COVID vaccines: What's fact, what's fiction?

·4 min read

A microchip inside you.

It will affect your ability to have children.

It was produced too quickly to be safe.

They are giving it to some groups first to experiment on them.

These are among the misconceptions circulating that have left some hesitant to roll up their sleeves for the COVID-19 vaccine.

While some believe myths or misconceptions should just be ignored, Dalhousie University's Dr. Noni MacDonald, said “health-care workers need to be able to directly address concerns people have.”

But when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccines, that isn’t always happening, she said. When someone holds concerns that nobody bothers to directly address, there will be problems in changing behaviours, said MacDonald, who teaches a class on vaccine hesitancy.

While some people are buying into disinformation like COVID doesn’t actually exist, more common are concerns related to vaccine safety, MacDonald said. Hearing these concerns and providing credible information to counter the misconceptions can change thinking and behaviour, she said.

New Brunswick’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jennifer Russell told the Time & Transcript that Public Health is preparing frequently asked questions and correct information to help dispel myths.

“There are some people with firm beliefs, and we may not change their minds, but there are people on the fence and we most want to target them,” Russell said.

COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy is not something that will be tackled by delivering the same message to everyone, said MacDonald, adding that some people feel comfortable with a short message from Public Health that something is safe, while others need to read all the details for themselves.

Here’s what these doctors had to say about some of the most widely circulating misconceptions:

• The vaccine was developed too quickly to be safe:

Russell said some people think COVID-19 is new, and all the technology is new, so how can we really trust it?

“Actually, we have been working on it for years,” she said, noting development of all the mRNA vaccines started around 2003 with the spread of the SARS virus.

A tremendous amount of work over a much longer period of time than the last year or so has been done to develop some of these vaccines, she said.

The process leading to vaccine approval followed all the normal steps, Russell said, but those steps occurred in an overlapping schedule because of the urgency which made things move faster.

• The AstraZeneca vaccine is not safe:

All chief medical officers from across the country are including AstraZeneca in their vaccination plans, said Russell.

“We’ve done our homework,” she said.

The data on adverse effects is being collected in Canada and this data indicates the vaccine is safe, she said.

Health Canada updated the AstraZeneca and COVIDSHIELD COVID-19 vaccine labels on Wednesday to provide information on rare reports of blood clots associated with low levels of blood platelets followed immunizations. The change follows rare events that occurred in Europe that are still being examined.

Medical and political leaders have committed to taking the vaccine themselves, if offered, to combat the hesitancy, including Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Medical Officer, and ministers across the country.

• The vaccine will place a microchip or microdot inside you:

The Health Canada website lists all the ingredients found in every vaccine, and microchips is not one of them.

• Vaccines will harm your baby or influence your ability to conceive:

Elsipogtog First Nation recently distributed information through social media to try to combat these misconceptions. They may be held because, initially, pregnant and lactating women were not offered the vaccine until more was known.

Many pregnant women have now had the vaccine and it did not lead to more miscarriages, said MacDonald, noting while we initially had no data on pregnant women, we now do.

• The vaccines being offered contain the virus:

The four approved vaccines in Canada do not contain a whole virus or a whole inactivated virus.

Some vaccines in existence, such as that for measles, are a weakened form of the virus. Others, such as the polio vaccine, are made from a dead form of the virus, MacDonald said. But the COVID vaccine isn’t a whole virus at all, she said.

Some people experience what seems like symptoms of COVID after getting the vaccine, said MacDonald, but it's actually your body telling you it has the immune response to fight the virus. Ironically, those who have more of a reaction to the vaccine should be happy she said, because it is your body telling you are particularly good at fighting.

• Some groups are being given the vaccine first to experiment on them:

The rollout of the vaccine is based on risk to certain groups if they contract the virus, said Russell.

In response to hesitance by some members of Indigenous communities, MacDonald said, "Indigenous people have a long history of being disrespected, hurt or mistreated by the medical system," and noted Indigenous leaders are doing incredible work to encourage community members to get the vaccine and getting it themselves.

The situation demonstrates that different messaging is needed for different groups of people, she said.

Clara Pasieka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal