New York State has launched a new campaign to combat misinformation and disinformation around the COVID-19 vaccines. As part of this campaign, you can help your community by slowing the spread of dangerous misinformation and by taking steps to ensure you are getting accurate information about your health.
Misinformation and disinformation surrounding the COVID-19 vaccines can be found on all major social media platforms, on messaging applications, online forums, and other places online and offline. Misinformation is being spread every day, and modern technologies have allowed it to spread faster and farther than ever.
Misinformation can be disguised, so that it looks like it comes from a reputable news source, or has images that look real, but are taken out of context. It can take the form of a blog post, a meme, a digitally altered video or image, among other forms. Misinformation includes conspiracy theories, but it can also include misleading statistics or headlines that misrepresent the underlying evidence.
According to a recent study by PEW research, 80 percent of U.S. respondents report seeing fake information about the pandemic online. In July 2021, the U.S. Surgeon General released an advisory on confronting health misinformation, writing, “Limiting the spread of health misinformation is a moral and civic imperative that will require a whole-of-society effort.”
4 Steps to Combat the Spread of Misinformation
1. Verify Before Sharing
Before sharing something on social media, check if the original source of the information is trustworthy. If you’re unsure, it may not be safe to share.
2. Be Cautious When it Comes to Sensational Headlines and Images
Misinformation often comes with sensational or shocking text and images that are designed to grab your attention. Accurate information is often less sensational.
3. Get the Full Story
Misinformation often “cherry-picks” or elevates a small piece of a story in order to mislead or alarm you. Make an effort to get the full story and context behind a piece of content. You can do this by checking to see if information sources you trust are also covering the information that you are unsure about.
4. Share Trustworthy Sources in Your Community
Help to spread good information within your community by sharing accurate information from trustworthy sources. Misinformation spreads faster when there is a shortage of good, fact-based information.
MYTH: The COVID-19 Vaccine Can Cause Infertility
Since the COVID-19 vaccine became available in the U.S., misinformation has run rampant with many falsely claiming that the vaccine is not safe for pregnant people or can impact men and women’s fertility. Unfounded, untrue and harmful, these false rumors have discouraged many from getting vaccinated, including pregnant people who are at increased risk of severe illness. According to research published in the Journal of Osteopathic Medicine, Google searches related to infertility and COVID-19 vaccines went up by 34,900% after a pair of physicians submitted a petition questioning data of the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine. Following this petition, anti-vaccine activists circulated misleading claims regarding the possibility that the vaccine could impact fertility in women, misconstruing data. Unfortunately, this inaccurate information has spread quickly and undermined confidence in the vaccine – with harmful consequences for pregnant people and those looking to get pregnant, who remain unvaccinated.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that all eligible people greater than age 12 years receive the COVID-19 vaccine, including: pregnant people, lactating people, as well as people who are actively trying to become pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant. ACOG wrote that “[c]laims linking COVID-19 vaccines to infertility are unfounded and have no scientific evidence supporting them.”
Claims that the COVID-19 vaccine causes infertility in men are also unfounded and untrue. The Society for Male Reproduction (SMR) and the Society for the Study of Male Reproduction (SSMR) both recommend that the COVID-19 vaccines be offered to men desiring fertility. Some men in vaccine clinical trials did experience fever as a side effect following the vaccine. According to SMR and SSMR, if a man experiences fever as a result of the COVID-19 vaccine, “he may experience a temporary decline in sperm production, but that would be similar to or less than if the individual experienced fever from developing COVID-19 or for other reasons.”
On September 29, 2021 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a dire health warning urging pregnant people to get vaccinated – sharing the startling news that 97% of pregnant people hospitalized due to COVID-19 were unvaccinated. Sadly, outcomes including pre-term birth, neo-natal events, and stillbirths have been reported among unvaccinated pregnant people who contracted COVID-19.
MYTH: The COVID-19 Vaccine’s Development Was Dangerously Rushed
From the moment the COVID-19 vaccines were authorized for emergency use by the FDA in the United States, many people have worried that the development of the COVID-19 vaccines was dangerously rushed. Many people were concerned that what seemed to be a fast timeline meant that the COVID-19 vaccine had skipped key safety tests. Confusion about the FDA’s process (Emergency Use Authorization) may have caused additional doubts about whether the vaccine was approved too quickly or before it was clear that it was safe.
