5 Myths About the COVID-19 Vaccines, Busted

By Christine Richmond |

No, they won’t change your DNA. Yes, you still need one even if you’ve had COVID-19. Here, top experts debunk false claims and set the record straight.

covid-19 vaccine mythsWe’ve come a long way since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March 2020. The crowning achievement: We currently have three COVID-19 vaccines that are available in the United States, and as of May 13, 2021, more than 70 percent of older adults have been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Why that’s important: COVID-19 vaccines protect us against a disease that has killed more than 580,000 Americans to date. And because eight out of 10 deaths have occurred in people 65 and up, vaccination is vital for older adults.

In a very real sense, there has been no time to lose against COVID-19. Still, the speed at which these shots became available has left some people skeptical about their safety—and opened the door to a host of conspiracy theories.

First off: No, nobody is using the vaccine to secretly inject you with a microchip that will track you.

As for other common myths, we asked some of the nation’s top vaccine and infectious disease experts to set the record straight, so you have the facts—and peace of mind—you need.

Myth #1: These Vaccines Were Created Too Quickly to Be Safe

Though the COVID-19 vaccines have only recently been authorized, the scientific work that made them possible has been going on for years.

“I think people don’t realize that we have been developing these vaccines for at least a decade,” explains Maria Elena Bottazzi, Ph.D., an associate dean at the Baylor College of Medicine and an expert in vaccine development. “We had a really good jumpstart from the research we’ve done on other coronaviruses, like SARS and MERS.”

In fact, before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, scientists had started early tests of vaccines. When it became clear that COVID-19 was a major threat to lives around the world, vaccine development kicked into high gear.

Even though the need for COVID-19 vaccines was urgent, no shortcuts were taken. More than 100,000 volunteers participated in clinical trials for the three vaccines that are currently available, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administrated (FDA) carefully reviewed the results.

“It’s not that we did anything different scientifically,” Bottazzi says. “We just had an enormous amount of collaboration,” as well as financial support.

Plus, at this point, hundreds of millions of people around the world have received at least one dose, notes David Hamer, M.D., a professor of global health and medicine at Boston University and an infectious disease specialist. “Data is continuing to accrue suggesting these vaccines are very safe,” he says.

Myth #2: The Vaccines Can Change Your DNA

“This is absolutely not possible,” says Paul Biddinger, M.D., chief of emergency preparedness at Massachusetts General Hospital and chair of the Massachusetts COVID-19 vaccine advisory board.

Bottazzi agrees. “There is no scientific evidence and no biological premise of how that could happen,” she says.

In fact, the vaccines don’t interact with your DNA at all. “The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are made of RNA, which can’t change DNA, and they never enter the nucleus,” which is where your cell’s DNA is stored, Dr. Biddinger explains. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine contains a piece of coronavirus DNA, but “it’s not capable of integrating with your DNA,” he says.

To learn more about how vaccines work, check out these top COVID-19 vaccine questions and answers.

Myth #3: If You’ve Already Had COVID-19, You Don’t Need a Vaccine

Even if you recovered from COVID-19 and built up some natural immunity, you might not be protected from the variants that are starting to spread, Bottazzi says. This may help explain why a small number of people who had COVID-19 can get infected a second time.

There’s also evidence that if you had a very mild infection or had an infection but no symptoms, you may not have as many antibodies to fight the virus, Dr. Hamer says. The best way to protect yourself is to get the vaccine.

If you received treatment for COVID-19 previously, ask your doctor when you should schedule your vaccination.

Myth #4: Side Effects from These Shots Are Worse Than Other Vaccines

“There’s nothing unique about the side effects of these vaccines,” Bottazzi says. “It’s the same pattern of fever, aches, and pain at the injection site that we see with other vaccines, like the flu shot or [the shingles vaccine] Shingrix.”

So, don’t let this myth keep you from booking your appointment, Bottazzi says.

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What about the temporary pause with the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine? After a thorough review of safety information, the CDC and FDA again recommended the use of the J&J vaccine. For women younger than 50 years old, there may be some additional safety considerations with the J&J vaccine—but Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are also available.

Here’s something else to ease your mind: Typically, at COVID-19 vaccine appointments, you’ll stay for 15 to 30 minutes after your shot so you can be monitored in case you do feel unwell. It may also help to plan for downtime the day or two after your shot so you can rest.

Have more questions? Call your doctor to discuss your concerns, or check with your local health department for help.

Myth #5: If a Vaccine Is Only 72 Percent Effective, It’s Not Worth Getting

“That’s the stat for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for preventing mild disease,” Bottazzi says. “It’s more than 85 percent effective at preventing severe disease.” In fact, it was 100 percent effective at preventing hospitalization and death.

She adds: “Even if a vaccine was 50 percent effective, it’s better than 0 percent, where you’re leaving things to chance.”

Plus, because the vaccines were developed and tested at different times, it’s hard to compare them head-to-head, Dr. Hamer says.

The bottom line: “All three of the available vaccines prevent severe disease, and that’s the most important thing—they prevent people from needing hospitalization and potentially dying,” Dr. Hamer says. “I’d say, if you can get a vaccine, take whatever’s available.”

For the latest on COVID-19 vaccines, see information from the CDC. And if you’re having trouble booking a vaccine appointment, check out these tips to make it happen.

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