We have underestimated the force that is Covid and its impact on global society since the beginning. Our miscalculation of everything from how the virus spreads to how much it can adapt and change has led to the loss of millions of lives around the globe, with infections and deaths still on the rise to today. You think we would have learned our lesson by now—and yet in the face of increasingly dangerous variants, a rhetoric of relentless optimism undergirded by complacency and inaction continues to cloud our better judgment.
We’re debunking some of the common myths surrounding the vaccine.
Myth: I don’t need to get vaccinated because I’m young and healthy. This is FALSE.
While young, healthy people are less likely to get sick than older people, they can and have ended up in the ICU with COVID-19. And even if they remain asymptomatic, they can have long-haul symptoms for months after the virus has cleared their system.
Also: they can unknowingly carry COVID-19 to those who are more vulnerable and put loved ones in danger of becoming severely sick. “The key to ending the pandemic is having everyone get vaccinated—not just those who are most vulnerable,” says Dr. Cunningham.
Myth: The Covid vaccines change your DNA and could cause cancer. This is FALSE.
None of the vaccines interact with or alter your DNA in any way, and therefore cannot cause cancer.
Messenger RNA (mRNA) is not the same as DNA and cannot be combined with DNA to change your genetic code. Here’s now mRNA vaccines actually work:
The mRNA vaccines use a tiny piece of the coronavirus’ genetic code to teach your immune system how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response if you get infected. The mRNA is fragile, so after it delivers the instructions to your cells, it breaks down and disappears from the body (in about 72 hours). The mRNA never even goes into the nucleus of the cell — the part that contains your DNA.
Therefore, there is no truth to the myth that somehow the mRNA vaccine could inactivate the genes that suppress tumors.
Myth: If you get vaccinated, it could make you infertile. This is FALSE.
There is absolutely no data from the clinical trials or any theoretical reason as to why or how the vaccines could cause infertility. Women who participated in the COVID-19 clinical trials were able to conceive after vaccination. “In fact, we know that pregnant women with COVID-19 infections are at a higher risk of having a miscarriage or going into premature labor, which is all the more reason to get vaccinated,” says Dr. Cunningham.
Myth: I’ve already had COVID-19, so I don’t need to get vaccinated. This is FALSE.
Even if you have already had COVID-19, you should get vaccinated. New data shows that the vaccines provide better protection against the COVID-19 variants than natural immunity after infection.
“If you have had COVID-19, research suggests you have some natural protection from your own antibodies,” says Dr. Cunningham. “However, we don’t know how effective that protection is or how long it will last. A benefit of getting vaccinated is that you will have a higher, more predictable level of protection against the virus.” Future research will tell us more about exactly how long we are protected after vaccination.
Myth: You can get COVID-19 from the vaccines. This is FALSE.
“There’s no live virus in the vaccines, so they can’t infect you,” says Dr. Cunningham. “Basically, the vaccines make our bodies produce one single protein from the virus—the protein that infects our cells. By making that protein, we prevent infection. You might have side effects like a headache or chills, but that’s because your body is creating an immune response, not because you have an infection.”
Myth: The vaccines aren’t safe because they were developed quickly. This is FALSE.
“The COVID-19 vaccines themselves were developed quickly, but the clinical trials to examine safety and efficacy weren’t rushed at all,” says Dr. Cunningham. “Safety was not compromised in any way. What happened quickly was finding the vaccine to test. In the 1980s, it took scientists so long to do this, but thanks to scientific advances we’ve made over the years, we can find viruses so quickly.”
Also, he adds, COVID-19 is similar to other coronaviruses we’ve seen in humans, like MERS and SARS, so there was previous research that could be used to speed up the process.
Myth: Vaccines cause severe side effects. This is FALSE.
This vaccine has very few side effects. The most common is a sore arm and a number of people get fevers, muscle aches and fatigue that can last a few days.
Myth: The vaccine contains a microchip, and it will make me magnetic. This is FALSE.
According to the BBC, this rumor started making waves on the internet after Bill Gates said vaccination could possibly be proven through digital vaccine-record certificates. Gates didn’t explicitly mention microchips, but a lot of other people have — such as former Donald Trump adviser Roger Stone and the head of the Russian Communist Party — and fanned the flames of this conspiracy.
An Economist/YouGov poll from July showed that out of 1,500 people surveyed, 20% thought the vaccine containing a microchip was “definitely or probably true,” and 14% weren’t sure. About 66% of respondents said it was “definitely or probably” false.
“Chances are 90% of the people reading this have a cell phone,” Manning points out. “Who needs a microchip when you already have that? I’m saying this not to make you paranoid of your phone, but to say it wouldn’t make sense.”
And we can’t forget the viral TikTok in which 25-year-old Rob Marrocco insisted his vaccine site was magnetic. After a savvy viewer suggested in the comments that he “put baby powder on that spot,” which appeared to be a bit sticky or sweaty, Marrocco obliged and quickly realized he was in the wrong. “I would like to issue a public apology for being an idiot,” he said.
But the rumor that the vaccine can make people magnetic took off so much that the CDC had to issue its own myth-busting statement. “Receiving a COVID-19 vaccine will not make you magnetic, including at the site of vaccination, which is usually your arm,” the agency said. “COVID-19 vaccines do not contain ingredients that can produce an electromagnetic field at the site of your injection. All COVID-19 vaccines are free from metals.”
Myth: Getting immunity naturally is safer than getting it from a vaccine. This is FALSE.
The amount of natural immunity a person gets after an infection varies from person to person. Early evidence suggests that natural immunity may not last very long, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Developing immunity from the vaccine is less risky than developing immunity naturally because there’s no way to predict the severity of your symptoms if you get COVID-19.
We expect that when 70% of the population has either received the vaccine or been infected, we will reach what is called “herd immunity,” meaning the chances of the virus still circulating are very low. Waiting until this number is reached naturally — without vaccinating the public — will keep COVID-19 around for much longer.
Myth: After I’m vaccinated, I don’t have to mask up anymore or socially distance. This is FALSE.
We wish, but it’s more complicated than that.
Ever since the Delta variant of COVID-19 took off, raising infection and hospitalization rates yet again, the CDC has scaled back its guidance for what vaccinated people can do. As health officials work to increase vaccination rates, public health measures like masking can continue to keep everyone safe. The end goal: getting to a place where we can hopefully relax these precautions for good.
“What we know about COVID-19 is [that] it is such a new and evolving pathogen, even those of us in health care are learning new things every day,” Manning says. And “if you are vaccinated, there are people around you who might not be.”
Data also shows that some breakthrough infections — when a vaccinated person gets sick from COVID-19 — are happening. They’re usually not severe, but they are happening, and can cause the disease to spread to other people.
“I like to think of masks as a kindness to those around me and to myself, because in addition to not wanting to get a breakthrough case, I also wouldn’t want to be asymptomatic and pass it along to someone else,” Manning says. “I love wearing lipstick, so it’s soul-crushing to me. But I’d much rather people be alive than me be able to wear my favorite Pat McGrath lipstick.” (In case you were wondering, her go-to shade is Elson Red.)
Manning adds, “The main thing to emphasize is that I tend to think of those who aren’t vaccinated as deliberating, not hesitant. Doctors are respectfully here to provide you with information. Your concerns are valid and not silly. But once you’re presented with facts, I hope you’ll be open to consider getting vaccinated to protect yourself and others from not only death, but disability.”