As vaccination for Covid-19 has begun in the UK, the anti-vaxxer community are ramping up their propaganda on social media platforms, mostly by recycling the tired old myths they're so fond of peddling.
The team at Technology Networks decided to tackle the war on vaccines by hosting a compendium of anti-vaxxer myth takedowns. The “destroyer” was Dr Eric Yager who is the Associate Professor of Microbiology at the Center for Biopharmaceutical Education & Training.
The first myth in their warpath was the idea that the Covid-19 vaccine contains unsafe substances. In previous years, the poster child for unsafe vaccine substances was a molecule that contained mercury, but this year the focus has shifted to formaldehyde. This substance can be dangerous in high concentrations, but in reality the quantities used in the vaccine production cycle is nowhere near the amount needed to be dangerous.
The human body actually produces a small amount of formaldehyde and it's pretty good at breaking it down. Formaldehyde aside, every vaccine that makes it beyond human trials has been tested and re-tested for safety to make sure that everything it contains is safe.
“Most of these materials are in such vanishingly small amounts or have been removed in the processing, that they pose no harm to us,” Dr Yager explained.
The second myth focuses on the use of new fetal tissue and how such an ingredient is a sin. This approach is often touted as a religious reason to refute vaccines. Vaccine testing and developments often do require cell lines and, in case of the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine, this cell line came from a fetus from 1983.
If you believe this to be a sin that's a conversation to take up with the Pope and the Vatican itself, as even they are of the opinion that the duty of care we owe to each other in protecting those who are most likely to suffer severe disease outweighs the use of fetal tissue.
“Each of us has a duty to protect others from infection with its danger of serious illness and, for some, death. A vaccine is the most effective way to achieve this unless one decides to self-isolate,” Bishop Richard Moth, speaking on behalf of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Academy of Life, said in a statement.
“Catholics may in good conscience receive any of these vaccines for the good of others and themselves. In good conscience, one may refuse a particular vaccine but continues to have a duty to protect others from infection.”
The third myth is that mRNA vaccines are somehow rewriting your genetic code. The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines both contain mRNA, which is a fragment of the virus genetic code. Our body uses mRNA all the time to make proteins. The mRNA vaccines produce viral proteins that are harmless to us but act as a dress rehearsal so that our immune system can later recognize the virus as an intruder.
“Really this type of vaccine cannot incorporate into our genome. It is a unidirectional process. In our bodies we have DNA, our genome creates the messenger RNA [mRNA] as the blueprint for proteins, and proteins are then produced,” Dr Yager explained. “Our body does not contain the machinery to go in the reverse from RNA to DNA.”
Dr Yager also went on to explain just how fascinating it is to be able to produce a working vaccine in such a short amount of time. The need for a vaccine requires a hefty governmental and private investment, but it also required the altruism of volunteers who participated in huge numbers and were vital in gathering the clinical data needed to assess if the vaccines were working or not.
In vaccine production, data collection is key. The FDA needed to continue monitoring volunteers for two months after their second dose to make sure the vaccine remained safe and effective during what is known to be a critical time for the emergence of side effects. To support this existing data, more information continues to be collected to monitor the vaccine's efficacy and safety in the long term.
Another intrusive myth is that any immunity you might gain from contracting the disease is preferable and somehow superior to the immunity conferred by the vaccine. This is just a repackaged myth that has previously used against vaccines for chickenpox, measles and flu. These diseases have real, long-lasting and often fatal consequences, so waiting to confer immunity by first getting sick is not a promising strategy for your future health. Allowing the virus to move through the population is a surefire way to have the death of many citizens on your hands, and will result in many more needing long-term care to manage the consequences of the disease.
The interview also tackled the enduring myth that vaccinations cause autism. This myth was manufactured by disgraced former doctor Andrew Wakefield to discredit the MMR vaccine and make himself rich by developing his own replacement vaccine alongside other health products. The idea that vaccines cause autism is not only false, it's also an insult to autistic and neurodivergent people as it further stigmatizes this community.
For more information about Covid-19, check out the IFLScience Covid-19 hub where you can follow the current state of the pandemic, the progress of vaccine development, and further insights into the disease.