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Kernels of truth mixed with bad information keep many from vaccines

Misinformation — especially authoritative-sounding articles posted online and circulated on social media — plays a significant role in keeping many Nevadans from getting vaccinated against COVID-19, according to public health experts.

In interviews with the Review-Journal about a dozen unvaccinated residents cited a variety of factors for their decisions not to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Almost all fell into one of these six categories:

■ The vaccines haven’t undergone enough testing and may have side effects that are not yet known.

■ The shot or shots don’t work because people who are inoculated still get COVID-19.

■ They are unnecessary for otherwise healthy people.

■ All types of vaccines are potentially harmful and should be avoided.

■ Vaccine mandates by the government and employers violate workers rights to make decisions about their health.

■ The vaccination effort is part of a government plot.

While there are kernels of truth in some of those assertions, they are all contradicted in large degree by the available evidence, experts say.

Related: Voices of the unvaccinated: Nevadans explain decisions to shun shots

Here’s a look at the facts for each of these arguments:

Lack of testing

While all three available COVID-19 vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson &Johnson — were initially authorized by the federal government for emergency use in the U.S. under an accelerated approval process after 11 months of development and testing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that all evidence so far indicates that all are “safe and effective.”

“These vaccines have undergone and will continue to undergo the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history,” the agency says on its website.

The Pfizer vaccine was recently granted full approval by the Food and Drug Administration, and both Moderna and J&J are in the process of being certified.

The vaccines were developed so quickly because scientists already had experience with similar coronaviruses like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

Also, two of the vaccines — Pfizer and Moderna — used a new gene-based technology known as messenger RNA (mRNA) that came of age at just the right time after being studied for decades. The vaccines can be developed and manufactured more quickly than traditional vaccines, which have to be grown in a lab. With the mRNA vaccine, the body itself grows the protein to stimulate the immune system response.

Some people who are vaccinated experience minor side effects, including swelling and pain at the injection site, headaches and fever, but many have no adverse effects whatsoever.

Serious side effects are rare but can include anaphylaxis, or a severe allergic reaction. That can occur after any vaccination, and providers have medicines on hand to immediately treat such a reaction, the CDC says.

Thrombosis, a combination of blood clots and low platelets — also has been identified as a rare but potentially serious side effect of the J&J vaccine, which requires only a single shot. The risk is slightly higher for women between 18 and 49 years old, occurring at a rate of about seven per 1 million vaccinations, according to the CDC.

In contrast, unvaccinated people run a much higher risk of becoming seriously ill or dying if they contract COVID-19, experts say. Over 90 percent of Nevada’s hospitalized COVID-19 patients were not vaccinated when they became ill, according to state officials.

The vaccines don’t work

This argument is usually raised regarding so-called breakthrough cases of COVID-19 that occur in fully vaccinated people.

Experts and government officials have stressed that those types of cases are to be expected, as “no vaccine is 100 percent effective,” as the CDC notes.

“Some fully vaccinated people will get sick, and some will even be hospitalized or die from COVID-19,” the CDC says. “However, there is evidence that vaccination may make illness less severe for those who are vaccinated and still get sick.”

Vaccination also continues to reduce the chances of contracting the disease or becoming seriously ill from mutant forms of the new coronavirus like the more-contagious delta variant, the CDC says.

I’m healthy, so I don’t need the vaccine

While many unvaccinated people believe they either have “natural immunity” or are otherwise healthy, evidence conclusively shows that COVID-19 can effect even young people with no underlying health conditions. In fact, as vaccination rates slowly rise across the U.S., younger healthy Americans are accounting for higher percentages of cases.

Data also indicates that people who already have had COVID-19 benefit from the vaccine, as the natural immunity may fade or be less effective against variants than its lab-produced alternative.

Another reason to get vaccinated is that more and more people are vaccinated, community transmission will go down. That reduces the creation of coronavirus variants that could be more contagious or deadly.

“Every person that gets vaccinated brings us one step closer to ending the pandemic,” experts at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore advise on the school’s website.

All types of vaccines should be avoided

This has been a prevalent myth for years, with childhood vaccines being blamed for several chronic illnesses or disorders, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Though certain vaccines do slightly increase risks for certain ailments, the CDC notes that “there is solid medical and scientific evidence that the benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risks.”

As for the autism connection, “studies have shown that there is no link between receiving vaccines and developing ASD,” the CDC says.

Vaccine mandates are government overreach

There are still questions about the legality of vaccine mandates put in place by some government agencies and by private employers.

One particular point of contention is whether vaccines authorized only for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration can be mandated, according to the nonprofit FactCheck.org.

That said, “There is no federal law that says vaccines cannot be required for employees or students,” it noted.

David Orentlicher, director of UNLV’s health law program, said Congress can impose certain limited mandates in places that get federal funding, but the U.S. Constitution doesn’t give federal lawmakers control over broad public health measures like vaccine mandates.

States, on the other hand, can impose vaccine mandates, something that the Supreme Court settled with Jacobson v. Massachusetts in 1905, he said. But he said broad mandates requiring all state residents to get vaccinated are unlikely for political reasons.

The shots are part of a government plot

There is no credible evidence of a government conspiracy related to the discovery, spread or vaccine against COVID-19. Nor do the COVID-19 vaccine doses contain microchips to allow the government to track you or include ingredients that make a person magnetic, according to the CDC’s website.

Contact Jonah Dylan at jdylan@reviewjournal.com. Follow @TheJonahDylan on Twitter.

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