Pregnancy, DNA and ‘shedding’: Fact-checking 5 popular COVID-19 vaccine claims

Vaccine misinformation runs wild on social media

FILE - In this Dec. 29, 2020, file photo, Pat Moore, with the Chester County, Pa., Health Department, fills a syringe with Moderna COVID-19 vaccine before administering it to emergency medical workers and health care personnel at the Chester County Government Services Center in West Chester, Pa. The Biden administrations call to lift patent protections on COVID-19 vaccines to help poor parts of the world get more doses has drawn praise from some countries and health advocates. But it has run into resistance from the pharmaceutical industry and others, who say that it wont help curb the outbreak any time soon and will hurt future innovation. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File) (Matt Slocum, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

There is so much misinformation floating around the internet about COVID-19 vaccines.

Unfortunately, the internet, specifically social media, can be the gasoline to a wildfire of harmful and false claims about life-saving vaccines. But we’re here to sort through the noise.

Here are some of the most common COVID-19 vaccine claims and why they’re false:

Claim: The COVID-19 vaccine alters your DNA

This is FALSE. COVID-19 vaccines do not change or interact with your DNA in any way.

Not True

After review, we've found this information is Not True.

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From the CDC, there are currently two types of COVID-19 vaccines that have been authorized and recommended for use in the United States: messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines and a viral vector vaccine. Both mRNA and viral vector COVID-19 vaccines deliver instructions (genetic material) to our cells to start building protection against the virus that causes COVID-19.

However, the material never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA is kept. This means the genetic material in the vaccines cannot affect or interact with our DNA in any way. All COVID-19 vaccines work with the body’s natural defenses to safely develop immunity to disease.

Learn more about how mRNA COVID-19 vaccines work. Learn more about how viral vector vaccines work.

Claim: COVID-19 vaccines will make women infertile, or hurt chances of getting pregnant

This is FALSE: There is currently no evidence that COVID-19 vaccination causes any problems with pregnancy, including the development of the placenta.

Not True

After review, we've found this information is Not True.

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Additionally, there is no evidence that fertility problems are a side effect of any vaccine, including COVID-19 vaccines. This myth spread online after a German epidemiologist published information about a “theoretical risk” that was disproven during clinical trials and real-world trials of vaccines.

“It’s inaccurate to say that COVID-19′s spike protein and this placenta protein share a similar genetic code,” says D’Angela Pitts, M.D., a maternal fetal medicine specialist with Henry Ford Health System. “The proteins are not similar enough to cause placenta to not attach to an embryo.”

“Women who participated in the COVID-19 clinical trials were able to conceive after vaccination,” says Dr. Pitts. “We also have many patients here at Henry Ford who got vaccinated and then became pregnant afterwards. Some are in their first trimester, some are now in their second trimester. There’s no evidence to show that the COVID-19 vaccines lead to reduced fertility.”

Henry Ford Health says contracting COVID-19 carries a much higher risk than getting vaccinated does. Pregnant women who get COVID-19 are at a higher risk for having a preterm or a still birth. They’re at a higher risk for developing hypertension and pneumonia from COVID-19. They’re also at a higher risk for maternal death from COVID-19. “When it comes to pregnant women and—and anyone in general—the dangers of getting COVID-19 greatly outweigh the dangers of getting vaccinated,” Dr. Pitts says.

Last week, new data was published in the New England Journal of Medicine by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, assuring that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and does not cause miscarriages. The results are based on reports from over 35,000 U.S. women who received either the Moderna or Pfizer shots while pregnant. The rates of miscarriages or premature births were comparable to rates reported before the pandemic.

Claim: The COVID-19 vaccine will make you sick with COVID-19

This is FALSE: None of the authorized and recommended COVID-19 vaccines or COVID-19 vaccines currently in development in the United States contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. This means that a COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19.

Not True

After review, we've found this information is Not True.

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From the CDC, COVID-19 vaccines teach our immune systems how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19. Sometimes this process can cause symptoms, such as fever. These symptoms are normal and are signs that the body is building protection against the virus that causes COVID-19. Learn more about how COVID-19 vaccines work.

It typically takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity (protection against the virus that causes COVID-19) after vaccination. That means it’s possible a person could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after vaccination and still get sick. This is because the vaccine has not had enough time to provide protection.

