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Opinion | COVID-19 vaccine misinformation puts lives at risk

One of the latest and most harmful pieces of misinformation is that “breakthrough infections” prove the vaccines don’t work.

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The COVID-19 vaccines have now been given to millions of people ages 12 and older under the most intense vaccine safety monitoring in history.  Any claims that the vaccines are unsafe or ineffective are not true.  Any claims that corners were cut to produce the vaccines are not true.  Masks and social distancing, while definitely helpful, offer only so much protection.  The vaccines are the best and most effective way to protect yourself and others around you from the seriousness of COVID.  The facts are indisputable.

And yet, even after more than 4 million deaths from COVID have been reported worldwide, we are still confronted with misinformation about the vaccines every day, whether it’s a tweet from Nicki Minaj, a statement from Eric Clapton or tales of unproven remedies.  Unfortunately, too many believe these untruths and then spread them.  Some rumors can be dismissed as ludicrous and largely harmless, but others cause great harm.

One of the latest and most harmful pieces of misinformation is that “breakthrough infections” prove the vaccines don’t work.  A “breakthrough” means that someone vaccinated against a disease or illness has tested positive for the disease-causing agent. 

Breakthrough cases do not occur because vaccines are ineffective.  No vaccine is 100 percent effective.  Breakthrough cases occur because immunity can decrease over time.  Breakthrough cases are also not unusual.  For example, flu vaccines generally reduce the risk of getting the flu between 40-60 percent among the overall population during flu season, so there are many, many more breakthrough cases associated with the flu than with COVID.

COVID vaccines have been shown to provide protection against severe illness and hospitalization.  Studies show that those vaccinated against COVID are eight times less likely to be infected and 25 times less likely to experience hospitalization or death.  This is further confirmation that the vaccines save lives. 

Think of it like this:  your favorite football team has a much better chance of getting a first down on third down with two yards to go rather than facing third and 22.  Likewise, you have a much better chance of staying out of the hospital with the COVID vaccine than without it.  

Another dangerous falsehood claims that thousands of people have died from the COVID vaccines.  This rumor emanates from the way information is reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Recording System (VAERS), which is run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.  VAERS collects and reviews reports of adverse events – whether a health problem or side effect – that occur after vaccination.  Unfortunately, because anyone can report adverse events to VAERS, it is not clear whether a vaccine actually caused the problem.  Therefore, adverse health events reported to VAERS following vaccination, including deaths, do not necessarily mean that a vaccine caused the adverse health event being reported.

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Unfortunately, deaths reported to VAERS following COVID-19 vaccination have been misinterpreted as if these deaths were proven to be caused by the vaccines.  But as the CDC reports: “A review of available clinical information, including death certificates, autopsy, and medical records, has not established a causal link to COVID-19 vaccines.”

The COVID-19 vaccine is saving lives and I strongly encourage everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated.  The COVID vaccines are free, effective, safe and readily available.  Is vaccination a 100 percent guarantee you will not get COVID? No, but there is no doubt that you are much better able to fend off and survive COVID if you are vaccinated. 

Written By

Dr. Aruna Arora is board-certified in Neuromuscular Medicine and is medical co-director of the ALS Clinic in North Alabama/Huntsville.  She serves as President of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama.

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