Student Opinion: Debunking Fake News Surrounding the COVID-19 Vaccine

By Jess Taylor

Fake news has surrounded the COVID-19 vaccine ever since scientists began working to create it. Americans have been divided on whether they should get vaccinated or not, and this division is partly due to certain unreliable media outlets that are publicizing that the vaccines are dangerous and ineffective.

People who have no professional background in the science behind vaccines publish their opinions, and they are mistaken for facts on blogs and social media. Now, Americans are unsure what the truth about the vaccines is because of the support that fake news receives. 

Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have been utilized to press the anti-vaccine agenda, dissuading Americans from receiving the vaccine. When an individual dies after receiving the vaccine, fake news reporters quickly attribute the death to the vaccine.

Dr. Derek Lowe is a medicinal chemist who works on preclinical drug discovery in the pharmaceutical industry. Before the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines were authorized, he stated that people may blame the vaccine for any deaths post-vaccination. 

“If we take 10 million people in two months, it would be expected to see 4,000 strokes, over 9,000 new diagnoses of cancer, 4,000 heart attacks, and about 14,000 dead from typical mortality causes. But if you took those 10 million people and gave them a new vaccine instead, there’s a real danger that those heart attacks, cancer diagnoses, and deaths will be attributed to the vaccine,” said Lowe.

The anti-vaccine movement has taken advantage of precisely what Lowe predicted, instilling fear, doubt and disunity among Americans. Most of the claims made against the vaccine are conspiracy-based or unverified. 

One preliminary doubt attributed to the vaccine plastered across social media is that it cannot be trusted because it was developed too quickly. Those against vaccination did not hesitate to publish across social media that the vaccine is unsafe and should not be authorized. The CDC reported that Pfizer and Moderna are 95 percent effective and have no reports of serious or life-threatening side effects. 

The technology these two vaccines use is mRNA and has a faster approach than traditional vaccines. This method has been developed for almost two decades, allowing the formation of the vaccine to initiate early in the pandemic. Additionally, China shared genetic information about COVID-19 so that scientists could immediately work on creating a vaccine. No steps were skipped, instead, it was done on an overlapping schedule to increase the speed of development. 

Another problem is that many Americans believe the COVID-19 vaccine is similar to the flu vaccine that uses a live virus, but they are entirely unrelated. Receiving the vaccine does not give the individual the virus. Comparatively, it instructs the cells in the body to reproduce a protein that is part of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that helps the body recognize and fight the COVID-19 virus. No infection is caused by receiving the shot.

Another rumor about the vaccine that has greatly upset pro-life supporters is that a fetus is a part of the ingredients of the dose. Speculation arose when a false claim on social media said the spike protein in the vaccine is the same as syncytin-1 that is involved in the growth and attachment of the placenta during pregnancy. The claims about aborted fetuses being in the vaccine are exceedingly misleading and detrimental towards reaching complete immunity. Fetal tissue is not in the COVID-19 vaccines.

Women who are pregnant or trying to conceive have questioned if the vaccine will affect their fertility. The vaccine has the body create copies of the spike protein found on the coronavirus’s surface, teaching the immune system to fight the virus off. During the Pfizer vaccine trials, 23 women volunteers became pregnant. Only one woman had a miscarriage, but she received the placebo vaccine, not the actual shot. Of the 100,000 pregnant women who have received the vaccine, no severe side effects have been reported.  

Lastly, many Americans believe that receiving the vaccine means they can stop wearing a mask. Unfortunately, data is still being collected and cannot conclude if vaccinated people can carry or transmit the virus, even if they do not get sick. As more people get vaccinated, it will become clearer if a vaccinated person can still pass on the virus.

In a technological world, news spreads fast. If claims about the virus are being made by people who have no scientific credentials or professional background, chances are the information is not true. When looking at information about the vaccines, research the individual’s background to ensure that facts are being consumed, not fake news. The vaccine has proven to be safe and effective. Because it is now available to the public, the end of the pandemic is closer than ever.

Jess Taylor is in her senior year at UC Davis from a small town called Wheatland. She is finishing her studies in English and Human Rights.

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