Claim: Unvaccinated people can experience health issues by being near vaccinated people, “vaccine shedding”

This one is absurd and obviously FALSE. There is no evidence to suggest that somehow a vaccinated person could cause menstrual irregularities and other reproductive harm in an unvaccinated person, simply by being near them.

Not True

After review, we've found this information is Not True.

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How it spread: A fifth-grade math teacher in Miami pushed this theory to students earlier this month, warning them that they should not hug parents who had been vaccinated for more than five seconds, because they might be exposed to harmful “vaccine shedding.”

One false Instagram post accused vaccinated people of “negatively impacting women’s menstrual cycles” and falsely claimed that miscarriages were “up 400%.”

Multiple social media posts referred to the baseless theory as a form of “shedding,” including an Instagram post that inaccurately blamed “extended or extremely heavy cycles” on “being around people who are recently vaccinated and shedding.”

Dr. Jen Gunter, an obstetrician-gynecologist and author, told the AP in a call that the vaccine cannot be shed, nor is it infectious. “It is not biologically possible for the vaccine to do that,” Gunter said.

The false posts weaved together multiple debunked theories, such as period syncing, Gunter noted. Period syncing is a popular belief that women who are in close proximity to one another can have their periods align.

“I think this represents a gross misunderstanding of the menstrual cycle. This ties into the myth of period syncing, which is not a thing,” Gunter said. “We don’t give off auras that affect other people’s menstrual cycles.”

Myth: The vaccines were developed too quickly and aren’t safe

COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. COVID-19 vaccines were evaluated in tens of thousands of participants in clinical trials. The vaccines met the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) rigorous scientific standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality needed to support emergency use authorization (EUA). Learn more about EUAs in this video.

Millions of people in the United States have received COVID-19 vaccines, since they were authorized for emergency use by FDA. These vaccines have undergone and will continue to undergo the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history. This monitoring includes using both established and new safety monitoring systems to make sure that COVID-19 vaccines are safe.

Serious side effects that could cause a long-term health problem are extremely unlikely following any vaccination, including COVID-19 vaccination. Vaccine monitoring has historically shown that side effects generally happen within six weeks of receiving a vaccine dose. For this reason, the FDA required each of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines to be studied for at least two months (eight weeks) after the final dose. Millions of people have received COVID-19 vaccines, and no long-term side effects have been detected.

CDC continues to closely monitor the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. If scientists find a connection between a safety issue and a vaccine, FDA and the vaccine manufacturer will work toward an appropriate solution to address the specific safety concern (for example, a problem with a specific lot, a manufacturing issue, or the vaccine itself).

From UChicago: How were researchers able to develop COVID-19 vaccines so quickly?

Local 4′s Dr. Frank McGeorge answers COVID vaccine questions

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, Dr. Frank McGeorge has been keeping viewers up-to-date and informed on all fronts. He’s been answering your questions about the vaccine, the vaccination process and more. Here are some of the most popular questions:

Why do you have to wear a mask after getting vaccinated?

After you’re vaccinated, because the vaccines have a 95 percent efficacy, your chances of developing symptomatic COVID-19 from exposure are small. If you don’t have symptoms after exposure, chances are the vaccine is successfully protecting you.

The reason for continuing mask use is the possibility that fully vaccinated people could still be able to spread the virus to others who aren’t vaccinated. We’re still waiting to learn more about that risk.

I have had COVID-19 and recovered do I still need to get vaccinated?

Yes. If you’ve had recent COVID-19 it’s estimated that the immunity lasts at least three months. So you can put off the vaccine around 90 days when your immunity is expected to wane a little bit. If you’re unsure, just get vaccinated.

What are the components of either vaccine that are worrisome for individuals having an allergic reaction?

The vaccine ingredient that is being focused on as the most likely culprit behind allergic reactions is polyethylene glycol. The chemical is necessary to maintain the outer-coating of the MRNA, allowing it to get into cells and produce spike protein.

PEG is very common in medications, cosmetics and even laxatives. Because of the concern, any known allergy to PEG, or cross-reacting chemical polysorbate, is a reason to not get the MRNA COVID vaccines.

Is it safe to get the vaccine if I ... ?

Based on the trials that have been done, there is no specific disease or illness that makes the vaccine unsafe or would be a contraindication to receive it. While that is a very broad statement and everyone should discuss their specific situation with their doctor, you should keep an eye on developments as the vaccine is more widely administered.

Find more and submit a question here.

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.