8 coronavirus vaccine myths debunked, from microchipping to DNA changes

  • Coronavirus conspiracy theories could keep people from getting vaccinated if left unaddressed.
  • It's impossible for the vaccines to alter your DNA, make you infertile, or give you COVID-19.
  • The vaccine won't be forced on people who don't want it, nor does it contain a location-tracking microchip.
  • Finally, you won't be protected from COVID-19 the moment you get your shot. It'll take time and widespread compliance for life to go back to normal.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Now that the US has authorized and begun distribution of two vaccines, the real challenge lies in making sure people get their shots — and in squashing the misunderstandings and conspiracy theories that surround the vaccines.

At least around 75% to 85% of Americans need to get vaccinated for life to return to a pre-COVID-19 normal, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has said. Misinformation poses a huge barrier to reaching that milestone, as people might not want to get a shot they don't trust or understand.

"It's not just a problem of people's interpretations," Bernice Hausman, author of "Anti/Vax: Reframing the Vaccination Controversy," previously told Insider. "It's a problem of repairing the lack of trust in the government, in pharmaceutical companies, and in public health."

This lack of trust has made people wary of what's in the vaccine, what it can do to your body, and whether it's really necessary at all. But key players have so far been transparent about how the vaccine works and what it can and cannot do.

Here we look at eight widely-shared but untrue myths and conspiracy theories about the vaccine, and lay out why they aren't true.

1. mRNA vaccines cannot alter your DNA

On December 1, a political party called Advance New Zealand posted on Facebook that mRNA vaccines will "intervene directly in the genetic material of the patient and therefore alter the individual genetic material." 

The group attributed this claim to Robert F Kennedy Jr., who has a history of promoting misinformation about vaccines, but the fact-checker at the news organization AFP found no evidence that he was linked to this case. 

mRNA vaccines work by telling the body to make a key protein in the coronavirus, which the immune system then attacks, training it to fight off the virus itself. They do not work by entering the body's genetic material, which is physically impossible. 

As the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologies (ACOG) says in its advisory about vaccination in pregnant and lactating people, "these vaccines do not enter the nucleus and do not alter human DNA in vaccine recipients. As a result, mRNA vaccines cannot cause any genetic changes." 

2. The vaccine won't make you infertile

A post that was circulating on social media falsely claimed that Pfizer's new coronavirus vaccine could cause infertility in women.

The post promoted an incorrect idea that the vaccine spurs the immune system to attack both a protein in the coronavirus and a protein involved in the formation of the placenta. 

But experts say there's no evidence the vaccine could lead to infertility, and that the two proteins don't have a similar enough makeup to make the theory plausible. 

And, while pregnant people were excluded from clinical trials and so exactly how the vaccines affect that population remains to be seen, experts predict they're safe since they're made from mRNA, not live virus. Only vaccines made with live virus are deemed unsafe for use during pregnancy.

ACOG, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, says pregnant women who want the vaccine should be able to get it.

3. The vaccine does not contain a microchip 

One of the wildest vaccine myths says the shot contains an injectable microchip that can track your location — and Bill Gates has something to do with it.

The Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist has been an instrumental player in vaccine campaigns past and present. This conspiracy theory, which researchers say may have originated from InfoWars, says Gates plans to use mass coronavirus vaccinations to implant billions of people with microchips.

Both Pifzer and Moderna have released fact sheets detailing the ingredients in their coronavirus vaccines, which did not include any mentions of location-tracking devices. Gates also assured reporters the conspiracy theory was false in June.

"It's almost hard to deny this stuff because it's so stupid or strange that even to repeat it gives it credibility," Gates said in a media call announcing $1.6 billion in funding for immunization in poor countries, per USA Today.

4. The federal government can't make you take the vaccine, though states, schools, and private employers could

While it's important that 75 to 85% of the population get vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity, it's extremely unlikely that the US government will mandate vaccinations to reach that milestone.

"You don't want to mandate and try and force anyone to take the vaccine. We've never done that," Fauci said in an August livestream. You can mandate for certain groups of people like health workers, but for the general population you cannot."

