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COVID-19

Myth Busters: Dr. Daniel Edney debunks common vaccine myths

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Dr. Daniel Edney (credit: MS State Board of Medical Licensure)

Since COVID-19 first reached Mississippi in March of last year, Mississippi Today has been with our readers, trying to navigate a world that seemed to have permanently shifted on its axis. From the first case to waves of infections that pushed our hospital systems to the brink to thousands of Mississippians lost to the virus, we’ve never covered a public health crisis like this pandemic.

The arrival of COVID-19 vaccines in record time — and with efficacy levels no one had even dreamed of when this all started — has offered us and our state a path forward. Unfortunately, the use of these vaccines has become politicized, and it’s easier to find vaccine misinformation online than the truth.

That’s why we wanted to create a COVID-19 Vaccine Guide, where you can find everything you need to know about the vaccines alongside the how and where of getting them in Mississippi.

Myth Busters:

Mississippi Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Daniel Edney sat down with Mississippi Today’s health and breaking news reporter Will Stribling to debunk some common COVID-19 vaccine myths.

Read the full transcript for this video below.

Hi, I’m Dr. Dan Edney. I’m chief medical officer for the Mississippi State Department of Health, and I’m glad to be here today to answer any and all questions related to COVID vaccine.

All right so, first question. Does the vaccine cost money to get? That’s a great question because it does not. The federal government has bought all the vaccines that are being provided nationwide and people that have no insurance are not to be charged, the vaccine is free to everyone. Healthcare providers are allowed to charge insurance and administration fees to cover their costs but not to the patients.

Will the vaccine alter my DNA? Wow! We haven’t heard that one yet. So this is a very important question. The vaccine, the way both vaccines work have nothing to do with DNA. DNA is found in the nucleus of the cell and everything that’s being done with the vaccines is in the cytoplasm, which is part of the cell that’s surrounds the nucleus, and that’s where RNA is. And RNA, simply, is the coding for cells to produce proteins. And we need these cells to produce proteins, to attack the COVID virus. So the two type of vaccines introduce that code into the cytoplasm of our lymphocytes. So, they see the code and start producing anti-COVID proteins so that should you get COVID, your immune system recognizes it and starts attacking it in a healthy way, instead of the way it may do if you’re not immune and you get COVID naturally, your immune system may go out of control.

So, the vaccine does not affect DNA in any way. In fact, we wish we could affect DNA for diseases like cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy, but we can’t yet. But this vaccine has nothing to do with DNA.

Does the vaccine have dangerous or long-term side effects? So we’re looking at two groups of people who are not vaccinated, mainly those who are hesitant because of this question. This is new. These vaccines have never been used widespread with the technology that we’re using, so it’s understandable people can be hesitant about it. And, I’ve talked to two patients this week that were hesitant for this very reason, both were at high risk. And so I explained to them that vaccine reactions virtually always occur within two weeks. If you look at all the data with all the vaccines that we have produced and mass deployed, the vaccine reactions are within two weeks. And that’s also what’s happening with our three vaccines that are FDA, EUA approved. And so we’re not seeing long-term side effects. And we now have over a year experience when you go back and look at those who are in the clinical trials, I’ve been vaccinated since December and have had no issues whatsoever so this question is not one of concern for us. What does have long-term side effects is COVID and you may have heard about long COVID or what we call COVID long haulers. We don’t talk about that very much. These are people who survive COVID, but who may never recover and are fully disabled because of their infection.

Will the vaccine give me a dangerous blood clot? So, back in April, the Johnson & Johnson single shot vaccine was identified to clearly be causing a very strange type of blood clot in young women. And we call this entity vaccine induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia. And it is where the vaccine is causing an abnormal antibody to be produced that causes these blood clots to happen. This is very rare. It’s less than seven per million doses that are administered, and if you look at things like oral contraceptives, the risk of blood clots with birth control pills is sky high compared to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Moderna and Pfizer has shown no issues with blood clots, and also the Johnson Johnson single shot vaccine has not shown to be an issue with blood clots at all in those over 50.

So, a reasonable strategy is if you’re over 50 and you want the single shot, get it. If you’re a younger female, and you don’t want any risk of blood clots and go with Moderna or Pfizer. But even young women who choose to get Johnson Johnson are at exceedingly low risk of, getting blood clots from the COVID vaccine. However, if you get COVID, the risk of blood clots is extremely high from the virus itself.

So say a young woman is on birth control and she gets the Johnson and Johnson does that put her at even higher risk of a blood clot?

