Vaccine Claims and Questions

Topics

Introduction

Since COVID-19 was first identified late in 2019, we have witnessed the rapid pace of medical research and scientific inquiry as scientists first raced to identify this new illness and then to find ways to treat and prevent it. For nearly two years, we’ve had a crash course in how scientists do their work -- sharing information and data, developing theories, testing those theories, incorporating new data, drawing conclusions, applying their research, and making adjustments based on their findings. It is a time-consuming, labor-intensive process that, unfortunately, has sometimes left a void where misinformation often rushes in to fill gaps in our current knowledge or to provide “guidance” that has no basis in science. It is much easier and quicker to write a social media post than it is to do clinical research and publish peer-reviewed findings.

Public health officials, including the Whatcom County Health Department, have followed the science as it has become available and evolved and kept our community up-to-date on the latest research, recommendations, and guidance. We have appreciated the opportunity to answer questions that have come our way including:

  • Symptoms of COVID-19
  • The rate of infections in our community
  • What kind of masks to wear and how to wear them
  • Where to find testing and how the tests work 
  • How to protect our family members, neighbors, employees, customers, and students from infection
  • The safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines
  • Where to find vaccine clinics
  • What to expect when you get vaccinated

And many more.

We have struggled, however, to keep up with the scope and scale of misinformation out there, as have public health and healthcare staff across the country. Misinformation has evolved, at a much faster pace.

In an attempt to keep up with the volume of questions, concerns, and claims circulating in our community and on social media, the Whatcom County Health Department has prepared the following compilation. It includes everything from Frequently Asked Questions about vaccine safety and effectiveness and confusion about the science or guidance to outlandish claims about COVID-19 vaccines or the illness itself. 

In undertaking this effort, we have no expectation that all questions will be answered or that misinformation will cease. We remain ready and willing to answer questions from those seeking information to keep themselves and others safe. We will continue to provide the most recent guidance we have from the experts to answer these questions. 

We expect, however, that misinformation will continue to proliferate at a steady pace, and perhaps the responses we have prepared to some of the claims we’re aware of will only spur further proliferation. Nonetheless, we are hopeful that the following will be of service to our staff and community leaders as they assist those in our community who may have come across some of these claims and haven’t known where to turn for credible information. 


COVID-19 Prevention

Claim: COVID-19 can be prevented with over-the-counter medication or vitamin supplements, particularly Vitamins D and C, zinc, and melatonin.  

Facts 

Vitamin D: People with certain health conditions or who are immunocompromised are at an increased risk of severe or fatal outcomes from COVID-19. Some observational studies have noted a correlation between high levels of Vitamin D and a lower rate of severe infection. It’s important to note that all of these studies were observational, not randomized controlled trials. One randomized controlled trial in Brazil found that COVID-19 patients who received high doses of Vitamin D in hospital did not have a higher chance of surviving COVID-19. 

Higher levels of Vitamin D correlate in general with better health overall. Conditions known to increase likelihood of severe COVID-19 disease often also result in low levels of Vitamin D. Obesity, for example, lowers Vitamin D levels because Vitamin D is stored in fat cells. 

In general, it’s important not to conflate correlation with causation. Just because patients who suffered severe COVID-19 disease often had low levels of Vitamin D does not mean Vitamin D supplementation, or conditions that encourage Vitamin D absorption, helps prevent COVID-19. 

Zinc and Vitamin C: Zinc may play a role in antiviral immunity, and Vitamin C combined with zinc may limit the duration and severity of cold symptoms. This, combined with the common cold’s correlation with COVID-19 due to both being a type of coronavirus, may have led to the assertion that zinc and Vitamin C prevent COVID-19. But a randomized controlled trial conducted in 2021 found that patients who were given one, both, or neither of these supplements did not recover faster than patients who were given standard treatments.

Melatonin: Similar to Vitamin D, an observational study conducted by the Cleveland Clinic suggests melatonin may be effective in treating patients with COVID-19. This is the only significant study conducted on melatonin as a treatment for COVID-19 and is, therefore, the most widely cited. But the study’s own leaders acknowledge its shortcomings, noting that it is an observational study and not a randomized controlled trial, the gold standard of scientific study.

Over-the-counter supplements may be beneficial for general health when used in moderation or as recommended. Large doses of these supplements, which have been suggested for treatment or prevention of COVID-19, can have adverse health effects. Additionally, these supplements are being promoted as a replacement for vaccination, rather than as a supplement to other accepted COVID-19 treatments. COVID-19 vaccines have completed many repeated randomized controlled trials. The only randomized, controlled trials conducted on supplements have not shown them to be effective in the prevention or treatment of COVID-19. 

Sources


Claim: I have red hair, so I’m protected from COVID-19.

Facts

This appears to be related to the Vitamin D claims. People with red hair are anecdotally reported in the popular press to absorb Vitamin D from sunlight better than people with other hair types, and since some observational studies have noticed a correlation between high levels of Vitamin D and lower incidence of COVID infection, people with red hair are supposedly less likely to get COVID.

People with red hair may or may not have higher Vitamin D levels than people with other hair types, since there’s more involved with Vitamin D absorption than hair type alone, like body fat percentage, time spent outside, and diet. Every Vitamin D study done so far has been observational, except for a single Brazilian study, which found no correlation between Vitamin D administration and improved disease outcome. 

Sources


Claim: Those who are vaccinated no longer need to wear masks.

Facts

The COVID-19 vaccines offer strong protection against COVID-19, including the variants circulating. But no vaccine offers 100% protection. Given the rise in more transmissible variants, face masks remain an important tool to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, even among fully-vaccinated people.

The current guidance is that all individuals, whether vaccinated or not, must wear masks in public indoor settings. Those who are vaccinated may gather in small, private indoor gatherings unmasked when all others in the gathering are vaccinated. 

