After the announcement of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine with 90 percent efficacy, many social media users immediately began spreading anti-vaccine rumors. During the pandemic, when the world is seeking normalcy, such rumors could sabotage the whole effort, leading towards a never-ending battle against the novel Coronavirus.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, countless false claims have been appearing on social media platforms. Despite efforts from Twitter and Facebook to control these rumors, falsehood kept spreading among the netizens. Here we have accumulated some highly popular false claims about the Coronavirus vaccine that appeared recently on social media.
Again Bill Gates
Twitter users made Bill Gates a trending topic this week after the Pfizer announcement. The Microsoft co-founder Gates has been the subject of many false claims since the pandemic started.
This week, one of the most shared claims was, the Coronavirus pandemic is a cover for a plan to implant tiny microchips in people and the billionaire philanthropist is behind it. This claim is not new as many have noticed the same rumor in the early days of the pandemic. Earlier, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation told BBC that such claims are entirely false.
In May this year, a YouGov poll of 1,640 people showed that 28 percent of Americans believed that Gates wanted to use the vaccines to implant microchips in people, with the number rising to 44 percent among the Republicans.
Recently, Emerald Robinson, who is a White House correspondent for a pro-Trump news website, Newsmax, highly promoted by Donald Trump recently, told her Twitter followers to be "beware" of the Pfizer vaccine. Without any scientific evidence, she claimed, "It tampers with your DNA."
As per scientists, there is no evidence that vaccine alters DNA and it looks like people who have been sharing such claims have a fundamental misunderstanding of genetics. The Pfizer vaccine contains mRNA and as Professor Jeffrey Almond of Oxford University said, "Injecting RNA into a person doesn't do anything to the DNA of a human cell." Even Pfizer spokesperson Andrew Widger confirmed that the company's vaccine does not alter the DNA sequence. "It only presents the body with the instructions to build immunity," he added.
Robinson's tweet included that mRNA vaccine technology "has never been tested or approved before". The fact is that the mRNA vaccine has not been approved before, but multiple studies on mRNA vaccines in humans had been conducted over the past few years. As per prof Almond, the Pfizer vaccine is the first to show the effectiveness that would be needed in order to be considered for licensing. Just because it is a new technology, it doesn't mean that people should be afraid of it, he added.
While Robinson claimed that 75 percent of vaccine trial volunteers had experienced side-effects, Pfizer-BioNTech reported no serious safety concerns during the trial.
It is a fact that many vaccines have side-effects, but that doesn't mean it would be deadly or extremely serious in every case. If any major side effects are noticed, the observers immediately stop the trial to ensure the safety of the participants as it happened during AstraZeneca's Coronavirus vaccine trial. But anti-vaccine activists find a way to spread false claims on social media to increase the number of their supporters, without thinking twice about how such rumors will affect the whole world.
Dr. Penny Ward, a visiting professor in pharmaceutical medicine at King's College London said that like other vaccines, the Pfizer vaccine can cause short-lived side-effects, which include "pain at the injection site, fever, muscle aches and pains, headache and fatigue". These side-effects are also noticed by many people who take their annual flu vaccine, so this is not unusual or dangerous.
However, it is unclear that from where Robinson got the 75 percent figure as she provided no paper or any other document along with the tweet to support her claim. But, most probably the figure may have been chosen from the rate of mild side-effects reported in one age group in the early vaccine trial.