And that’s a great question. We have not seen that. We specifically looked at that because we were concerned based on that age group, that it was an interaction with oral contraceptives and it wasn’t, this is an independent vaccine. And this clearly is a vaccine reaction. Thankfully, it’s very, very rare. And one thing people need to know, the COVID vaccine monitoring is the most intense vaccine monitoring we have ever done. No other vaccine has ever been monitored to the extent that these vaccines are, and so much so that we were able to pick up the signal for those blood clots, even though it was seven per million. Our vaccine reactions surveillance picked that up. So, we are intensely watching for any other reactions and thus far, the only two that we’re seeing are anaphylaxis, which are allergic reactions to shots that anybody can have, and the VITT syndrome.

Was the vaccine development a rushed process? So this is a very legitimate question people are concerned about. It was developed rapidly, but because of good things. Typically I tell folks when we’re developing new medications or vaccines, the research labs working, you know, nine to five, Monday through Friday and off for holidays. With operation warp speed, it was all hands on deck, all the time, around the clock, 24/7 365. So the amount of lab time is, you know, over the 18 months before where we are now, the amount of lab time was significantly higher than the few months that everybody’s looking at the actual time in the lab. And we have never invested the amount of monetary resources into a vaccine development.

What we were concerned about as physicians a year ago was would it work. We were grateful of the rapidity of development but we did have a lot of confidence that the technology was going to work because we had a lot of success in the past. And the other thing people don’t realize, we’ve been studying messenger RNA, viral vaccine research for a decade. Adenovirus, deployment vaccine research for a long time, but with the amount of money that was invested, we were able to take that research off the shelf, invest the amount of resources we needed, and we wound up developing, you know, not one but three vaccines that were highly effective. Moderna, Pfizer, 95% safe and effective. Johnson and Johnson, more in the 80% range, safe and effective. If the vaccines had come out of it, 50% effective, we’d have been excited. So to have vaccines that are 95% effective and safe and free and widely available, is just incredible.

There’s been a tremendous amount of work. This was not a rush. The FDA has looked at all the data from all the clinical trials and felt it was safe for general deployment under emergency use authorization, which means it can be given legally. People have to understand it’s not fully approved because the FDA needs more data, but that data really is there and has been submitted and we expect full FDA approval within a matter of weeks.

Next question. If I’ve already had COVID-19 do I need the vaccine? Not only do you need it, you’re lucky. Because if you’ve had COVID naturally we know that you have antibodies cause we can measure those. That didn’t mean you were immune. The antibody, the technology we use to measure antibodies basically just tells us, has your immune system reacted to COVID. Doesn’t mean you’re immune. We can’t tell you that from a blood test, but we know that you’ve had antibody production, which is good, but what we really need is T-cell. Which is a type of white blood cell that actually goes after the virus itself, that just produced antibodies, but attacks the virus.

And the vaccines helped stimulate what we call T-cell mediated immunity. And what we’re seeing is that vaccinations are protecting better than natural immunity, but if you want the best immunity available, if you have recovered from COVID and you get vaccinated, there’s nothing more we can do to make you safer. It doesn’t mean you’re absolutely safe, but, you’re safer than I am having not have COVID. So, if you have had COVID and you have fully recovered, you don’t have to wait 90 days. It’s just when your physician says you’re fully recovered, then you can get vaccinated.

Do I need the vaccine if I’m social distancing and wearing a mask? If you’re in a group where you don’t know everyone, then you need to assume that COVID could be present. And even though you’re vaccinated, the vaccines are not a hundred percent effective. They’re 95% effective. So we don’t want you getting it at all so wear a mask, wash your hands, socially distance. And that’s what I’ve been doing since last December. You know, if I’m going somewhere around people I don’t know, I want to wear my mask.

Can I stop wearing a mask once I get the vaccine? Which I just answered, which means in certain situations you can. If you know, my entire family that’s eligible is vaccinated, I don’t wear a mask around my family. When I’m around colleagues. I know we’re all vaccinated and we’re in a meeting, we don’t have to wear a mask. As long as everyone is vaccinated, then mask wearing is not mandatory. And again, you know, masks work, I mean, I don’t know why we have to try to explain this and I’ll be honest. I don’t know why there was confusion early on, you know? I think you will see a lot of healthcare workers like myself wearing mask during flu season, even after COVID just because it, it, they have worked. I don’t know why we were stubborn with this.

