Myths vs. Facts: Making Sense of the COVID-19 Vaccine

COVID-19 Vaccine
Note: In recognition of National Immunization Awareness Month, CompleteRx dispels some of the myths surrounding the COVID-19 vaccines.


Among the reasons that COVID-19 vaccination rates have peaked earlier than experts hoped are the myths that spread among the unvaccinated and influenced their decision not to get the shots. The vaccines are too new; the vaccine itself will give me COVID; I’m immune because I had COVID.

Misinformation spreads so quickly and easily – primarily through social media platforms – that it has become a major barrier to achieving higher levels of vaccination that would bring us closer to herd immunity. In recognition of National Immunization Awareness Month, observed every year in August, CompleteRx tackles some of the most widespread COVID-19 vaccination myths and sets the record straight.

MYTH:  The COVID-19 vaccine can affect a woman’s fertility.

FACT:  The vaccine will not affect fertility. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the COVID-19 vaccination for everyone 12 years of age and older, including people who are trying to get pregnant now or might become pregnant in the future. Women who are trying to conceive may be vaccinated with any of the COVID-19 vaccines currently available. There is no reason to delay pregnancy after completing the vaccination series.

Confusion about this issue arose when a false report surfaced on social media saying that the spike protein on the coronavirus was the same as another spike protein that is involved in the growth and attachment of the placenta during pregnancy. The false report said that getting the vaccine would cause a woman’s body to fight this different spike protein and affect her fertility. These two spike proteins are completely different and distinct, and getting the COVID-19 vaccine will not affect a woman’s fertility. However, getting COVID-19 places women who are pregnant at an increased risk for severe illness as well as premature birth.

MYTH:  I don’t need the vaccine if I have already had COVID-19.

FACT:  Although you may have some short-term natural protection, known as immunity, after recovering from COVID-19, experts don’t know how long this protection will last. COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to be highly effective at preventing serious illness and death from the virus.

MYTH:  Researchers rushed the development of the COVID-19 vaccine, so its safety and effectiveness can’t be trusted.

FACT:  Studies found that the two initial vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) are both about 95% effective and reported no serious or life-threatening side effects. The technology that underlies both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were created with a method that has been in development for nearly two decades (messenger ribonucleic acid or mRNA), specifically for a pandemic situation. The plug-and-play mRNA technology needs only the genetic code of a new virus, and that was available just days after the new coronavirus was identified and isolated.

During clinical trials, the vaccine developers didn’t skip any testing steps but conducted some of the sequential phases in parallel to shorten the development timeline. While patient recruitment is often one of the biggest challenges in clinical trials, amid a global pandemic, the COVID-19 clinical trials have drawn much higher interest than is typical for a clinical trial. Financial support from governments around the world also helped expedite vaccine development and distribution. This funding enabled manufacturers to begin producing vaccine doses while the candidates were still in clinical trials, so supplies were ready when the FDA authorized the vaccines for emergency use.

MYTH:  The side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine are dangerous.

FACT:  A small number of people (mostly women under 50) have developed a serious blood clot condition after they received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine (7 per 1 million vaccinated women between 18-49). However, a review of the available data shows that the J&J vaccine’s benefits outweigh the risk of this rare side effect. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines can have side effects but the vast majority are short term and not serious or dangerous. These side effects include pain at the injection site, body aches, headaches and a slight fever, lasting for a day or two. Ironically, these side effects are signs that the immune system is responding and preparing to fight the virus should you contract it.

MYTH:  Getting the COVID-19 vaccine gives you COVID-19.

FACT:  There is no way to get COVID-19 from the vaccine. None of the FDA-authorized vaccines use a live virus. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines’ mRNA technology carries instructions to the body about how to build a protein. In this case, your immune system remembers the protein and is ready to attack and eliminate the real SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The J&J vaccine is a DNA vaccine, but it delivers the same product in the end as the mRNA vaccine produced by Pfizer and Moderna. The DNA vaccine allows the body to have an immune response against the spike protein and, ultimately, an immune response to infection.

MYTH:  The COVID-19 vaccine enters your cells and changes your DNA.

FACT:  COVID-19 vaccines do not change or interact with the body’s DNA in any way. Pfizer and Moderna’s mRNA vaccines and the J&J viral vector vaccine deliver instructions (genetic material) to the cells to start building protection against the virus that causes COVID-19. However, the material never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA resides.

MYTH:  The COVID-19 vaccine was developed with or contains controversial substances.

FACT:  The only ingredients in the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines are the mRNA, and normal vaccine ingredients such as fats to protect the mRNA, salts and a small amount of sugar. These vaccines do not contain any material such as implants, microchips or tracking devices.

Public health experts emphasize that a fully vaccinated population is the fastest way to achieve control of the pandemic. As healthcare professionals, it is imperative to address these myths with those who are apprehensive about vaccination. For communications resources and more information, visit the CDC’s COVID-19 microsite or Healthline’s COVID-19 resources hub.

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