Fact vs. fiction on COVID-19 vaccines

Vaccine Arriving Today

A look at some important information and myths about incoming COVID-19 vaccines.

It’s been a long time coming -- but we’ve finally arrived at vaccine rollout for COVID-19. The first shipments left Pfizer in West Michigan on Sunday morning. It’ll take months to fully distribute the vaccine to the general population, but we’re working to keep you informed -- and to get you ready. More coverage: Metro Detroit COVID vaccine rollout plans: Follow updates here

We fact-checked some of the myths surrounding the vaccine and answered some key questions:

➡️ Myth: Vaccines aren’t safe because they were developed too quickly

It’s true that normally vaccines take years to develop and test for public use. But scientists had a head start on COVID-19. Scientists had already begun research for coronavirus vaccines during previous outbreaks caused by related coronaviruses (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome).

That earlier research provided a head start for rapid development of vaccines to protect against infection with COVID-19. According to information provided by MDHHS, no steps were skipped in the development of this vaccine but modifications to the process were made to shorten the timeline without sacrificing safety, such as:

  • Overlapping phase I and phase II clinical trials. Phase I studies include a small number of people and evaluate whether the vaccine causes an immune response and is safe. Scientists looked at data from a group of people in phase I as phase II was progressing to make these evaluations.
  • While completing large phase III trials, manufacturers began producing the vaccine, so that if it were shown to be safe and effective, they would have large numbers of doses ready.
  • While waiting for a vaccine to be ready, many other aspects of vaccine delivery were prepared (e.g., developing plans for how to distribute the first, limited quantities available, ensuring adequate supplies for distributing and administering vaccine.)

The process used to approve the COVID-19 vaccines is the same proven process that was used to create safe and effective vaccines for the flu, polio, measles, whooping cough and more.

(More: Metro Detroit hospitals prepare timeline for vaccine distribution)

➡️ Myth: The vaccine will change your DNA

The first vaccines, including the authorized Pfizer vaccine, is an mRNA vaccine. Messenger RNA vaccines work by instructing cells in the body how to make a protein that triggers an immune response, according to the CDC.

According to the Mayo Clinic, injecting messenger RNA into your body will not interact or do anything to the DNA of your cells. Human cells break down and get rid of the messenger RNA soon after they have finished using the instructions.

➡️ Myth: Vaccine will inject COVID-19 into your body, have serious side effects

This is a common misconception with any vaccine, especially the seasonal flu vaccine. This is because vaccines work to prepare your body to fight an illness -- so mild symptoms are sometimes seen as the body builds protection.

MDHHS says the side effects from COVID-19 vaccination may feel like flu and might even affect your ability to do daily activities, but they should go away in a few days. Your arm may be sore, red, or warm to the touch. You may experience a low-grade fever, headache, and just a general feeling of “not yourself”. These are signs that your immune system is doing exactly what it is supposed to, which is produce an immune response for you to have protection against this disease.

In the Pfizer/BioNTech trial, about 15% of people developed short-lived symptoms at the site of the injection. Half developed systemic reactions, primarily headache, chills, fatigue, muscle pain or fever lasting for a day or two. But no -- the vaccine does not give you COVID-19.

➡️ Can women who are pregnant get the COVID-19 vaccine?

The CDC has recommended that pregnant women and women planning to become pregnant may be offered the vaccine, if they are in one of the vaccine priority groups and in consultation with their health care provider.

➡️ Do I need to keep wearing a mask after I get vaccinated?

MDHHS says yes. Michiganders should continue to wear masks, social distance from those not in their household and wash their hands, even after receiving vaccine. More information is available on the CDC website in their FAQ document.

➡️ Myth: COVID-19 vaccines were developed using fetal tissue

These messenger RNA COVID-19 vaccines were not created with and do not require the use of fetal cell cultures in the production process, according to the Mayo Clinic.

➡️ When will the vaccine be available to the general public?

The vaccine will be available to the general public when supply substantially increases in 2021, possibly in late spring, according to MDHHS. Until then, priority will be given to health care providers, essential workers, and vulnerable populations (i.e., individuals 65 years of age and older and individuals 16 years of age or older with high risk medical conditions).

🧑‍⚕️ Ask Dr. McGeorge:

Have you seen or heard things about the illness that you’re not sure are true? Do you need a claim about the coronavirus fact-checked? Local 4′s Dr. Frank McGeorge, M.D., is here to help. Submit a question here.

📱 Be your own fact-checker

Most people don’t want to share inaccurate information, but sometimes it happens. How can you play defense? Here are some tips:

  • Check your sources: Where are you reading it? Who is reporting it? Are they credible? Watch out for “pink slime” local news sites.
  • Social media origins: If you see something floating around social media, like a meme or a story, try to find the original source and check it yourself.
  • Go beyond the headline: Some headlines are purposely misleading and don’t tell a complete story.
  • Share the right information: Be a sharer of the correct news and information! Send accurate information to your friends and family, post it on your social feeds, forward this newsletter. It’s nice to be right. (And be nice about it, nobody wants to be called out on being wrong)

✅ What would you like us to fact-check?

The Trust Index team fact checks questionable information circulating on social media and in our communities. Use the form here to share claims you’d like checked out. You can also email me here, if you have any questions or comments. - Ken Haddad

Find more Trust Index stories right here on ClickOnDetroit.

About the Author:

Ken Haddad has proudly been with WDIV/ClickOnDetroit since 2013. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters, and helps lead the WDIV Insider team. He's a big sports fan and is constantly sipping Lions Kool-Aid.