There isn’t pork in Covid-19 vaccines

22 January 2021
What was claimed

There is pork in Covid-19 vaccines.

Our verdict

False. Neither the Pfizer, AstraZeneca, nor the Moderna vaccines contain any animal products.

What was claimed

The Covid-19 vaccine will cause infertility in younger men.

Our verdict

There is no reason to believe this. If anything, vaccination may help protect any effect on fertility caused by the virus itself.

What was claimed

Vaccines pose a risk of death to the elderly.

Our verdict

Vaccine side effects are rarely serious, and the risk of death from the vaccine is much lower than the risk of Covid-19 infection.

We've been asked by readers on WhatsApp to clear up whether there is pork in the new Covid-19 vaccines, whether they cause infertility in younger men and whether they pose a risk of death to the elderly.

There are no animal products in vaccines

Pork gelatine is used in some vaccines, but not the Covid-19 vaccines being used in the UK, namely the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine

The Moderna vaccine, which has also been approved for use in the UK, but has not been rolled out at the time of writing, also does not contain pork gelatine. 

Full information on the ingredients of the Oxford-Astrazeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines can be found on their patient information leaflets.

None contain any products derived from animals. The UK vaccine rollout is endorsed by the British Islamic Medical Association, Hindu Council UK, and the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

There is no reason to think that the vaccine will affect male fertility

There is a small ongoing study looking at whether Covid-19 vaccines could affect male fertility, though the lead researcher says there is no reason to believe they would.

In fact it has been suggested that the vaccine may actually help protect male fertility.

This is because vaccination reduces the risk of infection, and there is some reason to believe that Covid-19 infection itself may negatively affect male fertility. 

The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19, works by hijacking human cells and using them to replicate itself. It enters cells by first binding to receptors already present on the human cell surface, notably an enzyme called ACE2.

These ACE2 enzymes are present in cells of the male reproductive system, meaning it's possible that Covid-19 infection could affect male fertility.

Vaccines are far less risky than infection for the elderly

Before being rolled out in the UK, vaccines go through many tests to ensure their safety. The results of these tests are reviewed by the Medical and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. This is also the case in the two vaccines so far rolled out.

Some of the more common reactions to the vaccine are fatigue, nausea and other minor side effects, but serious side effects are very rare. 

In interim analysis from the Oxford-AstraZeneca trials, there were just three serious adverse events classified as “possibly related to a vaccine”. One of these was in the group given the Covid-19 vaccine, one was in the “control” group (who were given a meningitis vaccine) and the group the third person was in was not identified as they were still in the trial when the safety data was published.

This individual had a high fever but quickly recovered and was not hospitalised.

Adverse reactions of any kind were actually milder and reported less frequently among trial participants aged 65 or over.

As for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the US Food and Drug Administration considered two serious adverse events reported during safety trials as possibly related to the vaccine.

By comparison, in the UK Covid-19 is estimated to kill around 0.5-1% of people infected (though this rate may be lower in countries with younger, and so less susceptible, populations). 

The British Geriatrics Society says: “Older people and those with severe frailty and multiple long-term conditions are at increased risk of dying of COVID and have the most [to] gain from receiving the vaccine.”

“As such, we would advise that older people do take up the vaccine when offered.”

Recently, there have been reports of deaths of elderly people in Norway following vaccination. While these deaths are being investigated, it’s worth noting that you’d expect to see a baseline number of deaths among the very elderly anyway, and there’s no certainty that these deaths were due to the vaccine. 

The Norwegian Medical Agency’s chief physician, Sigurd Hortemo, said that “common adverse reactions to mRNA vaccines, such as fever and nausea, may have contributed to a fatal outcome in some frail patients”.

You can read more about this story here.

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