Covid-19 vaccine myths debunked: Get the facts here

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Jasmin Merdan

While recent research found that over 71% of South Africans are willing to take the Covid-19 vaccine, government has indicated its concern with increasing reports of vaccine hesitancy.

According to the research young people in particular, aged between 18-25, were much more likely to be vaccine hesitant than older adults.

The spread of Covid-19 misinformation on the internet is rife. If you've heard something that's left you in doubt about whether to get the jab, email us your question and our team of health reporters will check the facts for you.

Email your questions to: Answers to questions will be published below.

The risks from the vaccine are greater than the risks from Covid-19


Professor Thomas Scriba: "This statement is false, dangerous and contradicted by an overwhelming body of evidence. Millions of people have died from Covid-19 disease, while many more have suffered from severe illness.

"We also know that the number of Covid-19 deaths we hear about every day in South Africa are substantially under-reported, likely by about 2-3 fold.

"On top of that, about 10% of people who have survived Covid-19 disease have long-term health consequences (long Covid), which includes extreme tiredness (fatigue), chest pain or tightness, shortness of breath, problems with memory and concentration (so-called "brain fog"), and many more symptoms.

"It is indisputable that Covid-19 vaccination protects against death, severe illness that requires hospitalisation and Covid-19 disease, while having acceptable safety and tolerability. This is clear from many publications that report results from clinical trials for the Pfizer and the J&J vaccines, including against the Delta variant, as well as analyses of effectiveness after vaccine roll-out in the South African Sisonke study."

According to Professor Marc Mendelson: "Your risk of illness and death from Covid-19 varies depending on your age and presence of pre-existing illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure etc.

"However, to date including unexpected deaths in South Africa, over 200 000 people have lost their lives. Worldwide that number is currently over 4.3 million.

"Over 4 billion doses of vaccines have been administered and no long-term effects have been reported. A US study of vaccine safety in 13.7 million vaccine recipients reported 6 994 persons (0.05%) with an adverse event, 91% of which were deemed non-serious.

"The rate of deaths occurring among vaccinated persons is not higher than in unvaccinated people, indicating that vaccines are not the cause of reported deaths."

The composition of vaccines is 'largely confidential, like a trade secret'


Professor Thomas Scriba: "The compositions of the vaccines are freely available to anyone who wishes to look for them.

"For example, a quick internet search returns the FDA factsheets for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the J&J vaccine, which contain the composition of each vaccine."

Professor Marc Mendelson: "The components that constitute the vaccines are well-known. Each vaccine has its own patents, but that is the same for any medication or vaccine that has every been produced."

The Covid-19 vaccines are 'gene therapy disguised as vaccinations'


Professor Marc Mendelson: "This relates to the exhausted trope that messenger RNA (mRNA)-based vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) incorporate mRNA into your own genetic material and somehow influence the cells of your body.

"As soon as the mRNA enters the cell, it is transformed into protein (SARS-CoV-2 spike protein) which instructs your immune system so that it can react quickly to control infection in the future. Integration of mRNA into your genes is not physically possible."

If you are pregnant, you should receive the Covid-19 vaccine.


There is growing evidence that Covid-19 vaccination is safe and, in fact, beneficial for pregnant women and their unborn babies, Professor Thomas Scriba, deputy director of immunology and laboratory director at the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative, University of Cape Town, told Health24.

In fact, pregnant women are at an increased risk for severe illness from Covid-19 infection when compared to non-pregnant people, as well as preterm birth, indicates the CDC. The protection provided by the vaccines is, therefore, likely even more important in this group than it is for non-pregnant individuals, said Scriba.  

Protective antibodies generated by the mother have also been found to transfer to the baby during the last trimester of pregnancy and after birth, via breastfeeding.  

If you have questions about getting vaccinated, discussing all factors about the vaccine and your pregnancy with your healthcare provider might help.

I can get a vaccine soon after being infected with the Covid-19 virus.


UPDATED: The department of health issued the latest clear guidance on vaccination after Covid-19 infection.

