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Mythbusting misinformation around the COVID-19 vaccine

As the bungled COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues, the creation of misinformation and myths around the different coronavirus vaccinations have grown to a huge level, leaving many older Australians apprehensive about getting the jab.

Key points:

  • There is a lot of misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines doing the rounds on social media that you need to be wary of

  • Only get your information from trusted sources, like the Government Health website

  • Use the Federal Government Vaccine Eligibility Checker to see if you are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination

Older person getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
There is a lot of false information circulating about the COVID-19 vaccines that need to be busted! [Source: Shutterstock]

Cleaning up concerns around "vaccine hesitancy" and misinformation is vital so that older people can be better protected against COVID-19.

At the moment, there are two COVID-19 vaccines available - Astrazeneca (76 percent efficacy) and Pfizer (95 percent efficacy). Plus there are another few vaccines currently still in approval stages with the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), like Moderna (90 percent efficacy).

You can find out if you are eligible for a vaccine using the Federal Government Vaccine Eligibility Checker, as well as book an appointment at a location near you.

So, what myths are out there?

Myth: If I get a vaccine, I will have a bad side effect

Fact: While there is a likelihood you may experience a side effect to getting a COVID-19 vaccine, most Australians won't experience too many side effects, if at all.

The side effects you could get from the COVID-19 vaccine will be no different from the side effects you could get from the influenza vaccine.

The Department of Health says common reactions to the COVID-19 vaccination can include:

  • Pain, swelling or redness on the needle area

  • A mild fever

  • Headache

These reactions will only last a day or so. So if these issues continue for longer, visit your doctor. Additionally, if you have more severe reactions, immediately contact your doctor or go to hospital.

The way the two different vaccines work are different - the AstraZeneca vaccine is stronger in the first dose, so you are likely to experience symptoms on the first dose rather than the second dose. The Pfizer vaccine is stronger on the second dose, so you are more likely to experience less symptoms on the first dose and more symptoms on the last dose. 

For more information about getting the vaccine, visit the Government Health website.

If you do have side effects, of any kind, from the COVID-19 vaccine, the Government is asking people to report it to the TGA. Visit the TGA website to find your State or Territory reporting system to make a report. It is important to make a report about side effects so the TGA can log the safety of the vaccine going forward.

Myth: Astrazeneca is dangerous and will give me blood clots

Fact: AstraZeneca is safe for people over the age of 60 and generally pretty safe for people under 60.

AstraZeneca has been in the firing line of the media and the public over the last couple months following a rise in blood clots in people who received this vaccine.

However, the possibility of a blood clot is rare compared to other daily common medications that people use in everyday life. In Australia, the likelihood of a blood clot from AstraZeneca is 1 in 88,000 people, or worldwide, four to six people in every million.

The recommendation for the Pfizer vaccine for people under the age of 60 is just the Federal Government being cautious and older people should not take that as a sign that the AstraZeneca vaccine is unsafe.

Paul Griffin, Director of Infectious Diseases at Mater Health Services, Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Queensland, and Medical Director and Principal Investigator at Q-Pharm, Nucleus Network, says that all therapeutic agents, medications and drugs, have risk and possible bad outcomes, saying that the risks linked to the vaccine pale in comparison to other drugs.

He said in April, "While a definitive link is yet to be established, it seems the likelihood of a relationship between rare clotting issues and the AstraZeneca vaccine has increased with increasing numbers being reported.

"These events are still very rare but seem to be more common in younger people... Overall it still appears the benefits outweigh the risks, however, the difference between the benefits and risks is less in younger people who are at lower risk of more significant consequences of COVID-19.

"To keep in context, unfortunately, no medical intervention is free or risk, and the risk of these clotting issues remains exceedingly rare at less than 5 per million doses administered. For comparison, a very common intervention in the form of the oral contraceptive pill carries a risk of clotting issues in the order of four of every 10,000 people taking this pill. 

"When assessing the risks and benefits we also have to keep in mind the risks of not vaccinating."

Additionally, you're actually more likely to develop a brain blood clot when having COVID-19 compared to the chance of it developing as a result of the vaccine. Research from the University of Oxford found that the risk of a rare blood clot, known as cerebral venous thrombosis (CVT), after developing COVID-19 is around 100 times greater than normal. About several times higher than it is after getting a vaccination.

Myth: The COVID-19 development was rushed and won't be safe or effective

Fact: There are a large number of reasons why the vaccines were created so quickly, here are just a few:  

The process for making COVID-19 vaccines, like Pfizer and Moderna, has been available for years, so creating the current coronavirus vaccine process was able to be done early into the pandemic.

A lot of vaccine technologies developed for different viral diseases continue to be worked on or modified even after those diseases are under control or disappear. These already developed vaccines are scientists' attempts at preparing and predicting future pandemics, described as Disease X, so the vaccine technology can then be used and modified to combat whatever threat is next, like COVID-19. 

Many different bodies were working together to get the vaccine created. China shared important data about the virus that scientists were able to work with to create the vaccine.

