Paging Dr. Internet, we need a diagnosis. In this series, Mashable examines the online world’s influence on our health and prescribes new ways forward.
With the mass of information about COVID-19 vaccines passing around the internet these days, it’s easy to lose track of what’s medical truth and what’s a catchy headline.
Mashable spoke with two health professionals who actively dispel myths about the COVID-19 vaccine through informational TikTok videos, often directed right back at misinformed commenters.
Dr. Britni Hebert (@behber) is an internal medicine and geriatrics doctor who speaks to her TikTok followers just as she would her patients, with clear facts and compassion. Dr. Siyab Panhwar (@Dr.Siyab.MD) is a physician in internal medicine and a cardiology fellow, who debunks COVID conspiracy theories. Panhwar is also a member of the United Nation’s Team Halo, a network of global health professionals sharing accurate COVID vaccine information.
Both of them agree that vaccine skeptics are misplacing their fear — COVID-19, and its long-term side effects are way scarier than any vaccine, which is actually much simpler science than you may think.
We asked them to debunk a handful of the myths about COVID-19 vaccines that you might encounter online. Here are their responses.
These responses have been edited for length and clarity.
1. COVID vaccines are risky because they were developed too quickly
Hebert: “I think it’s really reassuring to know that vaccines are not new to science or new to people or new to human bodies. With every vaccine that’s been developed, we’ve built on the knowledge from vaccines prior.”
Panhwar: “I like to remind people that you’re in the middle of a pandemic. So basically every single lab in the world stopped what they were doing and started putting all of their resources and money and energy towards developing a vaccine for COVID… Normally, when you develop a vaccine or any other drug, you go from stages of a clinical trial, one stage to the next. And that takes time. But for these, we were able to do some of the stages at the same time.”
2. COVID vaccines cause infertility or miscarriages in pregnant people
Panhwar: “There’s no evidence whatsoever that the COVID vaccine causes infertility. And there’s no evidence that the COVID vaccine increases risk of miscarriage… In fact, there is actually some evidence that getting vaccinated actually causes antibodies to cross over from the placenta, from the mom to the baby. So it might give the baby protection as well… The CDC has recommended multiple times, strongly urges actually, that every pregnant person consider getting vaccinated, because the risk of COVID far outweighs any risk from the vaccine.”
3. COVID vaccines contain fetal tissue, animal DNA, or even microchips for government tracking
Panhwar: “COVID vaccines do not contain any aborted baby cells, dead baby cells, fetal tissue, or any DNA from another animal species. That’s not true. The cells that were used in the development and testing of these vaccines, some of them are fetal cell lines that have been derived from aborted fetuses, many, many, many, many years ago… The vaccine itself does not have any fetal cells or any cell lines, or any aborted fetuses in it.” (Editor’s note: Fetal cell lines are lab-made cells.)
Hebert: “These are very simple, clean vaccines that you can feel really comfortable putting into your body. You can ask to see your vaccine before you take it. Ask to look at it!”
Panhwar: “Why would the government, or any other entity really, need a microchip to track you when they already can with your phone in your pocket?”
Hebert: “You can feel really comfortable about the vaccine, but you should probably put a password on your phone.”
4. Children don’t need the vaccine because they don’t get very sick from COVID-19
Panhwar: “Kids are part of the transmission chain. So they go to school, they pick up SARS-CoV-2 at school, or they pick it up at daycare or wherever they are, they come back home, and they pass it on to, you know, an immunocompromised grandma who gets very sick and dies from COVID. Or they pass it on to their parents. So, not only is it about protecting kids from a non-zero risk, but also helping reduce transmission.”
Hebert: “I cant think of a worse mistake to make than to underestimate a virus when it comes to my child’s health and their future… And we are completely ignoring that [infection] is the tip of the iceberg. Because COVID is not ‘dead’ or ‘be well.’ There are many more children who have suffered MIS-C, or who have gone to an ICU for various reasons and are permanently damaged from that. Post-Covid syndrome does happen in children.” (Editor’s note: With MIS-C, “different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs,” according to the CDC.)
Panhwar: “It’s not a non-zero. It’s low risk, but it’s not no risk.”
5. Vaccines actually give you COVID
Panhwar: “So when you’re getting a Pfizer or a Moderna or a Johnson & Johnson vaccine, all you’re getting is that little, tiny piece of mRNA or DNA to make the spike protein. You’re not actually getting the SARS-CoV-2 virus injected into your body. So there is no way that that could actually happen.
Hebert: “Thinking that you got the actual disease from the vaccine is like saying that you can get the full cookie from eggs. It’s impossible to get the full virus or full disease from just one ingredient. You have to have all the ingredients, the full recipe, to get the disease. And a vaccine is very much like that.”
6. Vaccines are causing an increase in COVID cases
Panhwar: “What people are correlating is the rise of vaccinations in the United States to the rise in cases in the United States. They’re saying this correlation is causation. That these vaccines are causing the higher rates of cases. That’s not true at all. If you go all the way back to January — that’s when our peak of cases was and when the vaccine rollout started — over the next few months both cases and deaths basically fell off a cliff. That was because we were vaccinating as many people as possible… Now, when you look at whose in the hospital, more than 90 percent of people in the hospital were the unvaccinated.”
7. mRNA vaccines alter your DNA
Hebert: “Your body deserves more credit. It is super protective of your DNA. DNA is separate from where that vaccine goes, hidden in the nucleus. mRNA is coded so that it doesn’t go into that nucleus. It goes to [protein synthesis] and then to destruction. Your body makes a memory of that and it’s done. It’s beautifully simple. And it works with your body’s natural mechanics in a wonderfully simple way.”
Panhwar: “The DNA vaccine, which is Johnson & Johnson, on the other hand, that enters the nucleus of the cell because it’s a DNA vaccine that has DNA. But that DNA gets transcribed, meaning it gets converted into mRNA, which is then converted into protein. But then again, that DNA is also not incorporated into the DNA of your cell. So bottom line is, there is no way that the vaccines can alter DNA. That does not happen. This is conspiracy. This is myth. And this is just not true.”
8. Vaccines can cause autism
Hebert: “There have never been any reliable studies, ever, that have shown a tie between autism and any vaccine. But, even if we’re wrong, I would rather take the small risk of autism in my child, than a small risk of death in my child. And I’m very comfortable with that trade.”
For more myth busting, check out this article from May that digs into other vaccine misinformation.