have been leading the promoting of COVID-19 and its vaccine misinformation which has continued to increase since the start of the pandemic. With this growing misinformation around the social media, and other information platforms e.g., religious bodies, fliers etc., the main public health concern around the COIVD-19 vaccine misinformation is the risk of such misinformation causing drastic reduction in the numbers of individuals who take up the vaccine. Although other barriers to vaccine haven’t been well-understood, yet misinformation plays a major role in discouraging people from getting vaccinated. And this misinformation circulating in the social media have brought about various myths and disinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine.
Presently, the WHO, Ministry of Health, and other public safety boards are working on various strategies to tackle the spread of vaccine misinformation, including the moderation of content on social media platforms, ensuring the public have access to accurate and reliable information, and providing education and guidance to people on how to address vaccine misinformation. Some of the initiatives to tackle vaccine misinformation and encourage vaccine uptake are aimed at specific minority ethnic groups in U.S.A, U.K etc. and third world countries, where there is a historically lower level of vaccine uptake.
Types of Misinformation, Myths and Conspiracy Theories
Every day, questions are asked about how COVID-19 vaccine misinformation might have come to light. Vaccine misinformation may have become widespread among people through many medium: some individuals might have coined their misinformation from true information that have been reconfigured or taken out of context, an example is the assumed microchips in the vaccine which was taken out of Bill Gates opinion regarding global health data. Vaccine misinformation could also be an entirely fabricated conspiracy theories about the vaccine and the pandemic more widely. Widespread misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines has included false or unsubstantiated claims about their safety, efficacy, ingredients, side effects and purpose.
The various type of myths, conspiracy theories and misinformation that have been passed from one individual to another through social media includes:
The vaccines are not safe for usage since they were developed rapidly. This was the first misinformation that circulated around the web for such a long time, and medical scientist have debunked this myth as not true. Due to the fast outbreak of the Coronavirus and its global spread, with many countries having to face more severe conditions from the Coronavirus pandemic than others, huge pressures were mounted on medical scientist to provide a cure or possible a vaccine to immunize the body against the virus. And with the collaboration of almost all the scientists in the world, and much funding into COVID-19 research, the COVID-19 vaccines were created rapidly. They all passed through Phase I, Phase II, and Phase III trials.
Although the SARS-CoV-2 was a new virus in the world, yet scientist had been researching into the Coronavirus family for decades hence it was possible to rapidly develop vaccines. It should be noted that once these vaccines were created and passed their trial stages, WHO and various countries carried out proper data analyses of efficacy and safety before adopting them for use.
COVID-19 vaccines cause death. This is one of the misinformation circulating in almost all social media platforms. After clinical trials of vaccines were completed and vaccines approved for use, certain bodies saddled with the responsibilities of gathering information about the adverse/aftermath effect of the vaccine, for example Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) in the U.S.A, NAFDAC/WHO Adverse Events Reporting System in Nigeria. These bodies ensures that they monitor the vaccine safety. Reports made to VAERS does not mean that the vaccine might have caused the adverse event, only that the adverse event occurred sometime after vaccination.
Though there have been many cases of deaths recorded in the world today about individuals who have died after receiving the vaccines, yet the cause of death cannot be attributed to the vaccine in many of these cases. Some of these individuals might have had minor accidents after vaccination, while some might be patients who have other form of ailment which might have caused their death. The percentage rate of individuals who die from COVID-19 vaccine after vaccination is much lower than the percentage of those without vaccination who die from corona virus. So, since there is a higher chance of surviving the virus after vaccination than death, the myth about the vaccine causing death is false. So far, deaths that have been linked specifically to the vaccines are very few.
The vaccine can give the body the COVID-19 virus. This is entirely false. All vaccines created can never give the body the COVID-19 virus. Unlike some vaccines e.g., measles, chickenpox which were created using live but weakened viruses to stimulate immune response, the COVID-19 vaccines were created using messenger RNA, viral spike proteins or inactivated whole virus which can never mutate to COVID-19. Side effects such as headaches, chills and fever, fatigue (similarity with the COVID-19 symptoms) are just normal signs to show that the human immune system is building up immunity against the virus and not passing the COVID-19 virus into the body system.