It may seem that COVID-19 vaccines were developed with unusual speed, but in fact, there are years and even decades of research that went into developing the COVID-19 vaccines that we have now. Importantly, the COVID-19 vaccines did not skip any steps in clinical trials that all other vaccines or drugs seeking FDA authorization must go through.
Clinical trials in the United States must go through multiple phases:
- Phase 1 includes 20 – 100 healthy volunteers
- Phase 2 includes several hundred volunteers
- Phase 3 includes over a thousand volunteers
The FDA can only authorize or approve a vaccine—including for “Emergency Use Authorization”—after looking at all of the results after Phase 3. The FDA required the COVID-19 manufactures to include at least 30,000 volunteers in Phase 3 clinical trials (many more volunteers than trials usually have). It’s important to stress again that no steps were skipped in the clinical trials of the COVID-19 vaccines.
The speed at which the vaccines were developed reflects the priority the scientific community and the world put on finding a way to combat the virus.
One reason researchers got a head start on developing a vaccine is because the virus that causes COVID-19 is similar to other existing viruses like SARS and MERS. Research about the new virus was shared almost immediately with scientists all over the world, which allowed work to begin on a vaccine right away.
Additionally, some researchers were able to run phase one and two trials at the same time without compromising the study results. The studies on COVID-19 included a larger number of people than other recent vaccine trials, meaning there were a larger number of people in the trials over a shorter period of time.
Finally, the federal government allowed manufacturing of the most promising vaccines to begin while the studies were ongoing. That means that when it was authorized it could be offered to the public almost immediately.
It’s important to note that all vaccine developers are required to go through each stage of the development process and meet all safety and efficacy (how well something works) standards. Learn about the many steps in the typical vaccine testing and approval process.
In summary, the public health success story that resulted in COVID-19 vaccines happened because of decades of research and an extraordinary global effort that began in January 2020 when the whole genetic code of the virus was published for every scientist in the world to see. Unprecedented investment and collaboration from the nation’s best scientists and medical health experts also helped to speed up the development process without sacrificing safety.
MYTH: The COVID-19 Vaccine Changes Your DNA
From the moment the COVID-19 vaccines were authorized for emergency use by the FDA in the United States, many people have worried that the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe — and can do things like change an individual’s DNA. While mRNA vaccines may have just become a household name, researchers have been studying and developing them for years. mRNA vaccines are safe, effective, and do not change your DNA.
Vaccines are like a set of instructions for your body, and your body’s cells. The instructions never enter the nucleus of the cell, where DNA is located. What the vaccine does do is tell your body to make an immune response to the virus.
The COVID-19 vaccine itself breaks down and falls apart in the body right away. As soon as this information is delivered to your cells, it gets cleared from your body. This means the vaccine breaks down and falls apart in your body right away – it does not linger! This is what makes vaccines safe.
The history of mRNA vaccines—the same COVID-19 vaccines as Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech—is long. Research began in 1989, and the first mRNA vaccines were developed in the 1990s. This type of vaccine has been studied before for the flu, Zika, rabies, and more. mRNA, which stands for “messenger RNA”, gives instructions to your body to fight off the virus. As soon as the necessary information about COVID-19 was available, scientists began designing the mRNA “instructions” to build the mRNA vaccine to combat the virus in the United States.
There was a final, important factor that allowed COVID-19 vaccines to be developed in about a year after COVID-19 was first identified: the genetic code of the virus—a common process needed for scientists to develop a vaccine—was first published in January 2020. This was before COVID-19 was even declared to be the global pandemic in the U.S. we know it to be today.
Learn more about combatting misinformation and common myths about the COVID-19 vaccine.
- HHS: “Combatting Health Misinformation: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Building a Healthy Information Environment.”
- The CDC’s “How to Address COVID-19 Vaccine Misinformation.”
- The CDC’s “Myths and Facts about COVID-19 Vaccines.”
- The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s “COVID-19 Vaccines: Myth Versus Fact.”
- FactCheck.org’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project, which regularly debunks “viral” misinformation.