Masks are also recommended regardless of vaccination status in crowded public outdoor settings where distancing is difficult. 

Sources


Claim: COVID-19 can be treated with Ivermectin.

Facts

Ivermectin was initially approved as a COVID-19 treatment in a few Latin American countries after a preprint of a study from data collection firm Surgisphere recommended its use, citing very high success rates with Ivermectin. The data has subsequently been questioned, however, and Surgisphere has declined to disclose the source of its data. Data provided by Surgisphere has come under scrutiny in a handful of studies where data was contradictory or not reliable. 

After Surgisphere’s data was called into question, some of the countries that had endorsed Ivermectin retracted approval, but other countries continued to promote the drug, in part because the drug is cheap and widely available, while COVID-19 vaccines are not easily accessible in many countries and virus activity is high. 

The FDA has warned against the use of Ivermectin in the U.S., particularly against Ivermectin intended for horses, as concentrations of the drug are much higher for larger animals than what’s intended for humans. Ivermectin intended for animals has been sold on the black market in other countries, and the FDA has received reports of people in the U.S. having severe adverse reactions after taking Ivermectin intended for horses. 

Sources


Claim: COVID-19 can be treated with hydroxychloroquine.

Facts

Study after study has failed to find any benefit of hydroxychloroquine (an anti-malarial drug) for COVID-19 patients. At the beginning of the pandemic, an open-label, non-randomized study with just 36 participants claimed 70% were cured after receiving hydroxychloroquine. These studies were considered preliminary at the time. The FDA issued an Emergency Use Authorization for hydroxychloroquine in March 2020, but quickly revoked it in June of that year after receiving reports of heart rhythm problems. 

It may be the case that some of the studies claiming hydroxychloroquine can cause dangerous heart rhythm problems are faulty studies, and this is true in one case. The Lancet published an article based on data from Surgisphere (the same data collection firm that provided bad data for ivermectin) claiming high rates of adverse reactions among COVID-19 patients after receiving hydroxychloroquine. Just like with Ivermectin, Surgisphere’s data was found wanting and suspect, and Surgisphere did not provide sources for their data when asked.

While one study based on faulty data should certainly be questioned, the fact that every other study save the small-scale, non-randomized study found no benefit to patients who took hydroxychloroquine should also be taken seriously. 

Hydroxychloroquine has not been proven to provide any benefit to COVID-19 patients, and may actually cause harm. That’s why the FDA revoked its EUA for this drug to be used in COVID-19 treatment.

Sources


Claim: Quercetin, hydrogen peroxide and other unapproved treatments can prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19.

Facts

In February 2021, the FDA sent Joseph Mercola, who has been identified as a leading source of COVID-19 misinformation, a letter warning him against further promotion of his site where he sold bundles of vitamins, supplements and other substances expressly intended to treat or prevent COVID-19. Those substances included “Liposomal Vitamin C,” “Liposomal Vitamin D3,” and “Quercetin and Pterostilbene Advanced”. 

The Federal Trade Commission also sent a letter to Gordon Medical telling them to immediately cease and desist marketing nebulized hydrogen peroxide for the treatment of COVID-19. The FDA indicated that there is no scientific basis supporting the use of such treatments.

One clinical trial of the use of hydrogen peroxide with COVID-19 hospitalized patients found insufficient evidence to conclude that hydrogen peroxide was an effective COVID-19 treatment.

Sources


Claim: Vaccinated people shed the virus and are infecting others.  

Facts

Viral shedding happens when someone who’s been infected by a virus, such as the virus that causes COVID-19, expels (or sheds) particles of the virus when they breathe, cough, or sneeze. This is why masks or face coverings are recommended. They prevent those infected with COVID-19 illness from shedding the virus and help protect you from catching the virus if you’re around someone who is infected. 

Vaccine shedding refers to the release of any vaccine components outside the body. It can only happen when a vaccine contains a weakened version of the virus. Since none of the COVID-19 vaccines currently in use in the United States contain the live virus that causes COVID-19, it’s not possible for you to catch COVID-19 from vaccination or shed the virus by getting vaccinated. Likewise, you can’t shed any vaccine components. 

Those who are vaccinated can become infected with COVID-19 (vaccine breakthrough cases) and then transmit the virus to others, but vaccination reduces the likelihood of becoming infected in the first place.

Sources

 

Claim: If we protect the vulnerable and let those who are healthier get sick, we’d get natural immunity and get past this.

Facts

It is logistically quite difficult to segregate vulnerable people, many of whom may not know or consider themselves to be “vulnerable,” from the rest of the population while letting disease run rampant. This would also infringe on the freedoms of certain people on the basis that they are more vulnerable and on the basis of their health, age, or other factors.

While potentially exposing many vulnerable individuals to illness, this strategy also risks the otherwise avoidable consequences of overwhelming hospitals and health care facilities, long COVID and other COVID complications, and increased death rates. The more freely a virus is allowed to circulate, the more likely it is to evolve and mutate as well.

Sources


Children and Masking

Claim: Masking children causes: harm to social/emotional development of children, youth suicides, suicidal ideation, facial skin infections/severe acne, breathing problems, lung development problems, low blood oxygen levels/carbon dioxide poisoning (leading to increased heart rate, nausea, dizziness and headaches), weakened immune system, sinusitis, increase in stress hormones, social/emotional stress from not being able to see expressions, depression, anxiety, disrupted learning, respiratory infection (and likely more). In short, masking of children does more harm than good.

Facts

Masks do not affect lung development. Masks allow oxygen flow through and around masks while blocking respiratory droplets. COVID-19, however, can harm the lungs. 

Carbon dioxide molecules are smaller than respiratory droplets and cannot be trapped by breathable cloth or disposable masks.  

