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Published on December 14, 2020

sticky notes on a blackboard - myths and facts

Vaccine myths debunked

The world is ready for COVID-19 vaccines that will save lives, spare illness and help restore normalcy. 

Unfortunately, misunderstanding about these vaccines and others can contribute to hesitancy. Misinformation shared by those who aren't experts about vaccines spreads quickly, especially on the internet and social media, and sometimes those who spread intentional disinformation will tout medical credentials and share sensationalized claims.

We urge you to learn more about vaccine truths by visiting reputable sources, like the one you're on right now.

The myth: Vaccines aren't safe.

The truth: Vaccines are studied and scrutinized as much or more than any other medical treatment. They're studied in thousands of people before approved for routine use and then followed in post-approval studies in tens of thousands of subjects. Medical professionals and researchers use national databases to track concerns about any vaccine. Using all these studies and tracking systems involving millions of people, they study the relationship of vaccines to 200 categories of illness, death, emergency room visits or hospitalizations. If any safety concerns are identified and scientifically shown, recommendations change promptly. These systems are in place to make sure vaccines are as safe as anything done in medicine.

The myth: The vaccine is too new.

The truth: Experts collect extensive scientific data before a vaccine is recommended. Prior to licensure, there are three sets of rigorous studies:

  • Phase I: Researchers test a new drug or treatment in a small group of people for the first time to evaluate its safety, determine a safe dosage range and identify side effects.
  • Phase II: The drug or treatment is given to a larger group of people to test effectiveness and to further evaluate its safety.
  • Phase III: The drug or treatment is given to large groups of people to confirm its effectiveness, monitor side effects, compare it to commonly used treatments and collect information that will allow the drug or treatment to be used safely.

After authorization, new vaccines continue to be studied for several months or even years to make sure there are no long-term problems and to determine how long the protection lasts.  Because of these post-approval studies, we will know if booster doses are needed in the future.   

The myth: We're giving too many shots.

The truth: Our immune systems can respond to billions of antigens (anything foreign to our immune system) and responds to thousands of them every day. In the entire childhood vaccine series, 130 to 140 unique antigens are given, a fraction of the total amount of antigens we are exposed to every day. Also, vaccines are different than they used to be. In 1960, only three vaccines (smallpox, polio, DTP) were given and those contained more than 3,200 antigens. Today, we are giving 25 times less antigens in the entire series of childhood vaccines. Adults receive even fewer vaccines. As long as you don't have a condition or treatment that compromises your immune system like HIV or chemotherapy, be assured that your immune system is prepared to respond to all recommended vaccines.

The myth: Preservatives in vaccines are unsafe or toxic.

The truth: Preservatives have been removed from almost all vaccines not because they were shown to be toxic, but because most vaccines are packaged as single dose vials now. Single dose vials do not require preservatives. Beware of many false claims about mercury, aluminum or other vaccine ingredients.  Large scale studies have been conducted to address these concerns involving hundreds of thousands of subjects and no harm was shown.

The myth: It's better to build immunity by contracting a virus than by receiving a vaccine.

The truth: Vaccines save lives, suffering and healthcare costs. Vaccine-preventable infections do not have benefits. Natural infection is associated with risks and costs including death, hospitalizations, severe disability including brain damage, hearing loss, birth defects, loss of limbs, sterility, etc. The risks of vaccines are very small. The risk of a severe vaccine injury is very rare. It is more likely to be struck by lightning or die while bathing than having a severe vaccine injury.

Want to more about the COVID-19 vaccine? Visit our frequently asked questions.

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