‘Totally crazy’: Experts claim to bust anti-vax myths
The anti-vaccination community has always made waves - but they've gotten bigger during a worldwide pandemic.
COVID-19 has thrust anti-vaxxers into the spotlight, despite them still making up a small portion of the Australian population, as the community comes to grips with having to get vaccinated against coronavirus to overcome the ongoing pandemic.
The World Health Organisation listed vaccine hesitancy as one of the top 10 threats to global health in 2019.
Since the pandemic took hold, much concern has been focused on the people who would refuse a COVID vaccine outright and those who would hesitate to get the jab.
People have been quick to conflate the two, connecting those who are "vaccine hesitant" with conspiracy theorists.
There remains people who are wary of the newly developed vaccines and those who perpetuate myths by rejecting sound science.
It's important to distinguish the two, addressing the genuine concerns among Australians, as well as the myths among the anti-vax community.
Vaccinating against COVID-19 is the easiest way for Australians to get their normal lives back, but millions are hesitant to get the jab.
Our Best Shot is news.com.au's campaign answering your questions about the COVID-19 vaccine roll out.
We'll debunk myths about vaccines, answer your concerns about the jab and tell you when you can get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Prominent Aussie anti-vaxxer and influencer Taylor Winterstein is just one of many identities sharing misinformation to her followers as vaccine rollouts are being ramped up, particularly around deaths.
"Can you imagine how many other adverse events have been dismissed as just 'coincidences'," she wrote in a recent post.
In an earlier post she wrote, "They literally have to BEG us to take the (vaccine) cause we can see through the BS and we know the risks absolutely outweigh the benefits (if any)".
Here are some of the major myths about the COVID-19 vaccine being peddled among some members of the anti-vax community and the actual truth:
MYTH: The vaccine will contain a microchip that will be used to track you
FACT: Claire Hooker, specialist in disease risk communication at University of Sydney, says this is one of her favourite myths that couldn't be further from the truth.
"It sounds totally crazy but originally it was a misunderstanding of a small device attached to the outside of a syringe, meant to track a vaccine batch and wouldn't have been injected into you at all," Dr Hooker says.
"It could never track anyone even if it was, but before that could be corrected, that little piece of information had been shared widely on Facebook and it's just one of those myths that never dies."
MYTH: Natural immunity is better than vaccinating
FACT: Tom Aechtner, senior lecturer at The University of Queensland and member of the Australian Vaccine Response Alliance, says the serious side effects and death statistics accompanying gaining natural immunity from vaccine preventable diseases are substantial.
"The immunity derived from vaccines is often lifelong, but it simply does not extract such a severe price," Dr Aechtner says.
"In that respect, natural immunity is clearly not better than immunity achieved through vaccination.
"Vaccines are unquestionably the best option for gaining immunity. It is also the case that a handful of vaccines can trigger better immune responses than are usually derived from natural infections."
Dr Hooker says vaccines really are just another form of natural immunity.
"They use your body's natural immune response to protect you from exposure to and dying from this disease," she says.
"We know being young, fit and healthy not only doesn't protect you from COVID-19 but many such people have been seriously ill or died from the disease.
"And there's no evidence the immune response from the exposure to the disease is any stronger or longer lasting than the immune response you get from the vaccine."
Mrs Winterstein shares information around this topic among her many posts about vaccines. She recently asked why Australians weren't being encouraged to drink more greens, increase exercise, prioritise fresh food and air and "reclaim joy", among other things.
MYTH: The vaccine will alter your DNA
FACT: People are worried the COVID-19 vaccine might effect their DNA but it's not possible for vaccines to alter our DNA in any way.
Dr Hooker says they actually help protect our body's integrity.
"These vaccines only use messenger RNA which utilise the outside of the cell wall," she says.
"Your DNA is protected by a strong membrane and the vaccines have no access to your DNA whatsoever."
MYTH: The vaccine contains tissue from aborted foetuses
FACT: Dr Hooker says this is not the case at all.
"The reality is some of the vaccines have been developed using a cell line that originally came from a foetus aborted in 1972," Dr Hooker says.
"But in 2005 the Vatican issued a formal statement that said explicitly that the moral good of vaccination vastly outweighs any moral harm of using vaccines that utilise cell lines coming originally from foetuses aborted more than 40 years ago."
MYTH: The vaccine is simply a major money-maker for BigPharma, government, and doctors
FACT: The truth is, pharmaceutical companies do make money from the sale of vaccines.
"Some people might be uneasy with this reality, but profitmaking doesn't mean that something dishonest is necessarily occurring, or that there is a grand conspiracy to cover up the safety and efficacy of vaccines," Dr Aechtner says.
"Companies profit from making medicines and medical equipment all around the globe, yet such income does not automatically signify that medicines and medical equipment are dangerous, ineffective, or that there are conspiracies occurring to ensure that medicines and medical equipment are being sold."
As Dr Aechtner says vaccines have a profit margin of about three per cent, which is quite low compared to the production of drugs used to treat disease
"Vaccines are simply not the most commercial products developed by pharmaceutical companies," he says,
"This is because they can be difficult to manufacture, resulting in higher production costs, while they are also heavily regulated and often result in low sale prices."
When it comes to medical professionals, a 2009 study concluded, many doctors receive "little or no profit from vaccine delivery," and instead "most practices lose money" in order to administer vaccines.
As for governments, Dr Aechtner says the truth is they are spending money rather than racking in cash in order to secure population health with vaccines, including dispensing needed healthcare incentives, and paying to have vaccine safety continually monitored.
"An important question to consider is why would pharmaceutical companies engage in a wide-reaching, theoretically expensive and time-consuming international conspiracy, to protect what amounts to only 2-3 per cent of the worldwide pharmaceutical sector?" he says.
"Also, if vaccines result in only 3 per cent profit margins for the pharmaceutical sector, there isn't a lot of money-making surplus for doctors and governments to cash in on, even if they were colluding with BigPharma.
"The myth that vaccines are major money-makers for BigPharma, government, and doctors proves to be shaky ground upon which many anti-vaccination conspiracy narratives are built."
Dr Hooker also says historically vaccines have never been good money spinners because they cost a lot to develop and the risks are high.
"The COVID vaccine will be sold at costs that barely cover the cost of its research in poorer nations around the world," she says.
"Meantime many of the major companies have pledged they will only recover the costs they've invested in research and development."
Dr Hookers sums it all up by saying if anyone has any doubts about the vaccine, they only need look at the 400,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19.
"I would much rather be able to take a vaccine that I know is really safe than be exposed to the dangers of that disease," she says.
Originally published as 'Totally crazy' anti-vax myths busted