If children struggle with the comfort of wearing a mask, the American Medical Association recommends experimenting with different masks and getting children involved in selecting a mask that offers a good fit while improving comfort.

Face mask usage has not been found to affect the speech and language development of children. It is important to note that visually-impaired children, who cannot see facial expressions, develop these skills at the same rate as their peers

It is true that children have faced increased stress, anxiety, and depression throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Children have experienced social isolation and disruption of routines. Parental stress has increased, which impacts children as well. These impacts are attributable in the literature to remote learning and the economic and social disruptions of the pandemic rather than mask wearing. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that these effects began to be seen in October and November 2020, long before most schools were offering a return to in-person learning, which required mask wearing.

The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly endorses the use of masks among children to protect children and adolescents. On July 18, 2021, the AAP issued a universal school masking recommendation.

Sources


Children/Young Adults and the COVID-19 Vaccine

Claim: Parental consent isn’t required in Washington.

Facts

Parental consent is required in Washington State, except for legally emancipated minors, married minors, and those meeting the definition of “mature minors.”

Sources


Claim: Children have strong immune systems and are unlikely to be affected by COVID. They don’t need to be vaccinated.

Facts

COVID-19 infections have increased significantly among children with the recent surge related to spread of the Delta variant. As of October 14, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that, of the nearly 6.2 million children who have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic, about 131,000 of those were in the last week. For the week ending October 14, children represented 25.5% of reported weekly COVID-19 cases.

Hospitalization for children with COVID is still uncommon, but with the surge in infections related to the Delta variant, hospitalizations of children have reached their highest level.

Children are not immune to complications from COVID infection. These include Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome and “long COVID.” One recent study estimates that up to half of all children infected with COVID-19 may have lasting symptoms.

Unvaccinated children who become infected with COVID-19 do not live in isolation. They have regular contact with others, including older adults, who are more susceptible to COVID-19 infection and severe illness. Vaccinating children not only protects them from COVID-19 complications but also protects those around them.

Sources

 

Claim: I’m young and healthy. I don’t need the vaccine.

Facts

It’s true that the elderly and immunocompromised are at an increased risk of severe COVID-19 illness. But that doesn’t mean young healthy people are immune to the virus, or to severe outcomes. 

Since the arrival of the Delta variant in Washington State, there has been  an alarming increase in Whatcom County in the number of people under 45 ending up in the hospital because of COVID-19. The number of cases among unvaccinated younger people has gone up as community transmission has risen. About 27% of local COVID-19 hospitalizations between July 4, 2021 and October 9, 2021 were younger than 45. 

Long-term ill health consequences of COVID-19 are by now well-documented. COVID-19 is essentially a multi-organ disease and can cause lasting damage to the heart, lungs and brain, even in young people.

Young, healthy people interested in staying healthy should get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible. 

Sources


Masking

Claim: We don’t mask for the flu. Why mask for this?

Facts

Flu and COVID-19 are similar in that both can result in serious complications. However, the mortality rate of COVID-19 is estimated to be as much as 10 times higher than the flu. 

In 2018-19, prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC estimated that about 35.5 million Americans were infected with the flu, 490,600 were hospitalized, and 34,200 died from influenza. 

In comparison, for the period of February 2020 through May 2021, the CDC estimated that, taking into account things like unreported cases and incomplete reporting, there were 120.2 million cases, 6.2 million hospitalizations, and 767,000 deaths from COVID-19.  

COVID-19 is significantly more virulent than the seasonal flu, and masks have been shown to be an effective way to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection. 

Sources


Claims: Masks don’t work. We haven’t controlled the virus with masks.

Facts

Some people claim that masks don’t work because viruses are so small, they can pass through masks.

Masks work by blocking the droplets that contain the virus, and by catching the smallest droplets before they evaporate and aerosolize. 

Masks have repeatedly been shown to be an effective way to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection. We know from real-world experience that when masking has been in widespread use, cases have gone down. In places or times where masking has not been recognized or practiced as a preventive behavior, disease rates have increased.

Respiratory droplets from your mouth and nose are the main way that COVID spreads from one person to the next. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, wearing a mask reduces these respiratory droplets by 50 to 70 percent. 

This same study notes that at least half of COVID transmission is spread by people without any symptoms, so wearing a mask can keep you from spreading COVID before you even know that you're sick. 

Sources

 

Claim: I’m vaccinated. I don’t need to wear a mask.

Facts

Fully vaccinated people who become infected can transmit the virus. Infection with the Delta variant produces higher levels of virus than previous strains, and infected vaccinated people have been found to have as high levels of virus as infected unvaccinated people. 

It also appears that the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine wanes over time, particularly for those who are most vulnerable (e.g., the elderly, immunocompromised individuals). Mask wearing prevents infected people from spreading the virus to others and adds an additional layer of protection to prevent infection.

Following the surge of COVID-19 resulting from the highly-contagious Delta variant, Governor Inslee announced on August 18 that he was reinstating an indoor masking requirement for everyone, effective August 23.

When there are surges in disease transmission, it becomes necessary to employ the dual strategies of increased vaccination and masking, regardless of vaccination status, to flatten the curve once again. 

Sources

 

Severity of COVID-19 Infection

Claim: The severity of COVID-19 has been exaggerated. A relatively small number of people become seriously ill.

Facts

The mortality rate of COVID-19 is estimated to be as much as 10 times higher than the flu. In 2018-19, prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC estimated that about 35.5 million Americans were infected with the flu, 490,600 were hospitalized, and 34,200 died from influenza. 

In comparison, for the period of February 2020 through May 2021, the CDC estimated that, taking into account things like unreported cases and incomplete reporting, there were 120.2 million cases, 6.2 million hospitalizations, and 767,000 deaths from COVID-19.  

