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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Vaccines | Myths and Truths

True or False: Busting Myths about COVID-19 Vaccines

A lot of misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine has been circulated on social media and other forums. Cincinnati Children's experts separate fact from fiction and bust some myths.

COVID-19 vaccines can help end the pandemic.

TRUE. Vaccines are going to be critical to get rid of the pandemic. It’s much safer to get a vaccine than to contract COVID-19.

COVID-19 vaccines can give me COVID-19.

FALSE. The vaccines contain only a piece of the virus. Depending on the vaccine, it either contains the piece of the virus that tells our body to make the spike protein or it contains the spike protein itself. The spike protein is what the virus uses to attach to our cells and start an infection. The body then makes antibodies to the spike protein, which protect people against COVID-19 should they be exposed to the virus. The vaccine does not contain the whole virus, so it is impossible to get COVID-19 by getting vaccinated. 

Vaccines are going to be critical to get rid of the pandemic. It’s much safer to get a vaccine than to contract COVID-19.

Children need to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

TRUE. TRUE. Children 6 months of age or older are now able to receive a Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

We will continue to advocate that every eligible child be vaccinated against COVID-19.

While, compared to older adults, it is less likely that children infected with COVID-19 will become very ill, it is not zero. As of May 26, 2022, nearly 13.4 million children in the United States have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic. The vaccine is important for the health and safety of children, but also to prevent them from spreading the disease to adults such as parents, grandparents and teachers.

COVID-19 vaccines could help people in the U.S. return to pre-pandemic activities.

TRUE. While masks, social distancing and hand hygiene can prevent 85 percent of COVID-19 cases, vaccines are key to returning to the lifestyles and workplaces we enjoyed before the pandemic.

Cincinnati Children’s is one of the world’s top vaccine research centers in the country.

TRUE. In 1927, businessman James N. Gamble of Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble Co. made a transformational donation to launch what is now called the Gamble Center for Vaccine Research at Cincinnati Children’s. It includes a Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit funded by the National Institutes of Health. Cincinnati Children’s has helped conduct clinical trials for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in kids ages 5-11, 12-15, 16-17, and adults, as well as the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine candidate in adults.

COVID-19 vaccines can alter the DNA of people who receive the vaccine.

FALSE. The vaccines DO NOT change your DNA. For all four COVID-19 vaccines under development (Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson), the main function is to bring messenger RNA, also known as mRNA, into a part of our cell called the cytoplasm. The genetic material known as DNA is in the nucleus of our cells. There is a wall around the nucleus that prevents RNA from getting into the nucleus. Thus, the vaccines have no ability to change our DNA. Also, the mRNA used in these vaccines only lasts in our cytoplasm for a few days, and then our body destroys it. So, the mRNA does its job of having our body make a harmless piece of the spike protein in COVID-19, and then our body starts an immune response against the spike protein. This immune response is what protects us against being infected by COVID-19.

COVID-19 vaccines contain human stem cells.

FALSE. None of the vaccines contain human cells. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are pure mRNA that were made in a lab. This process does not use any cells at all. The AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines use an adenovirus to bring the spike protein gene to our cells. Viruses need to grow in cells. After the adenovirus used in the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are grown, the virus is collected from the cells and purified. So there is ONLY virus—NO human cells—in the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. The initial cell line for the AstraZeneca vaccine came from human embryonic kidney cells. However, those cells were obtained over 60 years ago. There are NO human cells in the finished product of either the AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility.

FALSE: This is a hoax. Cincinnati Children’s wants you to know that this claim on social media or elsewhere is totally untrue. There is zero scientifically based evidence that vaccines affect fertility. Also, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that pregnant women have access to COVID-19 vaccines. Learn more.

Immunocompromised individuals can get vaccinated against COVID-19.

TRUE: The mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) are not “live” vaccines and thus immunocompromised individuals are at no greater risk from these vaccines than any other person. While neither the AstraZeneca nor Johnson & Johnson vaccines use adenoviruses that can grow in our body, they are “live.” Thus, while we have no reason to think either the AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson vaccines are of increased risk to people with immunocompromising conditions, it would be best to discuss with your doctor if one type of the COVID-19 vaccine may be better for you.

COVID-19 vaccines were developed and approved so quickly that appropriate safety checks were not done.

FALSE: Things have moved faster than normal, but scientists have done everything correctly. The FDA was able to approve an Emergency Use Authorization for Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson based on its good safety and efficacy profile. We have been very careful in monitoring safety and have taken no short cuts in evaluating the vaccines at Cincinnati Children’s. Almost 40,000 people enrolled in Pfizer nationwide, over 30,000 enrolled in Moderna and close to 30,000 for both Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca. Thus, we will have a lot of safety data before the other vaccines are licensed.

Everyone who receives a COVID-19 vaccine has serious side effects. 

FALSE: Many people have no side effects at all. If people are going to have side effects, the most common symptoms have been soreness at the site of vaccination, headaches and fatigue. Some people have had body aches and rarely people have had chills and / or a fever (less than 10%). If people are going to have side effects, they typically start one to two days after vaccination and last for one to two days. Some people have had more side effects with the second dose of vaccine – but, again, the side effects are short lasting. One could think of the symptoms described above as a good thing because it is a sign that the vaccine is working. While we would prefer that no one who received the vaccine had any side effects, we think the benefit of protection against a potentially lethal virus FAR outweighs the possible side effects of the vaccine. 

Millions of Americans might die of COVID-19 if we don’t get vaccinated.

TRUE. The overall fatality rate for COVID-19 is 1% to 2%. That rate might sound small, but if you apply it to the entire U.S. population, it would equate to about three million to five million people who would die from COVID-19. That would entail a lot of human suffering and exact a huge emotional toll on families faced with losing loved ones.

Reviewed June 2022 by Robert Frenck, MD, director of the Gamble Vaccine Research Center at Cincinnati Children’s, and Joshua Schaffzin, MD, PhD, director of the Cincinnati Children's Infection Prevention & Control Program.