Do only vulnerable people need the vaccine? Well, unfortunately we’re all vulnerable. There’s no one who can say I’m not vulnerable to COVID. We have lost patients, of all age groups, including children and adolescents. We routinely will have pediatric patients in ICU, in our state, thankfully not big numbers, but, you know, we do see that. And it’s not that we’ve lost kids you know, with chronic illnesses, we’ve lost children that were otherwise healthy. We’ve lost people in every age group that were otherwise healthy and who should be alive today, but for the fact that that they had COVID, if you are vulnerable, such as, over 65 or having any chronic long-term medical problems, and you’re more vulnerable than the general population, you should absolutely be vaccinated.

And you know, as I’m talking to groups, you know, you care about yourself, you care about your family, but you care about your community too, and being vaccinated as a way to help. Demonstrate your care and concern for your community because you’re reducing the risk of giving COVID to someone that is very vulnerable.

Does Hydroxychloroquine offer protection against COVID-19? Is it an effective treatment for COVID-19? We wished that it were, we looked at it very hard. We wanted it to be when I was at the bedside of COVID patients last year. We needed anything to help us. And, , hydroxychloroquine was looked at very rigorously. The initial studies, which were just very small stage to see, is there a signal that it may be beneficial where there, which led to multiple groups doing larger studies, and when you expand the numbers, the positive factors went away. It does not help treat the disease.

Does the vaccine give you the virus? Well, we deal with this every year at flu shot time, “I got the flu shot five years ago and it gave me the flu.” No, it didn’t. You reacted to the vaccine as we want you to, you know, if you had received the COVID shot and you had fever and fatigue and those muscle aches for 12 to 24 hours, good. Your immune system is responding to the vaccine like we want it to. When you get the flu shot and you had a little fever, you had those muscle aches. That’s not the flu. That’s the flu shot stimulating your immune system.

There is no way for the COVID vaccine to give you COVID because there is no live virus in it. We’re using particles of the virus that are delivering the messenger RNA or delivering the code to the adenovirus, depending on what vaccine you’re getting. We’re delivering that code to our lymphocytes so that they can make anti-COVID antibodies where we can program our T-cells to respond. You’re getting just enough for that reaction to occur. There’s no way for it to give you the virus, that’s also true with the flu shot. You’re getting particles of the virus that are dead. There’s nothing alive there to replicate.

Will the vaccine affect my fertility? Another common question. And, this has been looked at rigorously, but mainly because of the questions started coming up and so all the back data was looked at and data going forward is being looked at, and the American college of obstetrics and gynecology has stated unequivocally that there are no impacts whatsoever. There is no any impact whatsoever on fertility. Definitely don’t use it as contraception because it won’t work. This was something of concern, but it’s been proven to be false and women do not need to worry about fertility issues.

Will the vaccine put a microchip in my body? You know, the Bill Gates theory is what it is and the most common thing I hear is what it’s gonna allow me to be tracked. *Holds up cell phone* If anybody wants, if the government wants to track me, it’s real easy, they just, they can access my cell phone signal and see where I am at any time and access my data. I have a lot of data on that smartphone that they can download if they so chose. That is much easier than coming up with a scheme that they were going to create a pandemic so we can get microchips in everybody. And then you have a state like Mississippi, where we have a low vaccine rates not even working. So no, there is no microchip, and that’s just one that somehow people just gotta understand that that is a myth.

Will the vaccine make me magnetic? No, it won’t give you a magnetic personality. It won’t magnetize you. It won’t do anything then any more than any other vaccine. I honestly don’t know where this one came from. It’s just not true. You know, your injection area is not magnetized. There are no metals in the vaccine. There are no heavy metals in the vaccine and you know, the only thing that prevents us administering the vaccine is if you’re allergic to the components of the vaccine. There’s nothing in the vaccine that can be magnetized.

What is true is that 96% of America’s physicians are fully vaccinated. So if you trust your doctor and you listened to your doctor for health care advice, which I hope is your source, you don’t have to take it from the health department, although we hope that you trust us and take our information, but certainly you trust your personal physician. 96% of America’s physicians are fully vaccinated. Your doctor knows that our vaccines are safe, effective, free, and widely available. Talk to your doctor about being vaccinated. Your doctor will explain all the reasons why you need to be vaccinated. And now the big push is getting vaccines into the clinic. So you can get your shot at your doctor. Visit just like getting your flu shot.

Download our printable COVID-19 in Mississippi Vaccine Guide

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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