The United States crossed the terrible milestone of 400,000 deaths from coronavirus early last week, and there are currently over 2.1 million reported deaths worldwide, Johns Hopkins University data shows.
There are also new variants with mutations that could make Covid-19 even more transmissible and possibly even more deadly. However, there is also encouraging news, with two vaccines authorized for emergency use so far by the US Food and Drug Administration that are safe and very effective.
Two-thirds of Americans (66%) say they will try to get vaccinated and currently demand far outstrips supply, but 30% of Americans stated they will not, according to CNN poll results released January 21.
For those who are vaccine hesitant, what are some common myths about the vaccines, and how can each of us work to address these misconceptions?
We spoke with CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and visiting professor at George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, about how everyone can debunk myths, ease concerns and spread accurate information about the Covid-19 vaccines.
Why is it important for everyone to know what myths are circulating about coronavirus vaccines?
One of the key principles in public health is that the messenger is often more important than the message. You are the most trusted messenger to someone. It could be your parents, your work colleagues or your friends. Getting people vaccinated is our best hope of ending this pandemic, and we need everyone’s help to convince people to do so.
Another principle of public health is to meet people where they are. That means seeking to understand why someone may have hesitancy about the coronavirus vaccine. How you approach someone is going to be completely different if they are concerned about whether the vaccine is safe versus if they don’t believe coronavirus is real. Listening to someone’s concerns and then addressing them, with compassion and empathy, is crucial.
There are common myths I often hear from my patients, but there are things that each of us can say if someone around us expresses these myths.
Let’s talk about vaccine safety. There must be a lot of myths around that.
A common myth is that getting the coronavirus vaccine will give you coronavirus. I hear this every year when it comes to the flu vaccine, too: Often, patients will say they don’t want to get the flu vaccine because they think they’ll get the flu from it.
Neither is true. If someone is concerned about this, you can say that none of the coronavirus vaccines being tested in the US contains live virus. So it’s not possible to get coronavirus from the coronavirus vaccine.
Another set of myths is around the mRNA platform that is used for the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. I’ve heard people worry about whether the vaccine will somehow affect their genetic code and alter their genes.
This is not true. It’s helpful to explain what the mRNA technology is. The term “mRNA” stands for messenger RNA, which is a portion of the genetic code that teaches cells how to make a protein. The protein that’s made by the mRNA then activates an immune response, teaching our bodies how to respond to coronavirus if we come into contact with it in the future.
What’s very important to understand is what the mRNA does not do: It never enters the nucleus of people’s cells, which is where our DNA is contained. That means the vaccine does not interact with people’s DNA at all, and therefore will not alter our genetic code.
The mRNA technology is a new technology. Many have concerns that it’s too new and that it was developed too fast.
There are two points here and two ways to address this concern. First, the mRNA technology has actually been in development for well over a decade. Second, I think it’s critical to explain that no shortcuts were taken in the scientific research or approval processes. Yes, scientists did develop the vaccines in record time. But that’s because the entire global scientific community went to work. They didn’t start from scratch; after SARS and MERS outbreaks, a lot of work already went into starting the vaccine development.
The US government and other governments invested a lot of money in the research. And, frankly, we got lucky with the research to have two vaccines already that are safe and so effective. But every phase of the clinical research was followed as it is for other vaccines, with tens of thousands of volunteers in the clinical trials. External committees of independent scientists vetted the data and there were no shortcuts taken in vaccine authorization.
This article originally appeared in CNN, read more here.