A national vaccine mandate might be out of the question, but states and cities have the authority to require their residents to get vaccinated. It's possible that COVID-19 hotspots could mandate that people get the vaccine or pay a fine.

Hospitals and universities also have a history of requiring staff and students to get vaccinated for anything from hepatitis to meningitis. Since those are high-risk settings for COVID-19 spread, private or state-run institutions could enforce coronavirus vaccine mandates.

Other private employers could mandate — but are more likely to highly recommend — coronavirus vaccinations in the name of public safety, Business Insider previously reported.

5. The vaccine won't give you COVID-19, but it also won't protect you right away

Vaccines are meant to introduce your immune system to a harmless amount of virus so your body can recognize the intruder in the future. But, the coronavirus vaccines on the market do not contain the virus itself, just tiny pieces of its genetic material that are not capable of infecting you. 

The process of getting a vaccine can cause some temporary side effects, such as pain at the injection site, fatigue, headaches, and, in rare cases, fever. These reactions signal the immune system is doing its job, and they should not be confused with actual COVID-19 symptoms.

However, it does take several weeks after your second shot of the vaccine (administered three to four weeks later) to develop antibodies that protect you against the virus. This means there's a window of time where you could contract COVID-19 after getting vaccinated, so you shouldn't throw out your mask as soon as you get your shot.

6. The vaccine was developed quickly, but safety corners weren't cut

The vaccines were developed at unprecedented paces. "Under normal circumstances, creating a vaccine can take 10 years. This time, multiple vaccines were created in less than one year," Bill Gates wrote on his recent blog post.

But that's not because scientists were sloppy. "We've been able to move extremely quickly without sacrificing any safety issues, without cutting corners, and certainly without compromising scientific integrity," Dr. Anthony Fauci said during a livestream hosted by US News & World Report. 

Rather, the speed was possible for three key reasons: First, because the two now-authorized vaccines are made from mRNA, a vaccine platform that could be developed much more quickly than traditional vaccines. Scientists at Moderna have been perfecting mRNA technology for years, and they entered eight mRNA vaccines into clinical trials before the pandemic started.

And second, because countries and organizations invested in stages of the development process right away, rather than waiting for one step to be complete before funding the next one. 

"That means that if the vaccine works, you've saved a bunch of months, rather than waiting until it works and then making the vaccine," Fauci said.

Additionally, scientists were not starting from scratch on coronavirus research. They were able to build on previous vaccine efforts for two other kinds of coronaviruses, SARS and MERS, that were put on hold when those outbreaks abated.

7. Having a history of COVID-19 does not mean you should skip the vaccine

People who've had COVID-19 do develop protective antibodies in response, but that method of protection isn't bulletproof and scientists don't know how long it lasts. 

Plus, as Tracy Hussell, a professor of inflammatory disease at the University of Manchester, wrote in the Conversation, in some hospitalized patients, the body's immune system was so overwhelmed fighting off the infection that it didn't develop an efficient "immune memory." On the flip side, people with very mild infections may not have activated their immune system to develop such a memory at all. 

So, while it may be reasonable for some people who've recovered from the illness to stand behind more vulnerable people in line for the vaccine, experts still recommend they get the shot. 

8. No, life will not go back to normal as soon as we get our vaccines

While experts say vaccine rollouts signal the beginning of the end, that doesn't mean life will return to pre-pandemic normalcy right away.  

"I think people's perception is you get the vaccine and you're safe and finally we can stop all this masking and social distancing and stuff, but that's not actually reality," Debra Goff, an infectious-disease pharmacist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Business Insider. 

The reality is it will take time to learn how well, if at all, the vaccine protects people around those who are vaccinated, and likely longer to reach the 75-85% threshold of herd immunity that can allow us all to let down our guards.

Even then, life won't be 100% normal until the whole world has reached this level of herd immunity, Fauci and Bill Gates agreed last month on a podcast the Microsoft founder cohosts with actress Rashida Jones.

"If we have the disease elsewhere in the world, it's not clear to me we can go back and do big sports events or open up the bars because like Australia or South Korea, the risk of reinfection will be looming out there," Gates said. "So as long as it's in the world, I'm not sure we'll be completely back to normal."

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