Additionally, all of the steps required for an organisation that develops vaccines were adhered to, the reason it may have been quicker than normal is because the timetable of these steps were overlapping to get that important data quicker.

However, the TGA never "fast tracked" approval and went through all the required processes to make sure the available vaccines are safe for us.

Lastly, governments provided a LOT of funding and advance payments to vaccine developers to get these vaccines ready and on the market, this is not the usual process for the creation of vaccines which usually take years to decades.

While it may seem like the development of vaccines were quick - and it didn't help that the media were reporting that experts believed vaccines were years away - in reality, the extreme circumstances resulted in COVID-19 vaccines being given priority over other projects.

Myth: I already had COVID-19, I don't need a vaccine

Fact: People that have had COVID-19 can still get reinfected. Getting the vaccine makes it not only safe for yourself, but for others around you.

There is also strong evidence to suggest that if you get the vaccine and then contract COVID, your symptoms will be greatly reduced in severity. 

Of course, the protection you get from a vaccine will vary from person to person, but it is important to put these protective measures in place.

If you haven't had COVID-19 yet, you will likely not want it. Not only because the disease can be deadly, but many people that get COVID end up experiencing symptoms long after they are no longer infected. Some have experienced fatigue, breathlessness and chest pain up to a year after they were originally infected.

Myth: The vaccine will give you COVID-19

Fact: NOPE. The vaccines that have been approved for use in Australia do not contain any form of the live virus. You simply cannot get COVID-19 from a vaccine.

If you get the COVID-19 vaccine, you may experience flu-like symptoms as a reaction to the vaccine. However, you will not contract COVID-19.

Myth: Studies online prove I am right about my COVID-19 beliefs

Fact: A lot of "dis" and "mis" information is travelling around on social media, on the internet, and by people you may follow, like family, friends, social media influencers and sometimes politicians.

The University of Melbourne says there are two types of false information: 

  • Disinformation - purposely made with false information by people in bad faith that blames racial groups and Governments for the virus

  • Misinformation - incorrect information spread innocently by people, like misconstrued understanding of COVID-19 or COVID directions and information

Usually, this information is shared on social media and can include, or cite, studies that are usually not peer-reviewed or completely fake. Many of these fake studies are found to be created by anti-vaccination groups, political groups or state agents. 

 If you read something online, you need to stop yourself from spreading that information further and fact check it first. 

There are many ways you can do this, however, the best source of COVID-19 information is on the Federal Government Health website.

Myth: I got the COVID-19 vaccine, so I don't need to get the flu shot

Fact: The COVID-19 vaccine does not protect you from the influenza virus. COVID-19 and the flu are different infections and work in different ways. 

Just as the influenza vaccination doesn't protect you against COVID-19, the COVID-19 vaccination doesn't protect you from the influenza virus.

The Federal Government says it is important to get the influenza vaccination, with Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Nick Coatsworth, explaining, "We’re entering flu season and…one of the biggest messages we have…to the public is get your flu vaccination."

If you get the flu vaccination, you may need to wait a couple weeks before getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Currently, the Victorian Government is recommending that people can get the flu vaccination and COVID-19 vaccine within two weeks of each other.

Myth: I heard the vaccines alter your DNA

Fact: The vaccines do not change your DNA. 

A vaccine like the Pfizer, a messenger RNA (mRNA), instructs or teaches your body how to fight against COVID-19. 

For example, a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine will teach your cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response that is very specific to COVID-19.

Myth: If everyone else gets vaccinated, then I don't need to get vaccinated

Fact: Australia is currently a long way off for reaching herd immunity. The Government has pushed out the timeframe for when they believe most of the country will be vaccinated. The vaccine rollout has been very slow and a large portion of people have not even received their second dose yet.

Waiting for a herd immunity isn't a safe option, especially as COVID-19 is not going anywhere anytime soon. 

Additionally, if you don't get vaccinated and others don't get vaccinated, then how will we reach herd immunity? To get to herd immunity, Australia needs to have mass vaccination to reach that end point.

It is better to be part of the solution, get vaccinated, and help develop the herd immunity in place of those who are waiting to get vaccinated.

There is no herd immunity if people don't roll up their sleeve.

Now I know the facts, what next?

Firstly, double check if you are in the vaccine eligibility groups. You can use the Federal Government Vaccine Eligibility Checker to find out if you are eligible as well as find a location that is providing vaccinations and make a booking.

Additionally, it may be a good idea to check your State or Territory for their own eligibility groups. For instance, South Australia recently opened up vaccination to all people over the age of 16 if you live in a regional area.

Ask family and friends, or your home care provider, for help if you need transport to your vaccination appointment.

To view more answers to false information about COVID-19 vaccines, visit the Department of Health website.

What questions about the COVID-19 vaccines do you want answered? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:

Everything you need to know about coronavirus
How to self-isolate and tips to not get bored indoors
Keeping yourself healthy and safe during COVID-19

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