Dispelling Covid-19 Vaccination Myths With Professor Sibrandes Poppema

BusinessToday posed Professor Sibrandes Poppema, President of Sunway University, Tan Sri Jeffrey Cheah Distinguished Professor and Advisor to the Chancellor with several vaccine myths that are often raised by Malaysians. Here are his responses on dispelling the myths and why it’s important to vaccinate yourself even if you are not in a high-risk group.

1. Covid-19 vaccines has more side effects than benefits; therefore, it’s better not to be vaccinated than risk it.

Definitely false. The risks of Covid-19 are very serious for individuals and society. Millions of people have been infected, more than two million have died and many more suffer long term health effects. Livelihoods have suffered. The vaccines have been tested extensively for effectiveness and for side effects and apart from pain at the injection site and some flu like symptoms for a day or so, no side effects have been observed.

2. Normal life can resume post-vaccination.

Unfortunately, that is not the case, at least not immediately. It will be a while till sufficient people will be vaccinated in Malaysia and also other countries will have sufficient numbers of vaccinated people, while economies will be fully-opening up. Therefore, we will need to continue to take precautions to prevent the re-emergence of new variants.  

3. The vaccines threaten fertility.

This is absolutely untrue. There is no mechanism that might cause infertility as a result of vaccination.

4. Vaccination development and studies were rushed and therefore these vaccines are dangerous.

The development of the vaccines and the studies were performed at an unprecedented speed, but the technology that was used had been developed before for other vaccines. The sequence of the virus became available at a very early stage and the clinical trials were performed according to established standards.

5. Vaccines which are less than 100% effective aren’t worth it.

The purpose of the vaccines is two-fold. First, to prevent serious disease in individuals that have been vaccinated. This has actually been shown to be the case with all the currently approved vaccines. Second, to prevent spread of the virus and as a result, to exterminate the virus. This has not yet been proven, since some individuals may still be infected but not seriously ill, and they may spread the disease. Therefore, we must continue to take precautions for the time being. However, when sufficient people are vaccinated, the virus will disappear.

6. People who already have contracted Covid-19 do not need vaccinations.

There is not sufficient proof that people that contracted the virus will have a strong enough immune response to prevent re-infection. Hence, it makes sense to also vaccinate those who think they had the virus before.

7. I’m not in the risk group, therefore I do not need a Covid-19 vaccination.

There are two reasons not to follow this strategy. First, also among young, healthy subjects, a small proportion of individuals get seriously ill. Second, for the strategy to be effective we need a sufficiently large proportion of the population to be vaccinated to stop the spread of the disease. If not for yourself, get vaccinated for your grandparents.

8. The Covid-19 vaccine will alter my genes (DNA).

This is something that has been propagated with regards to the mRNA vaccines. This is scientifically not possible. DNA codes for RNA, and RNA converts this code into the assembly of proteins. This is a one-way street, so it is not possible for RNA to change DNA. In other words, it is impossible for the Covid-19 vaccine to alter your genes.

9. The vaccine will include a tracking device.

Another conspiracy idea. There is no way to track the presence of DNA or RNA in an individual. The idea that aluminium containing adjuvants that strengthen the immune response might be tracked by 5G is also ludicrous. Aluminium is abundantly present in our food and water sources and the vaccines contain (much) less than 1 mg per dose whereas our daily ingestion from food and drink may be up to 100 mg.

10. The vaccine will protect me against Covid-19 for the rest of my life.

Unfortunately, that is unlikely. Most vaccines will only provide temporary protection because immunity will diminish over the years. Over the years the virus may undergo significant mutations that would no longer make it detectable by the immune response induced by a specific vaccine.

Hence, it is likely that when Covid-19 stays around and mutates, we may have to be revaccinated with a different vaccine. However, it is also possible that Covid-19, like other coronaviruses will mutate to a less deadly variant and may behave like other coronaviruses that only cause what we perceive as a common cold.

11. Western vaccines are better than the Chinese and Russian vaccines.

All approved vaccines use different technology, but all have been proven to be effective in preventing serious disease. The Pfizer mRNA vaccine may result in a more robust immune response, but also has more side effects. The AstraZeneca and the Russian Adenovirus based vaccines are lower cost.

The Chinese denatured virus vaccines have less side effects and may well provide better protections against variants since the induced immune response is also against determinants of the virus other than the Spike protein that is the major component of the Pfizer and Astra Zeneca vaccines. 

Professor Sibrandes Poppema is the President of Sunway University and a Tan Sri Jeffrey Cheah Distinguished Professor and Advisor to the Chancellor. Professor Poppema  is a specialist in Immunopathology and he is among the top 2% highly cited authors in the world in the field of immunology. Professor Poppema was awarded a Knighthood in the Order of the Netherlands Lion for his scientific achievements by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands  Most recently he was awarded the Officer’s Cross of the Order of the Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany by President Frank Walter Steinmeier. He’s currently driving the establishment of the Sunway Medical School and is involved with promoting scientific and educational collaboration with the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

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