Epidemiologists discuss myths related to COVID-19 vaccine

Elizabeth Racz, Ph.D., MPH (Masters in Public Health), shown at left, and Christine Mathews, Ph.D., MPH, are two epidemiologists at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City. They say myths circulating online about the COVID-19 vaccine may reduce the number of people who get vaccinated, which could prolong the pandemic.

Epidemiologists at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City said misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine currently circulating on the internet may frighten some people away from becoming inoculated.

Dr. Elizabeth Racz, MPH (Masters in Public Health), said falsehoods include the accusation that corners were cut in development of this vaccine. “On the contrary,” Racz said. “The Food and Drug Administration’s decision to grant the emergency use authorization for the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine was based on scientific data. The process was made a priority — as vaccine development goes it was definitely done quickly, but not sloppily.”

According to the SDSM&T release, Racz said that there is no evidence to substantiate internet rumors. She said fetal stem cells were not used in COVID-19 vaccine or its development. The vaccine will not cause infertility and won’t change DNA. “The vaccine helps your body recognize and respond to the virus. The vaccine teaches your immune system. Once your immune system has learned to detect the virus it can act more quickly and accurately to eliminate it. Your immune system also has ‘memory’ cells. These specialized cells remember how to protect you from the disease in the future — in this case COVID-19,” Racz said.

Dr. Christine Mathews, MPH, said that the mRNA vaccine cannot give anyone COVID-19. “mRNA, like DNA, is a nucleic acid found in all living cells. DNA is located in the nucleus of the cell and contains all the instructions necessary for making proteins in the body. However, the cellular ‘machinery’ for making proteins from DNA instructions is located elsewhere, outside the nucleus. Since DNA cannot leave the nucleus, messenger RNA (mRNA) carries a copy of the instructions from the DNA to the machinery for production,” said Mathews.

Mathews tried to explain the way the vaccine interacts with the body’s own immune system. She said that mRNA vaccines include a piece of mRNA that carries a copy of the instructions for making the SARS-CoV-2 spike (S) protein wrapped in a lipid transport vehicle that allows the mRNA to get inside the cell. When mRNA enters the cell, the cellular machinery produces copies of the virus spike protein, which can then be shown to the immune system, triggering a response to the spike protein in the form of creating antibodies. These antibodies are identical to those that would be made after infection with SARS-CoV-2 and work by blocking the virus from using its spike proteins to enter host cells.

Having previously made antibodies is extremely beneficial because it can take up to three weeks to generate specific antibody responses. Antibody responses are further boosted with repeat exposures, which is the reason for two vaccine doses with these COVID-19 mRNA vaccines.

Mathews said that it’s important for those who are vaccinated to remember they are not immediately protected after the first injection. “Presently two doses are required to reach full protective antibody levels,” Mathews said. “If you have had COVID-19 already, getting a vaccine is still recommended because it can help boost antibody and memory responses and could help prevent reinfection. If you have any questions or concerns, talk with your physician prior to getting vaccinated.”

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