'Mandatory, unsafe and not halal': Covid-19 vaccine myths debunked

Nurse administers a coronavirus vaccine. Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

More than 6.5 million people in the UK have now received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, but misinformation about the jab continues to spread.

With jabs being administered at a rate of 250 a minute, Imams, influencers, medics and government officials have been debunking some of the most harmful content being shared.

  • Myth: Vaccines are mandatory

Reality: A video widely shared on social media claims because the Covid regulations are law, this means "there will be “mandatory vaccines, house arrest until people are vaccinated and children forced to be vaccinated”. This is not true. Parliament did vote in favour of Covid-19 regulations to introduce a new national lockdown, but this does not make vaccines mandatory. Children cannot be vaccinated without parental consent and adults can choose whether or not to take the jab.

Dr Cree says that "doctors and nurses have been topping up their antibody levels every now due to inadvertent exposure." Credit: Jane Barlow/PA
  • Myth: The vaccine is not halal/contains pork products

Reality: Claims that the vaccine contains gelatin have caused concern in religious communities. However, vaccine manufacturers have said the vaccine does not contain any animal ingredients and no animal-derived cells were used.

The British Islamic Medical Association has recommended at-risk individuals within the Muslim community get vaccinated, and the Mosque and Imams National Advisory Board is running a campaign to encourage Muslim communities to get vaccinated.

Imam Qari Asim said: “Misinformation can result in someone losing their life and it is one of the core principles of Islam that protection of life is extremely important.

“My message to Muslim communities is that it is our ethical obligation, moral duty, to take the vaccine whenever the opportunity arises.”

  • Myth: Vaccines make you infertile

Reality: Professor Lucy Chappell, a consultant obstetrician specialising in women with medical problems in pregnancy, says it is understandable that there have been questions about the new vaccines but said that fearful claims, which can be found online, have never been substantiated.

She said: “I can see absolutely no basis for concerns about any of the Covid-19 vaccines that are licensed in the UK and fertility.”

  • Myth: The vaccine contains parts of aborted foetus

Reality: A Facebook user falsely claimed that the vaccine uses MRC-5 cell lines which were “originally developed from research deriving lung tissue of a 14-week-old aborted Caucasian male foetus”.

AstraZeneca has confirmed its vaccine was not developed using MRC-5 cell lines but does use a different cell strain taken from a female foetus aborted in the 1970s. The cells are used to propagate the virus for the vaccine but these cells do not make it into the final jab.

Safety standards for the vaccine have not changed Credit: PA

MRC-5 cells are also not the same cells from an aborted foetus. They are cell lines that have been grown in a laboratory from a primary cell culture originally taken from a foetus.

  • Myth: The speed with which the vaccine was created means it’s not clear if it is safe

Reality: It is true that most vaccines usually take several years to be developed. However, as deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam explained, this is usually because they are produced by companies which make an “investment decision about whether to move on” at each stage.

He said the “shackles had come off in terms of investing” in the new vaccine, and that governments, such as the UK, had invested hundreds of millions of pounds “to try and speed it (vaccine development) up”.

The standards for safety and effectiveness have not, however, changed due to the speed of production and testing — and it is still subject to independent regulation.

  • Myth: Didn’t the regulators cut corners to test the vaccine quickly?

Reality: No. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has been conducting “rolling reviews” of data from vaccine trials. This means rather than waiting until the end of the clinical trial to assess the data, experts have been assessing it instead on a rolling basis during the trial, which has helped speed up the approval process.

Dr June Raine, head of regulator the MHRA, said after news of Pfizer’s approval: “That doesn’t mean that any corners have been cut, none at all.”

  • Myth: You need your NHS number when registering for a jab

Reality: Posts shared on Facebook have claimed people not having their NHS number to hand is causing the “biggest bottleneck” when administering the vaccine. This is not true. If you do not know your number you can still register for the vaccine.

The NHS website says: “You do not need your NHS number to use NHS services, including booking appointments.”

Some people have reported receiving fraudulent text messages or phone calls in relation to the Covid-19 vaccine. You will never be asked to pay for a vaccine and any contact asking for your bank details in relation to a vaccination appointment is a scam.

  • Myth: You do not need the vaccine if you have had the virus

Reality: You still need the vaccine even if you have had Covid-19. Reinfection is still possible if you have had it once, and experts do not know how long someone is immune from getting sick again once recovering from Covid. Due to the severe health risks associated with the virus, you should still take the vaccine if offered it.

  • Myth: You can catch Covid-19 from the vaccine

Reality: The vaccine does not contain any part of the Covid virus (dead or alive) but comprises mRNA, which gives instructions to your cells on how to make a “spike protein”. Therefore you cannot catch Covid-19 from the vaccine, but it is possible to catch coronavirus and not realise you have symptoms until after your vaccination appointment.

  • Myth: Vaccines alter your DNA

Reality: The vaccines do not alter your DNA. They comprise mRNA that gives the body instructions on how to make proteins on the surface of the virus. This does not alter your DNA but teaches your body an immune response to Covid-19 in case you are exposed.

  • Myth: Dr Elisa Granato, one of the first participants in the vaccine trial, has died

Reality: Dr Granato was one of the first participants in human trials of the AstraZeneca and Oxford University vaccine, and has not died.

The false claims of her death prompted her to tweet that she was “very much alive” and “having a cup of tea”.

Myth: Bill Gates is using the vaccine to secretly microchip the world

Reality: Mr Gates is regularly the subject of conspiracy theories due to his charity’s work in vaccine development.

However, there is no evidence that the Microsoft founder, or anyone else, is trying to implant microchips in anyone through vaccines. Mr Gates has also repeatedly denied these claims.

This conspiracy theory may have originated from a December study published by a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The study was funded, in part, by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Bill Gates does not have plans to use the vaccine to microchip the world Credit: Malaria No More UK/PA

The team had developed an “approach to encode medical history on a patient” by including a small amount of dye with a vaccine.

But it never experimented on humans and did not include any hardware technology, such as microchips.

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