The Covid-19 pandemic has provided fertile grounds for conspiracy theorists to propagate falsehoods and deliberate misinformation about the origin, prevention, treatment, and the true magnitude of COVID-19 deaths.
The phenomenon of conspiracy theory is not new. In times of uncertainties, people feel more vulnerable; thus, they tend to look for alternate explanations that are often elusive.
The conspiracy theories surrounding covid19 have been amplified by multiple social media outlets and influential individuals in society.
Conspiracy theorists have seized the opportunity to insinuate that global elites are trying to control population growth or track people by incorporating tracking devices in vaccines. So far, a total of six vaccines are now available for public use, in limited quantities. Over 4.6 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in 16 countries have been administered since the vaccine’s approval.
As a physician and public health expert and a recent Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness (CDSE), I am troubled by the level of misinformation on Ghana’s social media platforms. Additionally, the public health infrastructure’s deafening silence in educating the general public about the current COVID-19 vaccine development is disturbing. I am using this opportunity to address some of the frequently asked questions about the recently approved COVID-19 vaccines.
HOW DO VACCINES WORK
Generally, Vaccines work by heightening the human body’s own immune system to fight infections. This is achieved by stimulating the body to make adequate immune cells to fight specific pathogens. The SARS-COV-2 vaccine works by helping the body produce antibodies against a specific viral protein called the spike protein. The coronavirus uses its spike protein to gain access to the human cell to multiply and cause infection. By blocking the viral spike protein, the virus cannot either enter the human cell or spread to different parts of the body. The COVID-19 vaccine does not alter our DNA as being purported by most conspiracy theorists.
HOW WAS THE COVID-19 VACCINE DEVELOPED?
Multiple pharmaceutical companies are working around the clock to develop a safe and effective vaccine. Several companies are in different stages of the clinical trial process by utilizing various mechanisms. The COVID-19 vaccine was developed by going through robust and scientifically proven clinical trials. More than 40,000 volunteers from diverse backgrounds enrolled in the clinical trial process to ascertain the vaccine’s safety and efficacy. The phases of clinical trials consist of phases I, II, and III. No stage of the vaccine developmental process involved incorporating tracking devices or harmful materials capable of depopulating the world.
HOW SAFE AND EFFECTIVE IS THE COVID-19 VACCINE
Results from the clinical trials indicate that the vaccines currently in use are more than 90% efficacious. This level of efficacy is perhaps one of the highest in the history of vaccine development. This efficacy level means that an overwhelming majority of those who get the vaccine will not get infected or develop severe disease. The study participants did not report any serious safety concerns. The bottom line is that the recently approved vaccines are safe and efficacious. However, minor side effects are to be expected, just like any other vaccine.
SHOULD WE GET VACCINATED?
Yes. The COVID-19 vaccine should be taken once it becomes available to the general public. The vaccine will offer protection against COVID-19 infection. Furthermore, getting the vaccine will protect you from developing severe symptoms even if you get infected. Another benefit of taking the vaccine is to offer protection to those who don’t get access to the vaccine through the mechanism called “Herd Immunity.” We all must embrace the vaccine when we get the opportunity to take them.
WHY TAKE THE VACCINE WHEN THE VIRUS’S FATALITY RATE IS LOW
Available data suggest that a specific category of people develop very severe infections while others remain asymptomatic yet infectious. We can never be 100% certain who will develop severe disease, hence preventing the initial infection is the best option. Secondly, vaccination is a faster and safer way of ending the pandemic than letting the virus run its course. Finally, vaccination will ease the pressure on the health care infrastructure by limiting the number of hospitalizations.
WHY DO WE NEED TWO DOSES OF SOME VACCINES?
The first dose is to stimulate the body and prepare the immune system for an initial response. The second dose acts as a booster to strengthen the immune response.
WHY DID THE VACCINE DEVELOPMENT PROCESS ACCELERATE?
Traditional vaccine development processes take many years to manufacture the vaccine in enough quantities. The timeline for the COVID-19 vaccine was shortened because phases I and II were conducted simultaneously. The high number of new infections made it possible to ascertain the outcome of the trial more quickly. Finally, there has been significant investment in the development of the covid-19 vaccine.
Social media is an incredible tool for effective communication; however, circulating misinformation and baseless conspiracy theories can potentially impact our effort to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. A prompt and effective scientific response and exchange of information relevant to COVID-19 between public health professionals, the general public, and policymakers are critical in addressing misinformation.
Banda AA Khalifa, MD, MPH, MBA.
Manager of COVID-19 Program: Baltimore City Health Department
Implementation Science Researcher: Johns Hopkins University