There is a period that any person who has recovered from Covid-19 infection will need to wait before vaccination – this applies to infection before the first AND before the second dose where the Pfizer vaccine is concerned.

The department said that if a person is known to have had Covid-19 virus infection, the recommended minimum interval between the infection and Covid-19 vaccination is 30 days AFTER THE END OF SEVERE SYMPTOMS or 35 days after the date of the positive.

The department adds that people with prior Covid-19 virus infection should still be vaccinated if they are in the eligible population – regardless if infection was symptomatic, asymptomatic or resulted in prolonged post Covid-19 symptoms.

Studies conducted on the Covid-19 vaccines indicate these vaccines can safely be given to individuals with a history of previous SARS-CoV-2 infection, but the minimal interval between infection and vaccination must be observed.

The Covid-19 vaccine will infect me with the Covid-19 virus, and I can infect others.


A person can shed virus after a viral infection – such as the Covid-19 virus.

Infected people can shed virus via coughing and sneezing – one of the reasons why measures like mask-wearing, physical distancing, and isolating when sick, are in place.

While some vaccines for other diseases contain live viruses that have been weakened, NONE of the Covid-19 vaccines approved around the world use a live virus.

Covid-19 vaccines do not contain live virus and cannot give you the disease.

If I have no comorbidities or if I am not in an at-risk group I don’t need to be vaccinated.


According to Professor Mosa Moshabela, the vaccine is not only intended for people with risk factors and comorbidities. 

The risk factor category is prioritised in order to safeguard people against severe disease and death from Covid-19. 

However, even physically fit adults can still suffer severe disease and die, but their risk is lower than in those with identified risk factors.

“No one will be forced to take the vaccine. People should, however, bear in mind that is not a medicine to treat Covid-19, but a form of prevention so that those who are exposed to Covid-19 do not succumb to it. 

“Also, people infected with Covid-19 may still spread the virus to those around them, even if they only have a mild form of the disease.

"Finally, anyone who is infected with Covid-19 can still suffer from long-Covid, a chronic condition that occurs after recovery from acute Covid-19 infection – often referred to as a post-viral syndrome,” he explains.

The Covid-19 vaccine will affect my fertility.


The Covid-19 vaccines have been falsely linked to infertility. This misconception likely came about after a petition was submitted by a pair of physicians questioning the safety and efficacy data of the Covid-19 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which anti-vaccine activists then referenced in widely circulated claims that the jab could impact a person's fertility.

However, two experts told Health24 that this was not observed in any of the many Covid-19 vaccine clinical trials, nor in actual use (hundreds of millions of people worldwide have been vaccinated so far). There is no evidence, nor any plausible medical or biological reason, why Covid-19 vaccines would affect fertility in females or males, they said.

I can choose which vaccine I will receive.


Only two vaccines have so far been utilised in South Africa’s vaccine rollout programme. The public has received the two-dose Pfizer vaccine, while health workers, teachers and other specific groups have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The Sinovac vaccine, CoronaVac was recently approved for use, with conditions, but is not yet being used in the programme.

Department of health spokesperson Foster Mohale has told Health24 that recipients currently do not have the option to choose. 

This approach, he said, is likely to continue, even if additional vaccines become available. But he added that more details will be announced should additional vaccines become available.

Covid-19 vaccination will 'wipe out' or compromise my natural immune system.


Professor Thomas Scriba, deputy director of immunology and laboratory director at the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative, University of Cape Town, explains:

A vaccine is a tool that educates the immune system about an infectious organism, but without the risk of becoming sick from the actual virus. It is like educating the brain about a certain topic in school – learning new things does not "wipe out" or compromise what you already know, but adds to what is already known. In the same way, vaccines cannot wipe out a person’s immune system or compromise it in any way, but add to the types of infectious organisms that the immune system will be able to fight off.

People vaccinated with the Covid-19 vaccine will die in two years.


A message has been widely circulated on social media in which an alleged statement by French virologist and Nobel Prize Winner, Luc Montagnier, claimed mass Covid-19 vaccination is an “unacceptable mistake" and that “all vaccinated people will die in two years."

