Inaccurate Covid vaccine ‘Q&A’: fact checked

25 March 2021
What was claimed

The mRNA Covid-19 vaccines are experimental.

Our verdict

The mRNA vaccines have been tested for safety and effectiveness like any other vaccine. While this is the first time mRNA vaccines have become available to the public, they have been researched for many years.

What was claimed

The mRNA Covid-19 vaccines have not been tested on animals.

Our verdict

False. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been tested on animals.

What was claimed

The vaccines haven’t been subject to medium or long term safety testing on humans.

Our verdict

The vaccines have been tested on humans since mid-2020. If vaccines produce side effects, these are usually detectable in the short term.

What was claimed

The effects of the vaccines are not reversible.

Our verdict

It is unclear how long the protection given by Covid-19 vaccines lasts against the disease. Most side effects observed are mild and pass within a few days.

What was claimed

The vaccines won’t stop me getting Covid-19.

Our verdict

They most likely will. All the vaccines available are highly effective at preventing Covid-19 development.

What was claimed

The vaccines won’t stop me spreading Covid-19.

Our verdict

Emerging research shows Covid-19 vaccination does lead to lower levels of transmission.

What was claimed

The vaccines won’t allow me to stop wearing a mask.

Our verdict

True. People who have been vaccinated still have to follow rules on mask-wearing.

What was claimed

The vaccines contain genetically modified organisms.

Our verdict

True. Some of them, such as the AstraZeneca vaccine, do contain GMOs.

What was claimed

The AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines contain aborted human and monkey cells.

Our verdict

Partly false. Both vaccines use cell lines derived from aborted foetal cells but those cells do not make it into the final vaccine. Neither contain or use monkey cells.

What was claimed

Doctors have concerns about the mRNA vaccine’s long term effect on fertility.

Our verdict

False. The NHS says there's no evidence the vaccines are unsafe for pregnant women, but more evidence is needed before pregnant women can be routinely offered the vaccine. There is no evidence the vaccines affect fertility.

What was claimed

There is a risk of autoimmune disease, strokes, seizures, convulsions and other side effects from the vaccines.

Our verdict

The vaccines cause mild, transient side effects such as arm pain or fatigue for most people. There isn’t much evidence linking the vaccines directly to more severe side effects. Possible reported side effects are continually monitored to detect such links.

What was claimed

The vaccines have caused deaths and injuries.

Our verdict

False. No deaths have been directly attributed to Covid-19 vaccinations. Some severe illnesses have been suggested as linked to the vaccine, but the links are uncertain.

What was claimed

Vaccine manufacturers are not liable for injuries or deaths caused by the vaccines.

Our verdict

True, mostly. In the UK, Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers are protected from much, but not all, civil liability that arises as a result of the vaccines.

What was claimed

Doctors and scientists are recommending people not to take the vaccine.

Our verdict

Far more doctors and scientists are recommending people to take the vaccine than to not take it.

A Covid-19 vaccine “Q&A” sheet has been circulating on social media. It presents a checklist of claims about the vaccine, alongside ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answers. Some of the claims are inaccurate and suggest the mRNA vaccines may be dangerous.

The Covid-19 vaccines have been tested to the same high standards as any vaccine would be. While side effects are common, these are overwhelmingly minor and pass within a few days.  

 

“Are the MRNA vaccines experimental? Yes”

While these are the first mRNA vaccines to be rolled out to the general public, the technology behind mRNA vaccines has been developed over a number of years.  

In the UK, two of the three approved Covid-19 vaccines , the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine - use mRNA technology. 

Both mRNA Covid-19 vaccines have passed the same safety tests and procedures any other vaccine would.

Many vaccines work by introducing a weakened or inactive virus or bacteria into the body which triggers the immune system to produce antibodies in response. These antibodies then protect the body if it comes into contact with the real thing.

Covid-19 mRNA vaccines go one step back in the process. Once inside the body, the mRNA works to build the spike proteins on the surface of the Covid-19 virus. The body then responds by producing antibodies which attack those proteins.This means that if it is later infected, the body will be able to generate a faster and more effective immune response to the virus.

 

“Have they been safety tested on animals? No”

This is untrue. The Moderna, Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines have all been tested on animals.

The Associated Press reports this confusion may have arisen because Moderna and Pfizer were given permission to test their vaccines on human trial participants concurrently with animal tests. Ordinarily animal tests are done before human trials. 

“Have they been subject to medium or long term safety testing on humans? No”

This depends on how you define medium or long term. The vaccines have been trialled on humans since mid-2020, so we do have over six months of safety data for each vaccine. Pfizer and Moderna have said they will continue monitoring their trialists for safety.

 

“Are the effects of the vaccines reversible? No”

It’s unclear what’s meant by “reversible”. 

All the vaccines are intended to protect people against Covid-19. It is unclear how long that protection will last, and so in that sense the effects of the vaccines may wear off over time.

The vaccines can cause side effects but the vast majority of these, such as pain around the injection site, fatigue or nausea, are mild and pass within a few days. 

The evidence suggesting vaccinations can cause more serious side effects resulting in permanent damage is far more limited. For example in the Pfizer trial, the proportion of people who experienced a serious “adverse event” after vaccination with the Pfizer vaccine was 0.6% and among the group of people who received the placebo it was 0.5%.

Vaccine safety is continually monitored. People in the UK who suspect they have experienced a side effect due to a vaccine are encouraged to report this to the Yellow Card scheme. These reports are then investigated to determine whether there is any link to the vaccines.

 

“Will the vaccines stop me getting COVID? No”

All the vaccines available significantly reduce the risk of developing Covid-19.

