You just can’t decide: Should you get the shot?
There are so many questions — will the shot alter your DNA? Infect you with the virus? Cause a miscarriage? Do more harm than the virus? Did they rush it? Why do you hear so much confusing stuff on social media if the vaccine works? And really, is COVID so bad?
So maybe you figure you’ll wait it out a little longer — and see what happens.
Understandable. It’s confusing.
But much of the scary stuff you’ve heard about the vaccine is deliberate misinformation or a misreading of the studies.
In fact, recent studies involving millions of people have upheld the results of the initial clinical studies: The COVID vaccines are roughly 95% effective in preventing infection, serious illness and death — especially with a booster shot. Moreover, side effects remain fleeting, and far less serious than getting infected. In fact, the disease is now the leading cause of death in Arizona and the third leading cause of death nationally behind heart disease and cancer.
The latest sustained increase in national COVID cases has mostly afflicted the unvaccinated — especially when it comes to hospitalization and death. The federal Centers for Disease Control calculates that the infection rate per 100,000 remains six times higher among the unvaccinated, while the death rate remains 12 times higher.
And yet, the myths and misinformation persist, keeping the vaccination rate stubbornly stuck. One recent Arizona poll found that about 20% of Arizona residents say they won’t get vaccinated — mostly for fear of side effects. Gila County has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the state, which resulted in the second highest infection rate in the state, up 32% in the past two weeks.
Only a handful of social media sites have spawned an avalanche of myths and misinformation about the three approved vaccines. One study found just 12 sites have spawned a majority of the misinformation, often to sell supplements or other products. Many of those sites have been shut down by Twitter and Facebook, but shares have already spread the misinformation widely.
Some of those misinformation peddlers rely on a massive, national database that reports any possible side effects maintained by the CDC. The U.S. Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) reports there’s a reaction in about 372 out of every million doses. Clinical trials predicted the vaccine would cause more adverse reactions.
VAERS lists thousands of ailments and deaths that developed in the months after people got the COVID vaccine, but doctors and health departments must report the incidents, even if they don’t think they have anything to do with the vaccine. Disease experts monitor the database seeking to pick up clues to possible rare, dangerous side effects. Mostly the database reflects normal rates of a whole series of conditions, with no increase in the rates of those problems among the vaccinated. In a few cases, they’ve pointed to very rare, usually not serious problems like a temporary inflammation of the heart muscle that may have a link to the vaccine or the body’s reaction to the shot.
Consider two, recent, massive studies on the side effects of the three vaccines approved for use in the U.S.
• Non-COVID deaths lower among the vaccinated.
This massive study compared 6.4 million Americans who’d been vaccinated with 4.6 million people in a matched, unvaccinated control group, as reported by the CDC. The study set aside COVID-related deaths — and focused on other causes of death. If the shots had serious, unexpected side effects — results would have shown a higher, non-COVID death rate among the vaccinated. Instead, those who had been vaccinated had a slightly lower death rate from all non-COVID causes. This probably reflects some difference in risk-taking behavior among the unvaccinated even though the researchers did their best to make the two groups as similar as possible. Bottom line: The vaccine doesn’t increase the risk of death from any other cause — but does cut by 95% the risk of death from COVID, now the third leading cause of death in the country.
• Rare vaccine side effects are dwarfed by the virus itself.
A massive study in highly vaccinated Israel compared 1.7 million vaccinated people with 233,000 unvaccinated. Israel has universal health care, excellent health care records and one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. The study in the New England Journal of Medicine found the vaccine far safer and effective on every front than the virus. The study found only four out of 25 possible side effects of the shot were associated with the vaccine. This included a rare inflammation of the heart muscle, which occurred in 1 to 5 events per 100,000 people. The inflammation usually passed without serious effects. The risk of such an inflammation was more than three times as common among people who got infected with the virus. The study found almost all the potentially serious — but rare — side effects of the shot were between 2 and 15 times more likely to occur in people infected by the virus.
So, an overwhelming, constantly growing body of evidence shows that the vaccines are safe and highly effective and even the very rare serious side effects are dwarfed by the risks of getting infected.
The Mayo Clinic, the CDC, Johns Hopkins University, the scientific journal Nature and a host of other expert institutions have published online attempts to debunk the rampant misinformation about the vaccines. For copies of the published research and myth-busting, see the links in this article on the Roundup’s website.
But consider a few of the more stubborn nuggets of misinformation debunked by the Johns Hopkins Medical School website:
• Myth: The mRNA vaccines change your DNA: Not true. The scrap of viral mRNA just prompts your cells to produce a protein, which forewarns your immune system against the virus. It is not a form of gene therapy and does not alter your DNA.
• Myth: The mRNA vaccines use fetal tissue: Not true.
• The vaccines can affect a woman’s fertility. Not true. This was based on a false report that the virus spike protein resembled the syncitin-1 protein, which plays a role in attachment of the placenta during pregnancy. The report was quickly disproved, but continues to circulate on social media.
• Myth: Recovery from natural infection means you don’t need the shot. Mostly not true. Recovery from infection does provide protection from reinfection. However, studies show that at least one shot of the vaccine after recovery gives stronger, longer-lasting protection.
• Myth: Researchers rushed development of the vaccine, so it’s not fully tested. Not true. The vaccines underwent large scale clinical trials and have proven safe and effective in the hundreds of millions of people vaccinated. The vaccine was developed with unprecedented speed, thanks to more than a decade of research involving other SARS viruses and an infusion of billions in taxpayer money.
• Myth: The vaccine can give you COVID. Fact: The mRNA vaccines rely on a single viral protein and cannot give you COVID.
• Myth: The vaccines have dangerous side effects. Fact: serious side effects are extremely rare. So far, the mRNA vaccines have triggered allergic reactions in 3-5 shots out of a million, which is a little higher than the flu shot. The reaction is probably related to components of the vaccine, but the reaction is generally treatable and rare.