However, this is "blatant misinformation", Professor Thomas Scriba, deputy director of immunology and laboratory director at the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative, University of Cape Town, told Health24 as there is no evidence to back up this claim.

Reuters was also unable to find any instance where the laureate made this comment.

The Covid-19 vaccines can alter my DNA.


The Covid-19 vaccines do not change or interact with your DNA in any way, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The public health agency explains that both the mRNA vaccine by Pfizer-BioNTech and the viral vector vaccine, such as the one by Johnson & Johnson, deliver instructions (genetic material) to a vaccinated individual's cells to start building protection against the virus that causes Covid-19. However, this material never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA is kept.

There is, therefore, no plausible biological mechanism for this to be conceivable, explained Professor Thomas Scriba, deputy director of immunology and laboratory director at the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative, University of Cape Town. 

Everybody who gets a vaccine will get blood clots.


Of the vaccines currently being used in South Africa, concerns about blood clots were specifically raised in relation to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

While incidents were very rare, rollout programmes involving the J&J vaccine worldwide were paused as experts investigated further – testament to the cautious approach taken. However, the programmes soon resumed.

Experts found that there were few people who experienced the rare blood clots, and the occurrences were in women aged between 18 and 48. At the time the rate of incidence was 1 in more than 1 million people who were vaccinated. These patients also had other underlying conditions and were at higher risk of developing blood clots.

Where it did occur, the clots happened one to three weeks after vaccination, Professor Linda-Gail Bekker told Health24 at the time.

Health24 also reported on a a Special Report from the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association Stroke Council Leadership indicating just how rare the vaccine-induced blood clots are – 8 to 10 times higher as a result of a Covid-19 infection compared to the risk associated with a Covid vaccine.

Early safety results from the Sisonke study, running in South Africa, can be found here.

I can get my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine earlier than 42 days after my first shot.


The department of health has confirmed that all people who have had their first Pfizer shot, will only be eligible for their second jab after 42 days.

Initially the plan had been to have the shots 21 days apart, but that changed shortly afterwards. 

Guidance on how long before a second shot is administered does include for a longer time period between jabs, so the move from 21 days to 42 days was not out of the ordinary.

The Covid-19 vaccine is unsafe because it was developed so quickly.


The authorised vaccines are proven safe and effective by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), an independent, science-based entity, that follows strict guidelines and processes when approving health products. SAHPRA concerns itself, like other regulators across the world, with safety, quality and efficacy of health products. These essential requirements are consistently applied to all Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics that SAHPRA has considered for use in the country. Currently, four vaccines have been authorised for use in South Africa: Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca and CoronaVac. These vaccines are also approved by the World Health Organization, via its Emergency Use Listing.

According to leading medical research center Johns Hopkins Medicine, the fast development of vaccines were due to unprecedented international collaboration and investment in vaccine projects. Companies began making vaccines early in the process — even before they had authorisation — so some supplies were ready as soon as they were approved.

The vaccine will give me Covid-19, because it contains the virus that causes it.


The Covid-19 vaccine does not contain the SARS-Co-2 virus, so you cannot get Covid-19 from it. The two authorised mRNA vaccines instruct your cells to reproduce a protein that is part of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which helps your body recognise and fight the virus, if it should encounter it. The protein that helps your immune system recognise and fight the virus does not cause infection of any sort.

I'm not at risk for severe complications so I don't need the vaccine.


Regardless of your risk, you can still contract the infection and spread it to others, so it’s important you get vaccinated. Once the vaccine is widely available, it’s recommended that as many eligible adults as possible get the vaccine. It’s not only to protect you but your family and community as well.

The Covid-19 vaccine includes a tracking device.


A video shared thousands of times on Facebook makes false claims about the products of syringe maker Apiject Systems of America, which has a contract with the government to provide medical-grade injection devices for vaccines. The company has an optional version of its product that contains a microchip within the syringe label that helps providers confirm a vaccine dose’s origin.