Looking specifically at the mRNA vaccines, on clinical trials, participants who had received the Moderna vaccine were 94% less likely to contract Covid-19 than participants who received the placebo, and none developed “severe Covid”.

Recipients of the Pfizer vaccine were 95% less likely to contract Covid-19 than participants who received the placebo. In real-world data from Israel, recipients of the Pfizer vaccine were 94% less likely to develop symptomatic Covid-19 and 92% less likely to contract “severe Covid”.

 

“Will the vaccines stop me spreading COVID? No”

Emerging evidence suggests the vaccines also stop the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes Covid-19, as well as stopping those infections turning into symptomatic illnesses.

For example, a recent Scottish study, which hasn’t been peer reviewed yet, found that the rate of infection among people who live with healthcare workers was at least 30% lower when the worker had been vaccinated. 

Public Health Scotland (PHS) said: “Since household members of healthcare workers can also be infected via other people (not just via the healthcare worker they live with), this 30% relative risk reduction is an underestimate of the ‘true’ effect of vaccination on transmission.”

But Dr Diane Stockton, PHS Lead for COVID-19 Vaccination Surveillance Programme, also said: "Despite this good news, it is important to remember that infection prevention and control practices in healthcare settings remain of paramount importance, as do the mitigations to prevent spread in our daily lives. 

“The risk of transmission did not go down to zero after the healthcare worker was vaccinated.”

 

“Will the vaccines allow me to stop wearing a mask? No”

Current UK government guidelines still require vaccinated people to follow the same rules as unvaccinated people when it comes to wearing a mask.

 

“Do the vaccines contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs)? Yes”

Some of the vaccines do contain GMOs. For example, the AstraZeneca vaccine uses a modified version of a virus, which carries the genetic instructions for producing the coronavirus spike protein into human cells, without replicating itself and infecting the body.  

 

“Do the Astra-Zeneka [sic] & Johnson & Johnson vaccines contain aborted human or monkey cells? Yes”

Some vaccines use a virus as the active ingredient. As mentioned, for example, the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine uses a virus.

Viruses need cells to replicate, so vaccine manufacturers use cells to manufacture enough of the virus for their vaccines. For example, the influenza vaccine is often made using chicken eggs.

For the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, the virus is replicated using modified copies of cells taken from an aborted foetus in the 1970s. This cell line is called HEK-293 and we’ve written about it before. 

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a different virus grown in cells taken from an aborted foetus in 1985.

So both vaccines are produced using copies of copies of these cells, rather than the original foetal cells themselves.

And while the cells are used to grow the virus, they are filtered out of the vaccine, meaning neither vaccine “contain[s] aborted human...cells.”

It’s unclear where the reference to monkey cells comes from, but it may be a misinterpretation of the fact that the virus used in the AstraZeneca vaccine is an altered version of a virus that typically infects chimpanzees. This doesn’t mean it comes from chimpanzees.

 

“Do doctors have concerns about the mRNA vaccine’s long term effect on fertility? Yes”

There is no evidence that mRNA vaccines would impact fertility, but until more research is done to confirm they are safe for pregnant women, the NHS is currently recommending most pregnant women do not receive any Covid-19 vaccine. It says pregnant women with pre-existing conditions who might be at risk of developing severe complications should they contract the illness, and women who are at high risk of contracting the disease due to where they work, may still be able to get the vaccination.

The reason why there has been concern is because the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein bears a slight resemblance to proteins in the placenta. The theory being that if the vaccine leads to the body producing antibodies which attack the virus, those antibodies might also attack the placenta. But as we’ve said the resemblance is only slight and realistically the body is not likely to confuse the two. 

If this was the case, then Covid-19 infection itself would also lead to fertility problems, and this had not been observed. We’ve written about this before

 

“Is there a risk of auto immune disease, strokes, seizures, convulsions or other side effects? Yes”

As mentioned, many people may experience side effects with Covid-19 vaccines but these are overwhelmingly mild and pass within a few days. 

Vaccine safety is continually monitored. People in the UK who suspect they have experienced a side effect due to a vaccine are encouraged to report this to the Yellow Card scheme. As we’ve said, these are then investigated to determine whether the vaccine was the cause or not.

In the US there is a similar system for reporting suspected side effects called VAERS

We’ve written more about claims linking vaccinations and specific side effects.

 

“Have the vaccines caused any deaths or injuries? Yes”

No deaths have been directly attributed to Covid-19 vaccinations. As mentioned, in the UK, deaths and side effects can be reported to the Yellow Card scheme for investigation. As of 14 March, none of the deaths reported were found to be caused by vaccinations. By contrast, Covid-19 itself is estimated to kill around 0.5-1% of people who are infected in countries with similar age profiles and healthcare to the UK. 

 

“Are the vaccine manufacturers liable for injuries or deaths caused by the vaccines? No”

In the UK the vaccines have gone through all the normal safety checks and received temporary authorisation to be rolled out, but they have not been fully “licensed”. This means that vaccine manufacturers are free from some types of liability.

However manufacturers aren’t fully protected. For example, the UK government says that manufacturers will still be liable if their vaccines do not meet safety standards or are “defective”.

 

“Are there doctors and scientists recommending people NOT to take it? Yes”

Some doctors and scientists are recommending people not to take Covid-19 vaccines. 

Far more doctors, health professionals and public health bodies are recommending the vaccine and they have been found to be safe and effective.

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as partly false because some of the claims, especially around the effectiveness, composition and testing of Covid-19 vaccines are incorrect.

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