Busting Coronavirus Myths

Carolyn Bonafede, Copy Editor

Cartoon by Ariana Tackett
MYTH: The vaccine contains weakened or inactivated COVID-19 virus, so there is a risk, however unlikely, of catching the virus from the vaccine.

It is impossible to get infected from the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines because both are mRNA-based, and unlike conventional vaccines, mRNA (messenger RNA) vaccines do not contain the virus itself. Rather, mRNA vaccines use part of the virus’s genetic code to provide instructions for the body to make an antigen, a protein with the appearance of the coronavirus, which teaches the immune system to produce antibody and T-cell responses to the virus. 

MYTH: The vaccine only works after two doses OR The vaccine works after only one dose.

According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the Pfizer vaccine is 52% effective twelve days after the first dose and 95% effective seven or more days after the second dose (the Moderna vaccine is similar). For comparison, the influenza vaccine is 40%-60% effective, depending on the flu season, and the measles vaccine is about 97% effective.

MYTH: The vaccine was made unethically, using fetal tissue from aborted babies.

There is some truth to this statement, depending on which vaccine is in discussion. The use of fetal tissue in the development of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines may be less condemning than in that of other COVID-19 vaccines, and the usage of cell lines from previously-obtained fetal tissue for research is legal under U.S. law. Pfizer and Moderna used HEK 293 cell lines in their final step of development to test their vaccines’ abilities to induce antibody production in human cells. Some of the other vaccines used fetal tissue cell lines in multiple development steps or used different, potentially more ethically-compromised lines. The HEK 293 cell line originated from a baby aborted in the Netherlands in 1972, possibly to save the mother’s life as this was the only legal justification for an abortion in the Netherlands at the time. HEK 293 is a perpetually replicating cell line and has been used in vaccine production for decades, so the actual cells used in current vaccine testing are more lab-grown than fresh. The ethical dilemma is muddled; concerned individuals should do further reading.

MYTH: The vaccine is not safe for people with allergies.

Pfizer’s clinical trials did not find any safety concerns regarding severe allergic reactions in their participants, who did not have histories of reacting to vaccines. The instances of severe allergic reactions during public vaccinations may have occurred in people who already had histories of severe allergic reactions to vaccines or vaccine ingredients. These reactions would therefore not indicate a cause for concern for those with other allergies, who are not allergic to vaccines or vaccine ingredients and have been vaccinated safely in the past. The precautions from the FDA regarding allergies to COVID-19 vaccines are similar to those from the CDC regarding allergies to the flu vaccine. For a complete list of ingredients for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, see the links below, page two: 

Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine EUA Fact Sheet for Recipients and Caregivers

Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine EUA Fact Sheet for Recipients and Caregivers 

MYTH: The vaccine does not keep people from spreading the virus.

There is not yet enough data to determine if vaccinated people who are exposed to the virus can spread it to others. However, an individual’s ability to spread the virus depends on their viral load and the amount of virus they are shedding. Thus, it makes sense to say that a person who has been vaccinated and does not have symptoms of the virus would likely not shed large quantities of virus.