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COVID-19 Vaccine Information: Debunking the Biggest Myths

A peer-reviewed study of the impact of vaccine misinformation published in Nature in early February found that exposure to online misinformation about vaccines led fewer Americans to say they would "definitely" get one.

A health-care worker administering a vaccine.
Registered Nurse Benita Rogers, 52, of Redford Twp administers the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine at the Wayne County Community College District Downriver Campus in Taylor, Mich. on Feb. 6, 2021. As many as 2,000 K-12 staff are scheduled to get vaccines Saturday, as part of the first week of vaccination efforts for educators in the county. The shots will be given inside the building, but only 300 people can be indoors at once and still maintain social distancing.
TNS
(TNS) - Michigan health officials are working to administer as many COVID-19 vaccines as possible as quickly as possible as the number of reported cases of new variants of the virus increases. But rampant misinformation about the vaccine poses a significant challenge to what many, including Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, have called a "race" against these new variants.

 
State health officials hope to vaccinate 70% of Michiganders over the age 16. But among Michiganders over 18 who haven't received a COVID-19 vaccine, 11% said they probably won't get one and another 11% said they definitely won't get the vaccine, according to a recent Census survey.
 
A peer-reviewed study of the impact of vaccine misinformation published in Nature in early February found that exposure to online misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines led fewer Americans to say they would "definitely" get the vaccine.
 
The two vaccines that have been authorized for emergency use — from Pfizer and Moderna — use a new technology that relies on mRNA, a molecule containing genetic material. The mRNA is read by the body’s cell to produce the “spike” protein found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19. The vaccine does not contain the virus or the protein. Instead, it contains the instructions — through the mRNA — for the body to produce the protein, triggering an immune response in which the body learns how to identify the virus and develops antibodies to prevent against future infection.
 
And when most of the population is immune to the infectious disease, it provides indirect protection to those who have not yet been vaccinated. That's because the spread of an infectious disease becomes less likely as more people become immune to it — a concept called herd immunity.
 
But misinformation presents an obstacle to achieving this goal. The Detroit Free Press is here to give you the facts about the COVID-19 vaccine. This page will be updated to debunk new misinformation and answer your questions.
 
More: Your COVID-19 vaccine questions answered: When am I eligible? How can I register?
 
More: COVID-19 vaccines in Michigan: What you need to know about eligibility, registration
 
Even if you've already been infected with COVID-19, you should still get vaccinated
 
The CDC recommends that even those who have already had COVID-19 should get vaccinated because it is still possible to get re-infected. The body develops natural immunity following infection, but it is not clear how long that lasts.
 
COVID-19 vaccines might result in some minor and temporary side effects but severe reactions are extremely rare
 
There are some possible temporary side effects that people may experience after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine as is the case with other vaccines. They include fatigue, headache, muscle pain, joint pain, chills, nausea and fever.
 
There have been some cases of severe allergic reactions to the vaccine but they are rare. Millions of Americans have been vaccinated and have not reported serious and lasting effects after receiving the vaccine.
 
Deaths following COVID-19 vaccine don't mean the death was caused by the vaccine
 
High-profile stories about people who died shortly after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine have been disseminated widely online but don't support claims that the vaccine is deadly.
 
As of Jan. 18, there were 113 deaths following a Pfizer vaccination and 83 following a Moderna vaccination reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Of the 196 reported deaths, 129 were among residents of long-term care facilities. By that time, nearly 10.6 million people had received a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the CDC.
 
Dr. Tom Shimabukuro, a member of the CDC's vaccine safety team, noted that these reports of death are "temporally associated deaths following vaccination due to any cause" and "should not be assumed to be causally related to vaccination" in a recent presentation on vaccine safety.
 
COVID-19 is far more lethal than the seasonal flu
 
There is some overlap between the flu and COVID-19. Both are respiratory illnesses and result in similar symptoms, but they are caused by different viruses. And COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, is far more lethal than the seasonal flu. The average number of deaths from the flu each year over the past decade is 35,900, according to the CDC. Just over a year into the coronavirus pandemic, more than 470,000 Americans have died from COVID-19.
 
The COVID-19 vaccine won't alter your genetic code
 
The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are mRNA vaccines. This new type of vaccine works by injecting mRNA — a piece of genetic material. As the CDC explains, the mRNA doesn't enter the nucleus of the cell where a person's DNA is stored to trigger the immune response.
 
Kara Gavin from Michigan Medicine wrote in a piece about the vaccines that theoretically, there is a way for the body to convert mRNA into DNA.
 
"But the chances of this happening are extremely small. And even if it does, and the new DNA gets integrated into your existing DNA, the chances that this would cause negative consequences are even smaller."
 
The vaccines don't contain any coronavirus or human cells or tissue
 
A full list of ingredients of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines shows that they contain mRNA, sugar, fats and other common chemical components. They do not contain any viruses or human cells or tissues, as rumors spread online have claimed.
 
Getting a COVID-19 vaccine could be an annual event, like getting the flu shot
 
Clinical trials are ongoing to determine the long-term effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. "We don’t know how long immunity to COVID-19 will last. Some vaccines produce a lifetime of immunity but others — like the annual flu shot — require regular immunizations to provide continued protection," Dr. Stephen Weber, chief medical officer at the University of Chicago Medicine, said in an article about the vaccines.
 
Michigan's top health official expects that additional vaccination will be be necessary as the virus continues to mutate. "At some point as we work through this initial response vaccination stage, receiving a COVID-19 vaccine will look like receiving a flu vaccine," said Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Acting Director Elizabeth Hertel during a recent House Oversight Committee hearing.
 
Just as Michiganders may go to their local drugstore's clinic for an annual flu shot, they may eventually do the same for a COVID-19 vaccine, Hertel said.
 
Clara Hendrickson fact-checks Michigan issues and politics as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Click here to make a tax-deductible contribution to support her work. Contact her at chendrickson@freepress.com or 313-296-5743 for comments or to suggest a fact-check. Follow her on Twitter @clarajanehen.
 
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: COVID-19 vaccine misinformation is everywhere. We debunk the biggest myths.
 
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