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10 Myths About Coronavirus Vaccines

​Separating fact from fiction when it comes to getting vaccinated against COVID-19​


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Since the arrival of the coronavirus vaccines in late 2020, more than 270 million Americans have rolled up their sleeves. Still, a significant share of the U.S. population has skipped the shots that provide protection against a disease that has killed more than 1.1 million people nationally.  

A big reason: false information.

A 2021 report from KFF (also known as the Kaiser Family Foundation) found that nearly 80 percent of adults either believe or are unsure about at least one of eight false statements about the COVID-19 pandemic or vaccines. An earlier poll from KFF found that about 80 percent of adults who didn’t want the vaccine believed or were unsure of at least one prevailing COVID-19 vaccine myth.

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“Sadly, we’ve seen, again and again and again, misinformation lead to bad health outcomes,” U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said during an AARP Tele-Town Hall on the topic.

A 2022 article published in JAMA Health Forum estimates that as many as 12 million Americans may have forgone COVID vaccination because of misinformation. “I think misinformation was literally costing people their lives,” Murthy said.

Here are some common coronavirus vaccine myths and the truth behind each one.

Myth 1: The vaccines were developed too quickly to be trusted.

It’s true that the COVID-19 vaccines arrived in record time, but the steps that were hurried “were essentially the paperwork,” Andrew Bradley, M.D., a vaccine expert and professor at the Mayo Clinic, explained in a media briefing. All of the vaccines available were tested in tens of thousands of people in clinical trials and rigorously evaluated for their safety and effectiveness.

Scientists had a bit of a leg up from the beginning, which helped to accelerate the process. The virus that causes COVID-19 is related to other coronaviruses that have been under the microscope for years, including those that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). “The knowledge gained through past research on coronavirus vaccines helped to accelerate the initial development of the current COVID-19 vaccines,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

Investing in early manufacturing and distribution also got shots in arms faster than usual. Although two of the vaccines (Pfizer’s and Moderna’s) are a new type, called mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid), researchers have studied the technology for decades across a range of diseases, including flu, Zika and rabies — even cancer. This type of vaccine delivers a set of instructions to the cells and teaches them to make a protein that produces an immune response to the virus.

Myth 2: The vaccines will alter your DNA.

None of the vaccines interact with or alter a person’s genetic material, known as DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), the CDC confirms. The vaccines help the cells build protection against a coronavirus infection, but the vaccine material never enters the nucleus of the cell where the DNA lives.

When it comes to the mRNA vaccines, after the cell is done using the instructions delivered, it breaks down and gets rid of the mRNA. And the genetic material delivered by the viral vector (used in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine) does not integrate into a person’s DNA, the CDC says.

Myth 3: If you’ve had COVID-19, you don’t need to get vaccinated.

Even if you’ve had COVID-19, experts recommend getting vaccinated and staying up to date with boosters.

One reason: It’s unclear how long you are protected from the disease after an infection. Another: People who had COVID-19 and do not get vaccinated after are more likely to get COVID-19 again, compared with people who recovered, then got the shot, research shows.

Myth 4: The vaccines cause variants.

At this point in the pandemic, we’ve become more familiar with variants, even subvariants. These different versions of the coronavirus arise when the virus mutates. Contrary to the rumors swirling, the vaccines do not cause variants and, in fact, can help keep potentially more dangerous ones from popping up.

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The CDC explains that high vaccination coverage in a population reduces the spread of the virus, giving it fewer opportunities to mutate.

Myth 5: The vaccines use a live version of the coronavirus.

None of the COVID vaccines available in the U.S. use the live virus that causes COVID-19, and they cannot give you the disease or cause you to test positive. The vaccines use scientific techniques to train the human body to recognize and fight the coronavirus.

Though the coronavirus vaccines will not make you sick with COVID-19, they can cause side effects in some people. Commonly reported side effects include injection-site pain, fatigue, headache, chills, fever and muscle aches. Most of the reactions are temporary and resolve within a few days, according to the CDC.

Myth 6: The vaccines contain microchips or can cause you to be magnetic.

These two rumors circulated on social media, and neither one is true. “Vaccines are developed to fight against disease and are not administered to track your movement,” the CDC says. The vaccines do not contain any metals or materials that can produce an electromagnetic field.

They are also free from manufactured products such as microelectronics, electrodes, carbon nanotubes or nanowire semiconductors, as well as eggs, gelatin, latex and preservatives.

Find out more about the ingredients in the vaccines here.

Myth 7: The vaccines can cause fertility problems.

There is currently no evidence that the vaccines cause fertility problems in women or men, the CDC says. Vaccination is recommended for people who are breastfeeding, pregnant or plan to get pregnant.

Research shows that some women may observe changes in their menstrual cycle length after a COVID shot. These changes “appear to be small, within the normal range of variation, and temporary,” said Diana Bianchi, M.D., director of the National Institutes of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

A number of factors can lead to temporary changes in periods, including stress, lifestyle, medication and more. The latest research findings “provide additional information for counseling women on what to expect after vaccination,” Bianchi said.

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Myth 8: You shouldn’t get the vaccine if you’ve ever had an allergic reaction.

If you have a history of allergic reactions to oral medications, food, pets, insect stings, latex or things in the environment such as pollen or dust, you can safely get a COVID-19 vaccine, the CDC says. You can also get vaccinated if you have an egg allergy, because none of the authorized vaccines contain eggs or egg-related components.

The only group the agency says should definitely abstain are people who have had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient in a COVID-19 vaccine. If you’ve had an allergic reaction to other vaccines or injectable medications, the CDC recommends talking to your medical provider about whether to get vaccinated.

A small number of the people who received a COVID-19 vaccine experienced a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Although anaphylaxis is life-threatening, it almost always occurs within 30 minutes of vaccination and can be quickly halted with a medicine such as epinephrine.

Myth 9: COVID doesn’t affect kids as much, so they don’t need the vaccine.

It’s true that youngsters tend to fare better than older adults when COVID strikes, but the disease very much affects them.

A few thousand children have died since the start of the pandemic, and many more have been hospitalized. Vaccinating children helps to keep them in school, sports and other activities, the CDC notes.

COVID-19 vaccines and boosters are available for children as young as 6 months old.

Myth 10: If the vaccines worked, we wouldn’t need to update them. 

The virus has changed since it arrived in early 2020, and as it changed, it grew better at evading some of the original vaccines’ defenses. In the fall of 2022, the COVID vaccines got an update to better target the strains of virus circulating, much like how the flu shot gets reformulated each season.

Research from January 2023 shows that individuals who received this updated (bivalent) shot are less likely to die from COVID-19 than vaccinated individuals who opted out. Hospitalization rates are also lower for people who received the bivalent booster compared with those who didn’t.

Most people are only eligible for one shot of the bivalent vaccine. Adults 65 and older and immunocompromised individuals can go back for a second.

Editor’s note: This article was published on March 18, 2021. It has since been updated with new information.

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