Reported numbers of COVID-19, which likely undercount cases due to inadequate testing and unreported “excess” deaths, show that, as of October 20, there have been about 45 million cases of COVID-19 in the US, over 3.1 million hospitalizations, and over 726,000 deaths.

Additionally, “long COVID” is estimated to affect about 10% of those infected. Long COVID is not only associated with those who had severe cases. Those with mild COVID infection can still suffer from ongoing health complications associated with long COVID.

Sources


Claim: Vaccination is unnecessary because 70% of the eligible population has now gotten at least one dose and we’re approaching herd immunity.

Facts

As of October 19, 77.2% of the eligible population in the United States (those 12 years and older) had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. Of those 12 years and older, 66.8% were fully vaccinated. In Washington State, comparable figures are 75.5% and 69.6%, and in Whatcom County, they are 76.0% and 70.1%.

In the past, a 70-85% vaccination rate has been cited as an estimate of what it would take to reach “herd immunity.” With the recent surge of the Delta variant and the possible emergence of future variants, some experts are predicting that the threshold for herd immunity may be higher or that we may not be able to reach herd immunity. Rather, some predict that COVID-19 will become endemic and be managed through vaccination and treatment.

The 70% threshold cited in Washington State was a target for distribution of vaccination and did not define “herd immunity.” More transmissible variants, or variants that evade immunity acquired from vaccination or previous infection, will need higher levels of immunity to suppress transmission within the population.

Sources


Claim: Flu is a greater danger to children than COVID-19.

Facts

During the 2019-20 flu season, which saw the highest reported number of pediatric deaths, 199 children died of the flu in the US.

For the period of May 21 – October 14, 2021, available data from 23 reporting states, along with New York City, Guam, and Puerto Rico, show that 558 children have died of COVID-19.

Cases among children have been on the rise in the U.S. since July 2021. Between August 1, 2020 and October 17, 2021, 65,655 children in the U.S. have been hospitalized with COVID.

Sources

 

Claim: There’s an even more dangerous variant -- COVID-22.

Facts

Claims of a variant more dangerous than the Delta variant began circulating on social media in August 2021. At this time, there is no variant called “COVID-22,” and the Delta variant is the most transmissible and virulent strain identified to date. 

There is a possibility that the global rate of COVID-19 spread could lead to a more dangerous strain that is more transmissible, results in more severe illness and death, and is able to evade the protection of vaccines and treatments currently in use.

Sources


COVID-19 Vaccine Safety and Effectiveness

Claim: I’ve already had COVID. I don’t need a vaccine.

Facts

There are two ways to gain immunity against COVID-19 infection: one is being infected and surviving, the other is being vaccinated. Either one may help prevent future infection, hospitalization and death, but effectiveness varies. When the two are combined by being vaccinated after recovering from a COVID-19 infection, this is called hybrid immunity.

Hybrid immunity is much more protective than the immunity from natural infection is by itself, so it is recommended that people should be vaccinated after recovering from COVID-19 infection. This further reduces the chance of getting re-infected which reduces the chance of becoming seriously ill or spreading the virus to others.

This real-world study released by the CDC, showed that people who recovered from COVID-19 infection but were not vaccinated afterward, were 2.3 times more likely to be reinfected than those who were fully vaccinated after their first COVID-19 infection. 

A study published in the peer-reviewed journal Science indicates that antibodies triggered by vaccination may also be better at keeping up with virus mutations than antibodies from prior infection.

Sources

 

Claim: The COVID-19 vaccine isn’t FDA approved.

Facts

As of August 23, 2021, the Pfizer vaccine is now fully approved by the FDA. 

Two other COVID-19 vaccines currently offered -- Moderna and Johnson and Johnson -- are available under an “Emergency Use Authorization” (EUA) issued by the US Food and Drug Administration. EUA’s are used “to facilitate the availability and use of medical countermeasures, including vaccines, during public health emergencies, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.”

Treatments and vaccines authorized under a EUA must be rigorously tested, including extensive clinical trials and clinical review.

EUAs have been used in previous public health emergencies like the Ebola and Zika viruses, and other EUAs, including an EUA for the use of monoclonal antibodies, have been issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The submission process for the full approval of the Moderna vaccine began in June and is expected in the coming months. Johnson & Johnson is expected to submit an application this year. 

Sources

 

Claim: People are still getting infected, even if they got vaccinated. The vaccines don’t work and the need for boosters proves it.

Facts

The Delta variant is estimated to be at least twice as contagious as the original strain. It’s easier to catch, both for unvaccinated and vaccinated people. 

As case rates rise, it is expected that there will be more “breakthrough” cases, as no vaccine is 100% effective. But the rate of infection remains much lower for vaccinated people than for unvaccinated people.

A number of vaccine schedules require multiple doses for full protection, including vaccinations for Hepatitis B, Diphtheria/Tetanus/Pertussis, and polio, along with seasonal flu shots. This is not an indication that the vaccines aren’t effective.

The CDC and FDA have recommended third doses for moderate to severely immunocompromised people who didn’t get the same level of immunity from two doses that the rest of the general population did. 

Additionally, the FDA and CDC have now approved a booster dose for some populations listed below who previously received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine. The booster dose should be administered six months after the second dose. 

Those who should receive a booster dose are:

  • People 65 and older,
  • People living in a long-term care facility, and 
  • People 50-64 with underlying medical conditions. 

Those ages 18-64 who received the Pfizer vaccine may also receive a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine after six months if they are: 

  • People with underlying medical condition
  • People who are at higher risk of COVID-19 exposure and transmission due to occupational or institutional setting.

Recommendations for booster doses of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are now under review, and guidance is expected soon.