Once recovered from the COVID-19 virus, the vaccine isn’t needed. This is false. The Coronavirus, as explained can be asymptomatic in some individuals, thereby not showing any form of signs or symptoms, and recovering fully without any medication. Such individuals may develop antibodies against the virus. There is no accurate information on how long it might take from a person who had recovered from the Coronavirus to get reinfected again, but it should be noted that natural immunity (antibodies developed during first infection) can wane off after some period of time, causing the immune system to be open to future infection. Therefore, there is a need to get the COVID-19 vaccine by persons who have had COVID-19 infection, to re-enforce their immunity against the virus.
The vaccine will change the genetic composition of the recipient by introducing DNA into the body. This is not correct. The AstraZeneca as well as Johnson and Johnson vaccine do not have any nucleic acid. They are proteins: antigens of spike proteins. Sinopharm vaccine from China does not have genetic material also. It is made up of Coronavirus that was “killed” or “inactivated”. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccine introduce Messenger RNA (mRNA) which programmes the body to produce spike protein antigen. Normally, Messenger RNA (mRNA) is used as a template to build a protein; it is basically like a pre-form of a protein and its sequence encodes what the protein is basically made of later on. To produce mRNA vaccine, scientists produce a synthetic version of the mRNA that a virus uses to build its infectious proteins (spike proteins in case of corona virus). This mRNA is delivered into the human body whose cells read it as instructions to build the viral spike proteins, thus creating some of the virus molecules themselves. These proteins are solitary, so they do not assemble to form the virus. The immune system then detects these viral proteins and starts to produce an immune response against any spike proteins and this against COVID-19 when it strikes.
Messenger RNA has very short life span (few minutes), and mRNA molecules are constantly degraded into its ribonucleotides by ribonucleases. So, the synthetic mRNA that makes spike proteins are degraded after they make the spike proteins, and don’t remain in the body.
The vaccine contains a microchip. This is false. This myth was borne out of the context made by Bill Gates about a digital certificate of vaccine records. There is no microchip in COVID-19 vaccines, and the vaccine can neither track or get people’s information.
The COVID-19 vaccines create infertility in the human body. This claim isn’t correct. There is no scientific prove that shows that the COVID-19 vaccine can have negative impact on the human fertility. Also, there is no scientific evidence which proves that the COVID-19 vaccines can/will endanger future pregnancies. Although the spike proteins infused into COVID-19 vaccines have few similar amino acids as syncytin-1 i.e., the protein which is very vital for the placenta to remain attached to the uterus during pregnancy, yet these spike proteins do not interfere with the body reproductive system and this has been clearly demonstrated.
The COVID-19 vaccine help discard all COVID-19 precautions. This isn’t true. Just like smallpox was eradicated, vaccines can only boast of a 100% protection if it has covered every human and possible carrier vector/hosts. And according to the WHO, no person is free from the COVID-19 virus unless everyone has been declared free, therefore it is important to still follow all COVID-19 precaution guidelines carefully. Individual still need to do the following:
COVID-19 vaccine shortens the human life span. Although, this claim has been made to target the Pfizer vaccine, yet there is no scientific prove to show that COVID-19 vaccines reduce or shortens the human life-span, and this is because COVID-19 vaccines don’t contain nucleic acid but rather antigens of spike proteins which are targeted at the corona virus and not the individual being vaccinated. One scientist predicted that 0.8% of people who receive Pfizer vaccine will die within 24hrs; well over 500 million people have received Pfizer vaccine with negligible records of deaths instead of 4 million deaths as he predicted.
People with medical conditions should not take the vaccine. This is entire false. People with medical conditions such as diabetes, heart and lung disease are at a higher risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms. Therefore, getting the vaccine is more important to them than anyone else. Although, people who are allergic to some vaccine component need to seek medical advice before getting vaccinated, and people who have febrile illness should delay vaccination until afebrile, there is no contraindication to vaccination by people with medical conditions.
COVID vaccines cause emergence of new variants. This statement which was made by a scientist who won a Nobel prize for HIV virus discovery, is false. The new COVID variants emerged before vaccination started late last year. The vaccines are active against the new variants. This would have been impossible if the variants emerged after COVID-19 vaccination as the new variants would have been resistant to the vaccines.
Conclusion: Nobody would have envisaged a virus that would have turned into a global pandemic in the form of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (COVID-19), yet there is a vaccine that helps protect the immune system from future infections. In a modern world as ours where the social media is the main frontrunner once people need information, it is normal for different individuals to pass wrong information about the COVID-19 vaccine to others. This might have been borne out of a significant dose of fear and anxiety, yet individuals need to understand the need while it is important to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Getting the vaccinated today can help reduce the spread and longevity of the pandemic, thereby creating a Coronavirus free environment for all to live in.
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