Covid vaccine mythbusting: Five common mistruths on vaccines - debunked

Anti-vaccine beliefs have a long history – going back several decades. Credit: PA

By ITV News Content Producer Katherine Clementine

Margaret Keenan has become the first person in the UK to receive a Covid-19 vaccine.

Following approval for the Pfizer jab and another major breakthrough from Moderna, there is hope in sight for an end to the coronavirus pandemic.

But along with these developments comes heaps of information – and unfortunately, myths.

Together with FullFact, ITV News has compiled the most common anti-vaccine false claims that have emerged since the start of the pandemic and how you can tell the difference between truth and misinformation. 1. mRNA vaccines do not 'alter' your DNA (the Pfizer / BioNTech and the Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines) A Facebook post shared thousands of times has claimed that “the new vaccine for Covid-19... will literally alter your DNA. It will wrap itself into your system. You will essentially become a genetically modified human being".FullFact says the post incorrectly describes how mRNA vaccines work.

mRNA vaccines work by introducing a molecule into the body which instructs cells to build a disease-specific antigen. The antigen is then recognised by the immune system which produces antibodies to fight the real thing. It doesn’t change the body’s DNA or “wrap itself into your system". mRNA vaccines are generally viewed positively as they are cheap, and don’t involve using part of a virus-like some traditional vaccines.

Misinformation has resulted in protests, including in Dublin where demonstrators erected signs against vaccines. Credit: PA

2. Early Covid-19 vaccine trialists have not died False news reports have been circulating online claiming that Dr Elisa Granato, one of the first participants in the UK's human trials of a possible vaccine for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, has died shortly after being injected with the vaccine. But Dr Granato is not dead and the reports are fake. She took to Twitter in a bid to stop the misinformation from being shared.3. Is the government planning to roll out an untested Covid-19 vaccine? FullFact has seen a number of Facebook posts claiming that the government is planning to change the law to allow untested and unlicensed vaccines to be given to the public - which is untrue.

In fact, any vaccine given to the public will have to go through several stages of testing, regardless of this consultation.Tom Phillips, Editor of FullFact, said: "Vaccines are some of the most scrutinised forms of medical interventions.

"The data says that they are safe and effective.

"They have side effects, but all medicines have side effects and the benefit of using them far outweighs the small risks that there are."

Vaccines are among the most 'scrutinised' medical interventions in the world. Credit: PA

4. Will a Covid-19 vaccine be mandatory? A Facebook post claiming to show how a “mandatory coronavirus vaccine” would be enforced has been shared hundreds of times.As it stands, no vaccines are mandatory in the UK.

However, it will be up to government ministers to decide if a Covid-19 vaccine would become a legal requirement. Health Secretary Matt Hancock previously said at a daily briefing that he would like and encourage people to get a vaccine when it is available but has not said he would make it mandatory, according to FullFact.

5. Bill Gates is not planning to use the vaccine to control the world Posts on social media claim that Bill Gates owns the patent and vaccine for coronavirus and that he's a "partner in the lab in Wuhan, China" - which was shared more than 16,000 times worldwide.

Neither of these claims are true, as there is no patent for the virus that causes Covid-19, and there is not yet an effective vaccine.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has been at the centre of false information shared on social media. Credit: PA

Furthermore, there is no evidence the new coronavirus comes from a laboratory or is man-made, FullFact says.

As for claims Microsoft and Bill Gates filed a patent for a microchip which is inserted into the body, while it is true that Microsoft has a patent application for a system which rewards physical activity with cryptocurrency - it does not reference injectable microchips.

How you can spot false claims on social media

Anti-vaccine beliefs have a long history – going back several decades, including the thoroughly debunked claims in the 1990s that MMR caused autism. Tom Phillips, Editor of FullFact, told ITV News that there was a pre-existing movement, so that when the pandemic hit, 'anti-vaxxers' could capitalise on this. "People were scared, confused, freaked out - as we all were - and the material was there for them to find. "Vaccine scientism has a longer history going back many, many decades. Social media can increase the speed and scale of how these things spread, but the root beliefs behind are not new."

Social media platforms have been criticised for allowing misinformation to sit on their sites. Credit: PA

'Take a moment to pause'

Before you share anything, the first thing you should do is take a moment to pause, and maybe do a search to see if anybody else is reporting this information from trusted news sources, Mr Phillips said.

He added: "It’s worth considering how things make you feel.

"If they make you feel worried, or angry, that can get our guard down.

"When something causes a strong emotional response in us, we’re less likely to scrutinise it and think about whether or not it might be true."

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