Sources

 

Claim: The vaccines were developed using cells from aborted fetal tissue.

Facts

The mRNA vaccines -- Pfizer and Moderna -- do not contain fetal cells or require fetal cells for use in their production. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine does not contain fetal cells but did require the use of fetal cell cultures in vaccine production. 

According to public health officials in North Dakota, “The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were found to be ethically uncontroversial by the pro-life policy organization the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Further, the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, a committee within the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has stated: “neither Pfizer nor Moderna used an abortion-derived cell line in the development or production of the vaccine. However, such a cell line was used to test the efficacy of both vaccines. Thus, while neither vaccine is completely free from any use of abortion-derived cell lines, in these two cases the use is very remote from the initial evil of the abortion…one may receive any of the clinically recommended vaccines in good conscience with the assurance that reception of such vaccines does not involve immoral cooperation in abortion.’”

Furthermore, in regard to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, “The Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission have both stated that receiving a COVID-19 vaccine that required fetal cell lines for production or manufacture is morally acceptable. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops goes further and has stated: ‘receiving a COVID-19 vaccine ought to be understood as an act of charity toward the other members of our community. In this way, being vaccinated safely against COVID-19 should be considered an act of love of our neighbor and part of our moral responsibility for the common good...Given the urgency of this crisis, the lack of available alternative vaccines, and the fact that the connection between an abortion that occurred decades ago and receiving a vaccine produced today is remote, inoculation with the new COVID-19 vaccines in these circumstances can be morally justified.’”

Sources

 

Claim: The vaccines contain preservatives, formaldehyde, fetal tissue, mercury, and more dangerous ingredients.

Facts

The vaccine ingredients do not include preservatives, metals, aluminum, thimerosal, or formaldehyde. (Please see the response to the assertion of fetal cells in the vaccines to address the issue of fetal tissue.) Ingredients can be viewed on the vaccine information sites.

Sources

 

Claim: People allergic to eggs shouldn’t get the COVID vaccine.

Facts

None of the COVID-19 vaccines currently available contain eggs. 

Those with a previous allergic reaction to a vaccine are advised to consult with their health care provider prior to vaccination and to remain at the vaccination site for 30 minutes (instead of the 15 minutes recommended for others) after being vaccinated for observation. 

Sources

 

Claim: VAERS data shows the vaccine is killing people.

Facts

“VAERS” stands for Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System. It is a critical tool used by researchers in ongoing vaccine safety monitoring.

According to the VAERS website, “VAERS accepts reports of adverse events and reactions that occur following vaccination. Healthcare providers, vaccine manufacturers, and the public can submit reports to the system. While very important in monitoring vaccine safety, VAERS data alone cannot be used to determine if a vaccine caused or contributed to an adverse event or illness. The reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable. In large part, reports to VAERS are voluntary, which means they are subject to biases.  This creates specific limitations on how the data can be used scientifically. Data from VAERS reports should always be interpreted with these limitations in mind.

About 8,000 people die in the U.S. every day from various causes. Some people die coincidentally after having recently received a vaccine. Whether or not their death was directly caused by vaccination, their death may be logged into VAERS. That’s why VAERS data by itself should not be used to make claims about vaccine safety. 

Reports of death from COVID-19 vaccination are rare. Between December 14, 2020 and October 18, 2021, VAERS received 8,878 reports of death among people who had recently received a COVID-19 vaccine, which is 0.0022% of the more than 408 million doses that were administered during this timeframe. 

The actual number of deaths from COVID-19 vaccination is almost certainly lower than 8,878. Even if we assumed every reported death was directly caused by vaccination, that would still mean the odds of dying from vaccination are only about 1 in 46,000. For comparison, the odds of getting struck by lightning in your lifetime are 1 in 15,300 - and the odds of dying from COVID-19 once infected are about 1 in 62.  

There are common side effects from COVID-19 vaccines which include headache, muscle pain, inflammation at the site of the injection, and fatigue. These typically go away within 2-3 days. 

There are also known, extremely rare risks associated with COVID-19 vaccination that have been identified through a rigorous safety monitoring effort. 

  • The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been associated with the development of blood clots with low platelets. As of October 13, 2021, there had been 47 such cases. Four of these people have died. 
  • As of October 13, 2021, there have been 1,638 reports of myocarditis or pericarditis in VAERS, 945 of which have been confirmed upon CDC and FDA investigation. These cases have been associated with the mRNA vaccines.
  • There have been approximately 233 preliminary reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome following J&J vaccination identified in VAERS as of October 13. These reports are being investigated to determine the relationship to COVID-19 vaccination.

As of October 19, 2021, 189,709,710 Americans are fully vaccinated. These side effects are exceedingly rare.

Sources

 

Claim: More people are dying from the vaccine than from COVID.

Facts

As of October 19, 2021, over 726,000 individuals in the US were reported to have died of COVID-19. In addition, a study of “excess death” by researchers at the University of Washington estimates that an additional 900,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 through May 2021.

Reports of death from COVID-19 vaccination are rare. Between December 14, 2020 and October 18, 2021, VAERS received 8,878 reports of death among people who had recently received a COVID-19 vaccine, which is 0.0022% of the over 408 million doses that were administered during this timeframe. 

But even this small percentage greatly overstates the actual number of people who’ve died from COVID-19 vaccinations. VAERS reports cannot be used by themselves to establish a causal link between vaccination and deaths, and VAERS reports are largely voluntary and may contain reports that are inaccurate, incomplete, or subject to biases. 

Sources

 

Claim: The COVID-19 vaccine, like other vaccines, causes autism.

Facts

This is a by-product of associated claims that autism results from the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine. The original propagator of this claim was a British doctor whose study originally was published in the Lancet but was later retracted and discredited. The doctor subsequently lost his license. Later peer-reviewed studies have further found the original claim to be incorrect. 

