COVID-19 Vaccine Myths
*As of October 25, 2021, 50% of Cascade County's eligible population age 12+ is fully vaccinated.
DNA vs. RNA
DNA is a double-stranded nucleotide chain that resides in your cells' nuclei. It is the set of master instructions for, among other things, the creation of proteins within the cell. When cells divide, the DNA is copied and duplicated, so it is passed on to future generations of cells.
So how do DNA's instructions get out of the nucleus where they can be used in the cytoplasm (the cellular material outside the nucleus) to assemble proteins? That is the role of messenger RNA, or mRNA. An enzyme in the nucleus binds to a DNA molecule and "unzips" the two strands of the double helix. It then reads one strand, nucleotide by nucleotide, and assembles another chain of complementary nucleotides. This complementary copy of a DNA strand segment is RNA.
There are several types of RNA. Each has a different function. For example, transfer RNA (tRNA) binds to amino acids and carries them to "ribosomes" within the cell cytoplasm so that they can be assembled into proteins. The role of mRNA is to carry the protein assembly instructions from the nucleus to a ribosome in the cytoplasm, where amino acids are then linked together in the order specified by the mRNA to form proteins.
Unlike DNA, RNA is not duplicated during cell division. It is not passed on to subsequent generations of cells. In fact, it degrades quite quickly within the cell cytoplasm - this rapid decay has historically been one of the main problems that had to be solved to produce effective mRNA vaccines. nRNA is not a permanent fixture of the cell like DNA - it serves its purpose and then decays and is destroyed. It does not re-enter the nucleus from the cytoplasm, and it does not change your cells' DNA which gets duplicated and passed on through cell division.
The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines utilize mRNA. The injected solution contains strands of mRNA enclosed in a lipid (fat) capsule to protect it from degrading too quickly. The lipid capsule enters a cell and releases the mRNA within. The mRNA makes its way to a ribosome and directs the assembly of a certain kind of protein - a "spike protein." These are the same spike proteins that are present on the exterior of a coronavirus particle, and they are what your body's white blood cells use to identify the invasive virus so it can be destroyed. With the vaccines, the newly created spike proteins then exit the cell and are recognized as invaders by the white blood cells and other mechanisms of the immune system. The body responds by producing lots of new immune system cells that can attack anything identified as having the spike protein. Then, if you are later infected with a coronavirus, the body already has a robust defense system in place and ready to fight it off very quickly.
Again, it is important to remember that:
1. The injected mRNA does not stick around permanently. It lasts long enough to produce some of the spike proteins that will trigger an immune response, then degrades and effectively "dies."
2. The injected mRNA does not enter the cell nucleus where DNA is stored. It does not affect or change your DNA in any way.
Click here to see why how the COVID-19 vaccine approval processes were accelerated without cutting out steps!
Some people have expressed concerns that the COVID-19 vaccines might negatively affect fertility or cause complications in pregnancy. There has been no credible scientific evidence that this is true. There are two primary sources for this myth:
- A study in which rats were injected with an extremely high dose of the Pfizer vaccine (over 1000x the dose given to humans, when adjusted for weight) measured a small increase in fats in the uterus of the rats. There was no finding in this study of any adverse effects on fertility or pregnancy.
- A former Pfizer scientist sent a letter to the European Medicines Agency, claiming that the coronavirus spike protein was the same as another spike protein called syncytin-1 that is involved in the growth and attachment of the placenta during pregnancy. He submitted no evidence to support this claim and, in reality, the two spike proteins are completely different. The immune defense your body builds in response to identifying the coronavirus spike protein does not attack or block the syncytin-1 spike protein. There is no evidence that a COVID-19 vaccine affects fertility, yet these claims where nevertheless spread widely on social media.
During the Pfizer trials, 23 female volunteers involved in the study became pregnant. Since the vaccines were rolled out for the general public, tens of thousands of women have become pregnant after vaccination. There has been no correlation identified, by any credible scientific or medical source, between the vaccines and any complications of pregnancy. The rate of miscarriages among vaccinated persons is in line with the rate expected in the general population.
