Myth and fears: All of these things, and more, have been mentioned in claims that we’ve seen on the internet, or heard about from people who contacted us.
People who hear these claims may be worried about health effects, being tracked wherever they go, or even faith-related problems.
The bottom line: The first two vaccines to reach the market contain only snippets of genetic material, salt, sugar and fat. The other vaccines being developed will contain weakened or inactive forms of “common cold” viruses, and substances commonly found in many vaccines.
More detail: What about metals? The most common uses of metals in vaccines are in substances called preservatives and adjuvants.
FACT: The COVID-19 vaccines do not contain a live or whole coronavirus, microchips, tracer technology, fetal tissue, stem cells, mercury, aluminum, luciferase, the Mark of the Beast, pork products or preservatives
The first two COVID-19 vaccines don’t have preservatives, which is why they must stay frozen until they are thawed for injection. They also don’t contain additives called adjuvants that have been used in other vaccines to help them work better.
Vaccines that include preservatives or adjuvants, including COVID-19 vaccines that may reach the market in 2021, contain trace amounts of metals such as aluminum and mercury.
But the amount is incredibly tiny – not enough to cause health problems. And, they help the vaccine be more stable at refrigerator temperatures, and more effective.
What about chips or tracers? There is no microchip, RFID device or another electronic device in the world that’s small enough to fit inside the needles used to inject vaccines.
People with concerns about being traced or tracked should focus their concern on technology used in smartphones, social media sites and web browsers.
What about viruses? The first two vaccines to reach the market don’t contain any viruses at all. They only contain bits of mRNA that tell the vaccinated person’s cells to make proteins that also appear on the coronavirus.
The immune system learns to recognize these proteins, which means the body will be ready to fight back if any coronavirus does get in.
Some of the other COVID-19 vaccines that are still being tested contain a weakened form of a different virus – one called adenovirus that causes the common cold. These vaccines weaken the virus so much that it can no longer make copies of itself inside our bodies.
These carrier viruses are even weaker than other virus-based vaccines, called attenuated viruses, that can be safely given to infants, such as the oral polio vaccines. Inactivated virus vaccines such as the annual flu shot ‘kill’ the virus completely before using it in a vaccine.
Tens of millions of babies, children and adults get these vaccines safely every year. The weakened or dead viruses act as a “Trojan horse” that lets the vaccine get accepted by the body, but they don’t wake up and cause an infection. The same should be true for the upcoming COVID-19 vaccines.
What about fetal cells, stem cells, or tissue from abortions? No COVID-19 vaccine contains whole or partial human cells, or bits of tissue. Even if such things were useful as vaccines against coronavirus, which they’re not, they would also be too big to fit through the needle that is being used for COVID-19 vaccination.
It is true that some of the COVID-19 vaccines have been produced through research that involved cells from tissue obtained legally after an elective abortion carried out decades ago. Those cells were turned into a “cell line” – a research tool that scientists can use to study how viruses cause infection. But other COVID-19 vaccines did not use this cell line in the research process.
Religious leaders in several major faith groups have said that the use of this tissue is an acceptable tradeoff if it helps develop a vaccine that can prevent deaths and disease. But for people who are not comfortable receiving a COVID-19 vaccine that was developed through research involving these kinds of cells, there are vaccines that did not use this technique.
What about pork? People of certain faiths, and vegetarians and vegans, may be concerned about reports that the COVID-19 vaccine was created using gelatin, which can be derived from pigs. The two vaccines already approved in the U.S., Canada and other countries, and the next one likely to come up for approval, have been certified gelatin-free.
Some vaccines being developed for developing nations may not be able to achieve this certification. But faith leaders have said publicly that receiving a vaccine containing a tiny amount of gelatin is permissible for Muslims and Jews because it does not involve eating pork, and because it has a clear benefit in preventing disease.
What about the “Mark of the Beast”? People of faith may have concerns about claims that the vaccine will “mark” vaccinated people in some way, related to the Mark of the Beast that’s mentioned in the Book of Revelation in the Bible.
This may have originated with a misunderstanding about a substance called luciferase that’s used in COVID-19 research. Luciferase is not present in the vaccine.
Luciferase is the substance that makes fireflies glow on summer nights. The scientist who named it more than 120 years ago chose that name from the Latin word for “light-bearer.”
Today, scientists use luciferase’s natural glow to tell them what’s going on in their Petri dishes, including in research about how COVID-19 infects cells. The same Latin word that gave luciferase its name is also one of the names for the Devil in Christian theology, but this is a coincidence. Religious leaders from many religions have said the COVID-19 vaccines are acceptable for use by people of faith.
FACT: People who are pregnant, breastfeeding or want to become pregnant can get vaccinated against COVID-19. But they should talk to their medical provider.
Myths and fears: You might see claims that the COVID-19 vaccine can make someone infertile or impotent, harm a developing fetus in the womb, make the immune system attack the placenta, or hurt a baby who is breastfeeding from a recently vaccinated mother.
The bottom line: There’s no evidence for any of these claims, and no scientific reason to think that any of them are true. But there is an urgent need to protect pregnant women from COVID-19, including through vaccination, because we now know they face a high risk of getting seriously ill if they catch the coronavirus. The virus also increases their risk of miscarriage or stillbirth.
More detail: Claims that the vaccine will teach the body to attack a placenta protein called syncytin-1 are false; the vaccine teaches the body to attack an entirely different protein.
Impotence (also called erectile dysfunction) and infertility have many causes, but no vaccine has been linked to them.
There is no evidence that vaccines can be transmitted through breast milk, though there is a theoretical possibility that this could happen with the live viruses used in the smallpox and yellow fever vaccines, which are not commonly given in the U.S. No COVID-19 vaccines use live viruses.
It’s true that pregnant women weren’t allowed to join the first clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines, though they will be included in upcoming studies. A few women had unplanned pregnancies during the mRNA vaccine trials, but too few to study separately.
For women in frontline jobs in health care, retail or other fields who are currently pregnant, want to become pregnant, or are breastfeeding, the decision about getting vaccinated should be made together with their physician or nurse practitioner.
The CDC does not recommend against vaccination for such women, and the national group for obstetricians has developed guidance for health providers to use when they talk to their patients about deciding on vaccination. So has the national group for specialists in high risk pregnancies.
In general, many vaccines are considered safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women, and for women who want to have a baby. In fact, every year pregnant women are strongly encouraged to get the newly developed flu vaccine to protect both themselves and their future child. And all pregnant women and their partners should receive the TDAP vaccine if they haven’t already, to protect their future baby from pertussis (whooping cough.)
(c) Michigan Medicine, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.
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