Dr. Bow Tie
COVID-19 AND VACCINES: MYTHS OLD & NEW
Great news came out this week, with Pfizer's vaccines getting emergency use authorization and CDC approval for kids aged 5-11. Safe and effective! See my recent TikTok from 11/3! Still, with the approval - with each achievement and expansion of protection this vaccine can provide - comes more disinformation and more myths that need debunked. Vaccine skeptics have devoted a great deal of time to looking into these ingredient lists. However, that still has not stopped incorrect information from getting out there.
First, one that actually IS in the vaccines. There are articles circulating, highlighting the inclusion of tromethamine (also known as Tris or THAM) in the Pfizer pediatric vaccines. The myth is that Pfizer included a medication that supposedly prevents heart attacks, creating a gotcha moment ("see! They know it causes heart problems and they're covering their tracks!"). At least, that's the logic I'm trying to follow.
Tromethamine is a buffer. It is a different buffer than was used in the dose for adolescents and adults. Since the age 5-11 dose is smaller (10 micrograms vs. 30), the packaging will look different to differentiate the vials with larger numbers of smaller doses. The change in buffer allows for better/easier storage. The pediatric vaccines can now be stored at a less extremely cold temperature for longer. It’s not an active ingredient in the vaccine, and while it is used for other things (it is occasionally used as an alternative to certain medications to treat a condition called metabolic acidosis, but in MUCH larger volumes; it is not used to prevent heart attacks or to treat myocarditis/pericarditis, as stated in the circulating myth)), there is not a large enough amount in the vaccine to do anything systemically in children (or adults). Once again, dose/amount/concentration MATTERS. In my flu vaccine post I use the example of everyone's favorite colorless flavorless beverage - water. Water in a large enough concentration or taken into the body the wrong way can kill you. Vitamins like A, D, and E are essential for human life, but take too much in the wrong way or in the wrong timing and you can have some terrible effects.
How do we know that tromethamine is okay to use as a buffer in the Pfizer pediatric vaccines? Because it is already used as the buffer in the Moderna vaccines! Thankfully, nothing to worry about.
I am not entirely sure how this rumor started (I know it was amplified by the Newsmax White House Correspondent, which tells you how reliable Newsmax is), but there is a persistent myth that a chemical called luciferase is present in the vaccine, and people (including patients I have recently had) refuse the vaccine because of this supposed devil-evoking substance. Two things to clarify:
Luciferase is not named for the devil. "Lucifer" means light-bringer. While that brought some irony in the Bible and Paradise Lost, in nature it is actually an enzyme needed for bioluminescence (the process that allows fireflies to glow, for example).
Luciferase is NOT in the vaccines! It was attached to the vaccine compound in initial testing in order to follow its distribution in the blood, but it is not in the final product.
NICKI MINAJ'S COUSIN'S FRIEND'S BALLS
Many of you saw this Tweet or an article talking about this Tweet. Nicki Minaj Tweeted "My cousin in Trinidad won’t get the vaccine cuz his friend got it & became impotent. His testicles became swollen. His friend was weeks away from getting married, now the girl called off the wedding. So just pray on it & make sure you’re comfortable with ur decision, not bullied"
This is an (admittedly extreme) example of an anecdote that gets misinterpreted as an adverse effect (the "post hoc ergo propter hoc" fallacy - "after it, therefore because of it"). This is present in much of the VAERS database entries as well. The vaccines have never been shown to cause orchitis (swollen testicles). You may gather that a different disease process was in play for Minaj's cousin's friend, but that's how much disinformation is out there and how it creates such fear. In less farfetched examples, I have patients who are understandably hypervigilant regarding any symptoms developing after vaccine, sometimes months after the vaccine, and with other apparent causes. That is why I do these posts and why I sit and talk with my patients about these fears, to help sift through what might be vaccine-related and what is less likely, and to quell the fears that have been stirred by people who profit from disinformation. Even doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers have been tricked by some of the disinformation out there, and my job is to help clarify that, too.
"NOT REAL VACCINES"
One persistent myth is that of people trying to poke holes in nomenclature. One of my favorite science communicators, Christina the Oncology NP (@/christinaaaaaanp) debunked a video in which someone tried to claim that these aren't like polio and tetanus vaccines because they were not 100% effective, stating "it's a COVID 'shot' not a COVID 'vaccine'" similar to "the flu 'shot.'" This is...a stretch. Christina explains it well, that a "shot" is basically the delivery form of the vaccine. There are intranasal vaccines, too, so intramuscular injection is not the only method, but to try and differentiate between the words "shot" and "vaccine" borders on desperate.
Refer back to my mRNA post to read about people claiming the definition of vaccines changed (it didn’t).
"JUST THE FLU"
Another persistent myth - I just saw in the comments on a friend's Facebook post - is the claim that this is "just the flu." It perplexes me that this is still a view people take. In case you missed it in my influenza vaccine post, the flu (the real flu) is still dangerous. There are many flu-like illnesses caused by lesser viruses that are now mistaken for "the flu." Actual influenza infections can be (not always) much more dangerous, resulting in hospitalizations and death (again...sound familiar?).
That said, influenza has not killed 750,000 people in less than two years.
Three-quarters of a million people. At least 100,000 (possible closer to 200,000) of those deaths were preventable as vaccines were available, making COVID-19 preventable. There is a great deal of disinformation steering people away from the fact that our COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. We have a significant knowledge of their intended and adverse effects. We know how long they and their effects are expected to appear and last. On the other hand, we are realizing, more and more each day, how much more we underestimated the long-term effects of COVID-19 infection (including in children). We learn more and more each day how much we need these vaccines to protect each other.
One final note:
Many of you have seen the videos of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers being escorted out of healthcare facilities, saying things like "I'm here, I'm able-bodied and ready to work, and they won't let me because I won't give up my freedom!" or claiming "Coercion!" These people are not the martyrs they claim to be, nor are they as numerous as they claim. They are vastly outnumbered by those of us who listen to the actual science instead of conspiracy theories, and have taken the same step as we have with so many other required vaccinations in order to protect our patients from contagious diseases. No one is impinging on freedom or "forcing" vaccinations - but choices have consequences, and our calling is to do what we can to protect our patients. That means getting vaccinated against the deadliest pandemic in a century, to protect ourselves and our patients from COVID-19.