Reports of pregnancy complications on V-Safe and VAERS were reviewed here. These surveillance systems allow anyone to self-report complications after having been vaccinated so that they can be investigated further. This review found that "calculated proportions of adverse pregnancy and neonatal outcomes in persons vaccinated against Covid-19 who had a completed pregnancy were similar to incidences reported in studies involving pregnant women that were conducted before the Covid-19 pandemic."
The CDC continuously monitors the status of pregnant women who were vaccinated.
See here for a fact-checking article with more details on where these rumors originated and why they have no credible support at this time.
Some people might experience mild short-term side effects to vaccination, including pain at the injection site, low-grade fever, malaise, or rash. Although they may be uncomfortable for a short period of time, they are not serious and mean the immune system is practicing how it will fight the virus or bacteria if exposed.
Over the history of vaccines, longer-term effects from vaccines have virtually never been confirmed. On the rare occasions where effects have been confirmed more than a few days after vaccination, the effects appeared mere weeks after, not months or years. The Polio vaccine in the 1950s caused paralysis in about 1 in 2.4 million recipients (still a tiny fraction of those killed by Polio each year before vaccinations), between 1-4 weeks after vaccination. And the swine flu vaccine in the 1970s may have caused Guillain-Barre Syndrome in about 1 of 100,000 recipients within 8 weeks after vaccination (a syndrome which occurs 17x more frequently after a natural flu infection than after vaccination).
Much attention has been given to very rares cases of thrombosis (blood clotting) following the J&J COVID-19 vaccine. 6 cases of clotting were reported, out of 7.2 million people who had received the vaccine at that point (and in all cases within 14 days after vaccination), and so the FDA and CDC temporarily paused administration of J&J for further review. The rate of clotting in the vaccinated population was determined to be in line with the rate among the general population, and no link was established. The CDC and FDA concluded that even if there was a link, the cases were so rare that the benefits of vaccination against a virus that has killed millions far outweighed the minimal risk of a side effect linked to only a small handful of cases.
Much attention has also been given to rare cases of myocardiditis (heart inflammation) after receiving the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, usually within several days after vaccination and never more than a month after vaccination. Again, the rates are extremely low--about one in one million vaccinated persons--and the risk of long-term effects from a COVID-19 illness far outweigh the small risk of heart inflammation, even assuming that there is an actual link to the vaccines.
There are many COVID-19 variants in circulation. All viruses mutate as they replicate and spread throughout different populations. Some mutations make the virus less effective, some are irrelevant, and some make the virus more dangerous to humans. The CDC tracks all mutated strains that it considers to be concerning or consequential.
The COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. all work by relying on the body's ability to recognize the virus's spike protein as an invader. After vaccination, the body produces immune cells that identify and eliminate anything exhibiting the spike protein on its surface. If the virus mutates in such a way that the spike protein is no longer recognizable, then the vaccine-stimulated immune response will no longer be effective.
So far, the vaccines remain effective against all known variants. However, for some variants (such as Delta), their effectiveness is slightly diminished due to minor changes in the structure of the virus's spike protein. But all three vaccines are still effective enough to prevent serious symptoms or death in the vast majority of cases.
It is equally important to recognize that having a population vaccinated at a high rate plays an enormous role in slowing and stopping the mutation of new strains which could be even more transmissible and be better at avoiding immune responses provided by the vaccine, monoclonal antibody treatments, and post-infection immunity.
Another myth widely spread on social media is that the inventor of the PCR test later claimed that PCR tests do not work. Kary Mullis developed the PCR test methodology in 1985, receiving the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1993. Mullis died in August 2019, before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The quote attributed to Mullis and spread across social media—"PCR tests cannot detect free infectious viruses at all”—was not even said by Mullis, but rather appears in an article written by John Lauritsen in 1996 about HIV testing and treatment. And, even then, it is taken entirely out of context. Lauritsen was stating that PCR tests detect viral genetic material but should not be used to count the actual viral load in HIV patients (the amount of viral particles present).
Mullis did express skepticism about some uses of PCR tests in the context of HIV. This skepticism stemmed from his belief that HIV does not cause AIDS and that testing only for HIV but not other retroviruses was misleading. (Of course, this belief is completely false; HIV is proven to cause AIDS.) “To test for that one [HIV], it doesn’t have any special meaning, is what I think is the problem. Not that PCR has been misused… That’s not a misuse, that’s just sort of a misinterpretation.”