Sources

 

Claim: The vaccine is gene therapy that alters or re-writes DNA.

Facts

There are two types of vaccines currently in use in the United States: viral vector vaccines, like Johnson & Johnson’s, and mRNA vaccines, which are made by Pfizer and Moderna. Researchers have been studying with and working with mRNA vaccines for decades. The mRNA vaccines, short for messenger RNA, contain building instructions for the part of the COVID-19 molecule that’s responsible for attaching to our cells: the spike protein. Cells use these instructions to build antibodies that prevent COVID-19’s spike proteins from getting a foothold on our cells, thereby preventing infection. Once the mRNA has delivered the instructions, it is quickly broken down and eliminated by the body’s cells. 

Each of our cells contains a strand of DNA inside of a nucleus. The mRNA found in Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine never enters the nucleus and doesn’t interact with DNA. All it does is teach cells how to ward off COVID-19. 

Sources

 

Claim: If I get vaccinated, I won’t be able to give blood.

Facts

The FDA guidelines state that those who receive a mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) or a non-replicating vaccine (Johnson & Johnson) can donate blood immediately without a waiting period. 

Sources

 

Claim: The vaccines contain microchips to track and control the general population (sometimes by communicating via 5G cell towers).

Facts

This myth started after Bill Gates talked about the potential for digital certifications of vaccine records. There is no relationship between the digital certifications Gates spoke of and microchips. Inserting microchips into vaccine vials and syringes would also pose obvious logistical challenges.

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Claim: The vaccines can make you magnetic.

Facts

This is associated with the microchip myth. Depending on the source, the magnetic field is part of Bill Gates tracking efforts or alternatively the way the mRNA is made to move through the body.

COVID-19 vaccines do not contain metals or ingredients that could produce an electromagnetic field on your arm. 

Videos of people sticking magnets to their vaccinated arms are likely due to tape or oils or moisture on their skin (e.g., spit) that make the magnet adhere, similar to someone hanging a spoon from their nose.

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Claim: The vaccines will cause a zombie apocalypse.

Facts

Social media claims have circulated suggesting that the vaccines contain an operating system designed to produce COVID-19 viral proteins and will turn the human body into a “viral-making factory.” 

Evidence of the alleged intent behind the plot is attributed to a CDC website dedicated to "zombie preparedness."  There is, in fact, such a site, which was developed as a light-hearted means to educate the public about natural disasters and emergency preparedness. 

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Claim: The vaccines (or COVID itself) are biological weapons.

Facts

This is a variation on the zombie theory, with multiple iterations. Similar to the zombie claims, the story goes on to assert that the vaccines turn people into “bioweapons factories” to reproduce the virus and/or its variants.

There is consensus that the COVID-19 outbreak was not a planned event and, regardless of the origins of the pandemic, viruses spread as the result of respiratory droplets from an infected person when they cough, sneeze, or speak. Viruses mutate when they circulate freely and subsequently evolve. The COVID-19 vaccines do not contain any ingredients or components that could be weaponized.

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Claim: When the vaccines were tested on animals, they all died. 

Facts

There are two related claims concerning animal testing. One claim circulating on social media is that all the animals involved in COVID-19 vaccine testing died. The origin of this claim appears to be related to a SARS study that was published in 2012.This study had no relationship to COVID-19 or to the mRNA technology used to produce COVID-19 vaccines. The animals in this study were euthanized (a common practice to study the animals’ organs), rather than dying as alleged.

A second claim -- that the COVID-19 vaccine trials involving animal testing were halted because all the animals died -- appears to have originated during public comment at a Texas State Senate hearing. Animal trials were not skipped during testing of the COVID-19 vaccines, and there is no evidence that any animals died during that testing.

To expedite testing, vaccine makers were, however, authorized by FDA to overlap phases of testing in animals and the earliest human testing phases. No vaccine had any significant issues during animal trials to report.

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Claim: The vaccine causes Bell’s Palsy.

Facts

According to the CDC, cases of Bell’s palsy were recorded during COVID vaccine trials. But the FDA determined these cases not to be higher than in the general population and did not determine these cases were directly caused by vaccines.

The Lancet did find a higher incidence of Bell’s palsy in people who received CoronaVac, which is not in use in the U.S. 

A University of Hong Kong study, also published in The Lancet, studied both CoronaVac and Pfizer, again finding a higher incidence of Bell’s palsy among CoronaVac recipients, but not finding a higher incidence of Bell’s palsy amongst Pfizer recipients relative to the general population.

A JAMA network study of facial paralysis reports after vaccination did not find a higher rate of reporting after COVID vaccination than for other viral vaccines. 

Another JAMA network study found a higher incidence of Bell’s palsy occurring after COVID-19 infection than after COVID-19 vaccination.

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Claim: The side effects of the vaccine are dangerous.

Facts

Common side effects from COVID-19 vaccines include headache, muscle pain, inflammation at the site of the injection, and fatigue. These typically go away within 2-3 days. To manage anticipated side effects, many recommend getting the vaccine before a weekend or holiday or before time off from work. 

There are known, extremely rare risks associated with COVID-19 vaccination that have been identified through a rigorous safety monitoring effort. 

  • The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been associated with the development of blood clots with low platelets. As of October 13, 2021, there had been 47 such cases. Four of these people have died. 
  • An additional two cases have been reported in association with the Moderna vaccine. Based on this data, there is no indication of increased risk from mRNA vaccination. 

Additionally, as of October 13, 2021, there have been 1,638 reports of myocarditis or pericarditis in VAERS, 945 of which have been confirmed upon CDC and FDA investigation. These cases have been associated with the mRNA vaccines. There have also been approximately 233 preliminary reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome following J&J vaccination identified in VAERS as of October 13. These reports are being investigated to determine the relationship to COVID-19 vaccination.

