Bust those myths with this guide to the reality based on hard science

Scientists from across the world have created an online guide to help fight the spread of misinformation about the coronavirus vaccines.

Reporter Sue Smith gets the Covid vaccine
Reporter Sue Smith gets the Covid vaccine

The experts, led by the University of Bristol, say the guide will arm people with practical tips, the latest information and evidence to talk reliably about the vaccines, constructively challenge associated myths, and allay fears.

The scientists are appealing to everyone, from doctors to parents, to understand the facts, follow the guidance, and spread the word.

Lead author Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, of the University of Bristol, said: “Vaccines are our ticket to freedom and communication about them should be our passport to getting everyone on board.

“The way all of us refer to and discuss the Covid-19 vaccines can literally help win the battle against this devastating virus by tackling misinformation and improving uptake, which is crucial.”

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Topics in the handbook include public behaviour and attitudes, policy, facts, and misinformation.

Co-author Julie Leask, a social scientist and Professor at the University of Sydney who chairs one of the World Health Organisation working groups on vaccinations, said: “The safest and most effective vaccines against Covid-19 are of no use if people cannot, or will not, take them.

“This handbook comes at a crucial time - when people around the world are deciding whether or not they will accept a Covid-19 vaccine. More than ever, we need to be communicating effectively and the handbook brings the science of communication to the communicators.”

The guide can be accessed at sks.to/c19vax

In the meantime, here are some of the main myths busted by the experts:

MYTH: “I heard on Facebook that vaccines are unsafe.”

FACT: Vaccines are rigorously tested to ensure that they are safe

Vaccine development is a rigorous process with layers of safety and efficacy reviews before approval for widespread use can be gained. Once vaccines are licensed for use, they are subject to ongoing safety surveillance. Regulators and researchers use passive or active systems to determine whether there is a spike in adverse events following a particular vaccine. This is particularly the case with a new vaccine program.

MYTH: “I have heard the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine causes autism.”

FACT: Claims linking vaccines to autism relied on poor and fraudulent research

One of the most prevalent misinformation theories around vaccines stems from a widely discredited, and since retracted, study pubished in The Lancet in 1998 by Wakefield et al.

The study’s discussion raised questions about whether there was a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. This erroneous theory took hold within the public consciousness and persists today across the globe (Arif et al, 2018).

A plethora of further studies have demonstrated there is no causal link between any vaccine and autism.

Moreover, after a long investigation, the lead author has been banned from practicing medicine because the research was revealed to be unethical and fraudulent. The former doctor is now contributing to events such as the Conspira-Sea cruise together with speakers who, inter alia, have been dead three times.

MYTH: “If I get vaccinated I may get the disease I am trying to prevent.”

FACT: Vaccines prevent diseases and do not cause them

One of the rare side effects of vaccines is that they can cause mild symptoms resembling those of the disease they are providing protection against. However, these symptoms are actually the body’s immune system reacting to the vaccine and not the disease itself; in fact, they are a good sign that the vaccine is working.

Some vaccines (such as the MMR vaccine) are live and can cause some mild disease symptoms like a rash or fever, but not the diseases themselves. Very occasionally, someone who has been vaccinated can nonetheless develop the actual disease. This occurs when the vaccine did not produce antibodies in that person.

No vaccine can be 100 per cent effective and vaccines vary in their levels of effectiveness.

MYTH: “Vaccines contain dangerous toxins.”

FACT: Vaccines contain chemicals that we encounter every day

Some people worry that ingredients contained in a vaccine, such as mercury, aluminium, and formaldehyde, are harmful due to their perceived toxicity. In high concentrations these chemicals are indeed toxic, but only trace amounts are used in vaccines.

In fact, we are exposed to these chemicals every day in foods, water and preservatives, and they can even be produced naturally within the body.

MYTH: “Natural immunity is more effective than immunity from vaccines.”

FACT: Vaccines can help where the body’s natural immunity cannot

Some diseases can allow natural immunity to develop without vaccination. However, this exposes the body to dangerous risks that vaccinations do not. For example, to get immunity to measles you must first have the measles. Unfortunately, complications from measles include pneumonia, brain swelling and even death in one in 1000 cases.

By contrast, serious side effects from the MMR vaccine are extremely rare. Vaccines provide a safe way to build immunity without the damaging and potentially fatal impacts of contracting a preventable disease.

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