DW Fact Check: Four Coronavirus Vaccination Myths Examined | Science | In-depth Science and Technology Reports | DW

World leaders receive vaccine |  Antonio Guterres

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We are constantly faced with new findings about the effectiveness and side effects of various coronavirus vaccines. But keeping up with and understanding the latest research is intimidating for laymen and laymen, and has created fertile ground for the spread of lies on the internet. In this DW fact check, we shed light on the four biggest myths surrounding coronavirus vaccines.

Claim: mRNA vaccines manipulate human DNA

DW: Faux

It’s easy to confuse DNA and RNA, two similar abbreviations related to genetic material. But they are very different.

DNA contains the genetic blueprint that determines the different traits of our body. Viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 have RNA that stores their genetic material.

But RNA is also found in the human body and plays a role in protein synthesis.

Viruses exploit this mechanism to reproduce in human cells. The human body, however, recognizes these intruders by their protein peak, producing antibodies and T cells to fight the virus.

RNA vaccinations inject only one element of the SARS-CoV-2 virus into the human body, namely mRNA, containing the blueprint to produce its spike protein. The human immune system then kicks in, forming antibodies against the pathogen.

However, no human or viral RNA ever enters the cell nucleus. This means that it does not come into contact with our genetic material. After achieving its goal, human cells break down RNA.

Scientific study published in December 2020 claims that genetic material from the SARS-CoV-2 virus could manipulate human DNA via reverse transcriptase (RT), an enzyme that transcribes RNA into DNA, which can enter the cell nucleus . The study in question has not yet been peer reviewed and is the subject of much debate.

David Baltimore, a virologist who won the Nobel Prize for his role in the discovery of RT, describes the results as “impressive” and “unexpected”. He notes that the authors only show that fragments of the SARS-CoV-2 genome can be integrated. But “because these are all pieces of the coronaviral genome, it can’t lead to infectious RNA or DNA and so it’s probably biologically a dead end.”

Waldemar Kolanus, who heads the Institute for Life and Medical Sciences (LIMES) at the University of Bonn, doubts the results are relevant to the current vaccine. Speaking to DW, he said the structure of mRNA has been deliberately altered for vaccines to prevent cells from instantly breaking them down. “Most likely, it cannot be transcribed in reverse. As such, mRNA vaccines are much safer with respect to these processes than actual virus genomes, he says.

Human DNA is well protected and cannot be “damaged” by the vaccine

Claim: Corona vaccinations make women infertile

DW: Faux

It is claimed that antibodies produced by vaccinations against SARS-CoV-2 bind not only to peak proteins in the virus, but also to Syncytin-1, a protein that plays a role in placental development. Some claim that vaccines inactivate this protein and thus cause infertility.

“Generally speaking, there are many reasons why this theory cannot be true,” says Udo Markert of the Placenta Lab at Jena University to DW. He says one of the reasons is that the two proteins have very little in common. They are only 0.75% identical, according to the researcher. ” It’s not much. “

Researchers have looked at this potential danger in the past for a drug against multiple sclerosis (MS). They found that the targeted protein exhibited an 81% similarity to Syncytin-1. Yet despite this close resemblance, no noticeable side effects have been recorded.

Udo Markert says the illness caused by SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19, is another reason this theory cannot be true. After infection, he says, “women are exposed to much higher amounts of protein than after vaccination.” If the infertility theory were true, COVID-19 would pose an even greater risk to female fertility than any vaccine.

Markert says that women who contracted the SARS virus during the 2003/2004 epidemic showed no signs of infertility either. The SARS virus spike protein, after all, bears great similarity to that found on SARS-CoV-2.

The British Fertility Society concludes that “there is absolutely no evidence, nor any theoretical reason, that any of the vaccines can affect the fertility of women or men.”

There is no evidence that COVID vaccines affect fertility in women

Claim: development of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines has been accelerated

DW: deceptive

Vaccine development and approval typically takes 10 to 15 years, sometimes even longer. The first SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, meanwhile, took less than a year to be approved. It is therefore understandable that some people feel uncomfortable with this brittle speed of development. There are several reasons why the vaccines were ready for use after such a short time.

The first is that developers rely on pre-existing know-how. Vaccines use technologies that have already been studied or even tested. Researchers knew a lot about coronaviruses from studying the pathogens of SARS and MERS (2012). Vaccines have also been developed in these contexts.

Another reason is that around the world, huge sums of money have been invested in the development of vaccines against SARS-CoV-2. This provided researchers with abundant resources and personnel to get started on this task and perform a lot more testing than usual.

A third reason is that many processes have been streamlined and accelerated. Mark Toshner, who has been involved in testing the AstraZeneca vaccine, told the BBC that it is misleading to think vaccine trials take years. He says that in reality, a lot of time is spent waiting for research funds, finding test subjects and receiving permission to conduct trials. Time counting in the pandemic, some tests which are normally carried out consecutively were carried out simultaneously. The vaccines were then subjected to a so-called continuous review, which means authorities evaluated test results as they arrived. Despite these accelerated steps, all vaccines had to go through strict control by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for marketing approval in the EU.

For all of these reasons, accelerated development and screening processes do not mean corners have been cut. It just indicates that vaccine development has been given the highest priority amid the global pandemic.

Many high-level politicians, such as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, have been vaccinated in front of rolling cameras

Claim: People who have recovered from COVID are better protected from infection than if they were vaccinated

DW: deceptive

A large majority of people who contract SARS-CoV-2 have only mild symptoms, if any. According to the German Robert Koch Institute (RKI), 80% of all those who tested positive for the virus in the first wave of infection in spring 2020 had mild symptoms. The remaining 20%, meanwhile, suffered from severe, if not extremely dangerous, COVID-19.

Still, there is no guarantee that people unlikely to develop severe symptoms will not suffer from a severe case of COVID-19. Young and healthy people continue to develop severe symptoms and die.

SARS-CoV-2 has also been observed to cause long-term health problems, known as “long-term COVID”. The problems include chronic fatigue and vascular problems. Long COVID can also result from milder infections.

It is currently not known if and when these long-term symptoms go away, deputy director of the German Association for Immunology, Reinhold Förster, told DW. Risking an infection, instead of being vaccinated, therefore poses “a great risk”.

Anti-wax poster
Demonstrators took to the streets to protest vaccines, slowing the fight against the pandemic

Another argument in favor of vaccinations is that the immune system reacts differently to bites than to actual infections. Speaking to public broadcaster NDR, virologist Christian Drosten said “vaccines may offer better long-term protection against infections.” He says research shows that vaccinations lead to the production of more antibodies for longer periods of time.

Based on his as yet unpublished research results, Förster agrees. “Basically what matters is the quantity and quality of the antibodies produced,” he said. The quantitative aspect concerns the affinity of antibodies to bind to proteins and thus prevent infections, he says. Förster says that after two BioNTech / Pfizer jabs, antibodies were seen exhibiting these same traits.

Deciding not to be vaccinated also has a societal dimension. Getting vaccinated helps contain the overall spread of the virus, reducing the overall risk of contagion.

Rachel Baig contributed to this article, which has been translated from German.

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