As of October 19, 2021, 189,709,710 Americans are fully vaccinated. These side effects are exceedingly rare.

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Claim: COVID vaccines are causing the variants

Facts

A claim that COVID-19 vaccines are responsible for creating new, more potent variants from the virus has recently begun circulating on social media. One source of this rumor is a two-minute interview snippet of a claim made by Luc Montagnier, an anti-vaccination advocate. Montagnier claims that COVID-19 vaccines don’t protect against the virus, but do create antibody-resistant new strains.

Tracking of variants by the World Health Organization shows when variants of concern and variants of interest were first documented. They all first appeared in 2020, prior to the availability of COVID-19 vaccines.

Viruses mutate and evolve just like everything else, and the more they are allowed to circulate, the faster they evolve. The best way to prevent the rise of new COVID-19 variants is by getting vaccinated. Lower disease activity will slow the virus’ natural evolution. 

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Claim: The mRNA vaccines are experimental.

Facts

The mRNA vaccines have been studied for decades. It is true that the COVID-19 pandemic is the first time this technology has been applied in a real-world health emergency, but they have been studied before for flu, Zika, rabies, and other diseases. Cancer researchers are also looking at mRNA as a potential cancer treatment. 

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Claim: Development and testing of the vaccines were rushed. The vaccines aren’t safe.

Facts

The mRNA vaccines -- Pfizer and Moderna -- were created with a technology that has been in development for decades. Once the genetic information about COVID-19 was isolated and shared, scientists immediately began work on the vaccines. Testing steps were not skipped, but some steps were conducted on an overlapping schedule to work more quickly. Researchers also had an immense investment of resources available to work with. 

Two other factors aided in the quick roll-out of the vaccine. Because infections and exposures to COVID-19 were so widespread, researchers were able to determine the efficacy of the vaccines under development more quickly. Vaccine manufacturers also began producing vaccines prior to authorization to be ready in the event authorization was granted. 

To receive emergency use authorization, the Mayo Clinic reports that the vaccine manufacturer had to follow “at least half of the study participants for at least two months after completing the vaccination series, and the vaccine must be proven safe and effective in that population. In addition to the safety review by the FDA, the Advisory Committee on Immunization convened a panel of vaccine safety experts to independently evaluate the safety data from the clinical trial.”

An additional level of safety review was conducted by the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, comprised of medical experts from California, Washington, Oregon, and Nevada.

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Claim: The vaccine will make you test positive for the virus (or, put another way, the vaccine will give you COVID-19).

Facts

Viral tests like the diagnostic tests given at COVID-19 testing sites can determine if you’re currently infected at the time the test is given. These tests look for sections of the COVID-19 virus genome, which is found in the live COVID-19 virus. Since none of the vaccines currently in use contain the live COVID-19 virus, you won’t test positive for COVID-19 after vaccination unless you have COVID-19 when you went to get vaccinated, which you should not do

Antibody tests aren’t used to determine current infection, only the presence of antibodies, which will show up in your body after you’ve been vaccinated or after you’ve been sick with COVID-19. Antibodies are how the body wards off an infection and are key to lasting immunity. No COVID-19 vaccines currently in use cause infection, but they do spur your body to create COVID-19 antibodies. Because of this, some antibody tests may come back positive after you’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19. 

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Claim: I have a strong immune system and take good care of myself. I don’t need the vaccine.

Facts

You can’t predict if you’ll have a mild or severe case of COVID-19. Young, healthy people are generally not considered to be at high risk for severe COVID-19, but there are plenty of young, healthy people who have had severe illness and who suffer from “long COVID,” with long-term effects like brain fog, chest pain, and shortness of breath long after the infection has gone away.

Vaccination isn’t only about protecting yourself from disease. That’s an important part of it, but each person who gets vaccinated also protects the people around them. The longer people wait to be vaccinated, the more chance the virus has to mutate. Some mutations can make the virus better at infecting people or more illness more severe. Future mutations could also create variants that the current vaccines are less effective against. 

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COVID-19 Testing

Claim: PCR tests can’t tell the difference between COVID and flu and result in false positives. 

Facts

These claims have been circulating on social media and elsewhere. 

A PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test is the gold standard test for diagnosing COVID-19. It’s the most accurate and reliable test we have.

PCR tests work by detecting genetic material (nucleic acids) that are unique to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. If the unique genetic material is present, during one of the steps in the process, the sample will glow with a fluorescent light that the PCR machine detects and interprets as a positive result. COVID-19 diagnostic tests use a modified type of PCR, RT-PCR or reverse transcriptase PCR, that can detect RNA, the type of genetic material found in the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

There are two types of RT-PCR tests for the virus that causes COVID-19. 

  • The first is a test that only looks for genetic material from the virus that causes COVID-19. Other viruses, including the flu virus and other coronaviruses, won’t produce a positive result with this test. You can see data that shows this test is specific and exclusive to SARS-CoV-2 in this data from the CDC.
  • The second test (called the Flu SC2 Multiplex Assay) is designed to look for three viruses at once: the virus that causes COVID-19, and both the influenza A and B viruses. It saves time and resources by looking for both diseases at once. The multiplex test is especially helpful as flu season approaches and more people might be coming in with symptoms that could be caused by either virus.

In July 2021, the CDC withdrew its EUA request for the first type of test. It was previously issued an EUA by the FDA in February 2020. 

Some people erroneously claimed that the CDC withdrew its EUA request for the PCR test because it couldn’t tell the difference between the flu and COVID-19. That’s incorrect. Instead, the CDC now wants to encourage labs to use the multiplex testing method, which also has an EUA issued by the FDA, to test for flu and COVID-19 at the same time. 