Steve Hofman, a spokesman of Apiject confirmed to Reuters that this "optional" microchip will not be injected into the individual who receives the vaccine. He reassured that this technology is optional and that so far it hasn’t been requested. He also added that the microchip "cannot gather any personal information".

Vitamin and mineral supplements cannot cure Covid-19.


Micronutrients, such as vitamins D and C and zinc, are critical for a well-functioning immune system and play a vital role in promoting health and nutritional well-being. However, there is currently no evidence to suggest the use of micronutrient supplements can cure Covid-19.

Even after I'm vaccinated, I still have to take protective measures against Covid-19.


While a Covid-19 vaccine will prevent serious illness and death, we still don’t know the extent to which it keeps you from being infected and passing the virus on to others. The more we allow the virus to spread, the more opportunity the virus has to change.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that people continue to take actions to slow and eventually stop the spread of the virus:

Keep at least 1 metre from others
Wear a mask, especially in crowded, closed and poorly ventilated settings.
Clean your hands frequently
Cover any cough or sneeze in your bent elbow
When indoors with others, ensure good ventilation, such as by opening a window

The Covid-19 vaccine can affect a woman's fertility.


The Covid-19 vaccine will not affect fertility. 

A false report on social media caused mass confusion about this.

The vaccine encourages the body to create copies of the spike protein found on the coronavirus’s surface. This "teaches" the body’s immune system to fight the virus that has that specific spike protein on it, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. The false report claimed that the spike protein on the coronavirus was the same as another spike protein called syncitin-1 that is involved in the growth and attachment of the placenta during pregnancy. The false report said that getting the Covid-19 vaccine would cause a woman’s body to fight this different spike protein and affect her fertility.

The two spike proteins are completely different and distinct, and getting the Covid-19 vaccine will not affect the fertility of women who are seeking to become pregnant, including through in vitro fertilisation methods.

During the Pfizer vaccine tests, 23 women volunteers involved in the study became pregnant, and the only one who suffered a pregnancy loss had not received the actual vaccine, but a placebo.

The Covid-19 vaccine has dangerous side effects.


Of the vaccines used in South Africa, the Pfizer vaccine can have side effects, but for the vast majority of people they are very short term —not serious or dangerous. The vaccine developers report that some people experience pain where they were injected; body aches; headaches or fever, lasting for a day or two. These are signs that the vaccine is working to stimulate your immune system. If symptoms persist beyond two days, you should call your doctor.


The available vaccines do not protect against the Delta variant of Covid-19.


While data suggest that Pfizer and Moderna's two-dose mRNA vaccines are effective at fighting this variant, the science has been less clear on the one-shot vaccine by Johnson & Johnson. This has led some health experts to believe that following up the single jab with a second dose of mRNA vaccine (by Pfizer or Moderna) may be necessary in the context of this troublesome variant.

But Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, co-lead investigator of the J&J Sisonke study in SA, said that recommending booster top-ups with another vaccine is premature. A press release by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) on 1 July mentioned that the US will soon publish laboratory and antibody data showing that the immune responses – induced by the vaccine – mature over time and protect against the Delta variant.

“It doesn’t really suggest that a booster is not necessary, ever,” Bekker told Health24. “It just reassures that you don’t have to rush to have a booster dose right away, vis-à-vis the Delta variant.”

Findings from Public Health England analysis showed that the Pfizer vaccine was 33% effective against symptomatic infection from the Delta variant after the first shot of the two-dose series. When people received their second shot, however, the efficacy was 88%, meaning that being fully vaccinated is likely to offer sufficient protection against the Delta variant.

I already had Covid-19 and I have recovered, so I don't need to get a vaccine when it's available.


Early results from a UK study suggest that individuals who have previously had Covid-19 are not guaranteed protection against reinfection, particularly with the newer variants circulating.

"[The findings imply] that people who have previously been infected with Covid-19 should not assume they are automatically protected against reinfection and highlights the importance of everyone getting their Covid vaccination when they are offered it," researchers of the study said in a news release by the UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium (UK CIC).


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