There are many real-time RT-PCR tests specifically for COVID-19 that have been issued EUAs by the FDA and can be used to diagnose infection with the virus that causes COVID-19. These tests are all available for use by labs in the U.S.

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Claim: I asked to get tested for Delta and they couldn’t do it. They don’t know what the numbers really are.

Facts

The diagnostic tests that tell you whether or not you have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, aren’t designed to tell the difference between variants of COVID-19. To tell which variant is present in a sample, labs must use another, more sophisticated, kind of test: genomic sequencing.

PCR tests (also called molecular tests) and antigen tests both look for parts of the virus to tell you if you’re infected. They both can detect any type of variant, but they don’t tell you which one it is. To know which variant is causing the infection, you must look at the entire genome of the virus. By looking at the entire genome, the lab can find the mutations in the virus’s genetic material that indicate it’s a variant and which variant it is. The process of looking at the virus’s genome is called genomic sequencing.

Not every lab that tests for COVID-19 can do genomic sequencing, and it’s also time consuming. So only a portion of all test samples are fully sequenced. 

Genomic sequencing is typically used for disease surveillance. This means it helps us understand how the virus spreads and evolves, but it doesn’t help to diagnose or treat an individual. FDA has not approved genomic sequencing for clinical testing, only for research and public health surveillance purposes. Because it is not approved for clinical testing, patients and their providers do not get the results of variant testing.

In addition, results of genomic sequencing may not be available for weeks or months after the initial positive PCR test and have no clinical use, such as helping determine treatment. 

In Washington State, 8.6% of all COVID-19 samples have been sequenced, beginning in January 2020 through October 5, 2021. From those samples, epidemiologists are able to estimate how common each variant is. The Washington State Department of Health publishes a weekly report on SARS-CoV-2 genomic sequencing.

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Claim: You can’t rely on a positive test. They’re inaccurate.

Facts

The FDA has authorized hundreds of COVID-19 tests, and to date has only recalled 3 of them. Social media posts claiming all PCR tests were recalled began circulating after a test made by INNOVA was recalled by the FDA. There are still lots of approved tests currently in use providing accurate diagnoses and saving countless lives. 

PCR and antigen tests are very specific, but the accuracy of a test depends on several factors, including the prevalence of infection in the population being tested. If someone is a close contact of an infected person in an area where there is a high level of infection in the community, false positive tests are much less likely. 

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Claim: The swabs used in tests are sterilized with ethylene oxide gas, which has been linked to cancer.

Facts

Ethylene glycol gas is commonly used to sterilize medical instruments. The sterilization process ensures that residue is removed. Trace amounts may remain, but they are well within national and international safety standards. To raise concern, residual exposure would need to exceed 20 mg per day. A swab typically weighs .15 mg. That means that you’d need to use 13,000 swabs in a day for this to exceed recommended limits.

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Pregnancy, Breastfeeding, and Fertility

Claim: Being around someone who got vaccinated will affect my menstrual cycle. 

Facts

Changes in menstruation can be caused by a number of things, including stress, sleep disruptions, changes in diet, and infections.

There is no evidence to date that changes in menstruation are a side effect of either being around someone who got vaccinated or getting vaccinated yourself. 

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Claim: COVID-19 vaccinations affect fertility and/or lead to miscarriage. 

Facts

This myth comes from claims on social media that conflate how COVID-19 vaccines interact with coronavirus spike proteins with another spike protein called syncitin-1, which is involved in the growth of attachment of the placenta. 

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the claim is that “getting the COVID-19 vaccine would cause a woman’s body to fight this different spike protein and affect her fertility. The two spike proteins are completely different and distinct, and getting the COVID-19 vaccine will not affect the fertility of women who are seeking to become pregnant, including through in vitro fertilization methods. During the Pfizer vaccine tests, 23 women volunteers involved in the study became pregnant, and the only one who suffered a pregnancy loss had not received the actual vaccine, but a placebo. Getting COVID-19, on the other hand, can have a potentially serious impact on pregnancy and the mother’s health.”

The CDC came out recently with a strong endorsement of vaccination for pregnant and recently pregnant people, given the risk of severe illness and pre-term birth associated with COVID-19 infection.

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Claim: Breastfeeding isn’t safe if you’ve gotten vaccinated.

Facts

Not only does the American Academy of Pediatrics report that breastfeeding after COVID-19 vaccination is safe, it further states that breastfeeding after vaccination is, in fact, beneficial. In the same way that a breastfeeding mom who has been vaccinated for flu or pertussis passes antibodies on to her baby, a study has shown that COVID-19 antibodies are passed from mother to child via breastmilk.

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Other Concerns

Concern: I can’t afford to get the vaccine.

Facts

The vaccine is available for free to anyone living in the US. Vaccine providers might ask for your insurance if you have it so they can be reimbursed for the administration fee. If you don’t have insurance, the shot will still be offered at no cost to you.

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Concern: I’m concerned about privacy and my immigration status.

Facts

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has issued a statement in support of equitable COVID-19 vaccine access, regardless of immigration status. No one should be dissuaded from getting vaccinated because of such concerns.

Vaccination sites should not require you to provide a Social Security number or proof of citizenship. It is possible that some sites may request this if available, but it should not be a requirement. 

The Washington State Department of Health has also issued a vaccine rights document which can be viewed here.

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Claim: Vaccine makers are exempt from liability.

Facts

In the United States, anyone who believes they were injured as a result of a vaccine they received can file a claim or petition with the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. This program was created in the 1980s in order to protect against vaccine shortages for vaccine preventable diseases. The COVID-19 vaccine is no different in that regard from any other vaccine. All claims for vaccine-related injury are managed through the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

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