Nervous to get vaccinated? Doctors debunk common myths

25 August 2021 - 15:35
By TimesLIVE
Experts assure that Covid-19 vaccines save lives, debunking myths that make people scared to get the shot. File photo.
Image: Alaister Russell/Sunday Times Experts assure that Covid-19 vaccines save lives, debunking myths that make people scared to get the shot. File photo.

Infectious disease doctors treating Covid-19 patients at Groote Schuur and Tygerberg hospitals and vaccine experts have debunked six common myths about the risks of Covid-19 vaccines, reassuring people that they are not only safe but also save lives.

By Wednesday, 11-million vaccinations had gone into people’s arms and 4.6-million South Africans were fully vaccinated. But misinformation being shared about vaccines has increased people’s fears — and the need for accurate information.

Myth 1: The vaccine could negatively affect people with diabetes, cancer, hypertension, heart failure, TB, HIV, lupus, heart failure and other comorbidities. False.

Expert opinion: “People with chronic medical conditions like diabetes, heart failure ... fear that it [vaccine] may worsen their underlying condition. I can assure you this is not the case.

“People with a chronic medical condition are at increased risk of contracting severe Covid-19 and then land up in hospital, ICU or even die from Covid-19 infection.

“The main benefit of the Covid-19 vaccination is it prevents severe Covid-19, hospitalisation and death, specifically in these people with increased risk of severe disease.”  — Dr Jantjie Taljaard, infectious diseases physician at Tygerberg Hospital

Myth 2: We don’t know what the long-term effects of the vaccine are. False.

Expert opinion: “Many people are afraid of going for their Covid-19 vaccination because they are told by friends, family members and through social media that it might cause severe long-term side effects. That is completely untrue.

“More than 4-billion people across the world have been vaccinated in the past eight months, and in SA in the past five months. And we have not seen any long-term side effects.

“In fact, what we have seen is that Covid-19 vaccines saves lives. In Tygerberg Hospital’s intensive care unit during the third wave, all the people admitted were not vaccinated. Please save your own life and get the jab, I did!” — Dr Jantjie Taljaard

Myth 3: The side-effects are severe and the vaccine will kill you. False.

Expert opinion: “I want to make it clear that Covid-19 vaccinations do have side-effects, like any vaccination. The common side-effects include pain or redness at the injection site, headache, muscle pains and fever or chills.

“These are usually mild or moderate and get better after a day or two. There are also severe and sometimes life-threatening side-effects of the vaccine, but these are exceedingly rare.

“We know that if 1-million people are vaccinated with a Covid vaccine, fewer than five among them will develop life-threatening complications. These very rare side-effects include anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction), blood clots and inflammation of the heart.

“There are treatments for these side-effects. That is one of the reasons it is important that the medical profession and public are aware of these extremely rare side-effects.

“It is, however, very clear that the risk of dying of a severe Covid-19 disease far outweighs these exceedingly rare side-effects, and that the vaccine offers great protection against severe illness and even greater protection against death due to the virus.” — Prof Graeme Meintjes, infectious diseases doctor and deputy head of the department of medicine at Groote Schuur Hospital

LISTEN | Young & white South Africans 'less accepting' of vaccines: survey

Myth 4: Vaccines can harm your body. False.

Expert opinion: “I want to stress that with any medical intervention (treatment or prevention) there are benefits and potential harms. The medical profession (only) recommends and provides an intervention if the benefits far outweigh the potential harms. That is the case with Covid vaccinations.

“The benefits in terms of preventing death and hospitalisation due to Covid far outweigh the risks of these exceedingly rare side-effects.”

“The Medical Research Council’s excess death statistics indicate that more than 20,000 people have died from Covid in the Western Cape. We know that vaccinating a large percentage of the adult population of the Western Cape would very effectively prevent many deaths going forward — saving thousands of lives.

I have seen hundreds of people die as a result of Covid. I have not seen a single death due to the vaccination yet.
Prof Graeme Meintjes

“The data suggests that these would affect fewer than 20 people if we vaccinated all adults in the Western Cape. The benefits of vaccination, in terms of thousands of lives saved, far outweighs the risks of these exceedingly rare side effects.

“I have worked in the Covid wards at Groote Schuur for the last 18 months. I have seen hundreds of people die as a result of Covid. I have not seen a single death due to the vaccination yet.

“I know that we now have the means to prevent most deaths from Covid-19 going forward, through Covid vaccination. I appeal to every single adult in our country to get vaccinated — to protect our hospitals from another wave of Covid, but more importantly to protect your own life.

“Please get vaccinated and don’t delay!” — Prof Graeme Meintjes

Myth 5: The Covid-19 vaccines were developed too fast to be safe. False.

Expert opinion: “The reason we have a vaccine so quickly is because of the massive political will and huge amount of funding that went into the development of the vaccine. Just because it was developed quickly does not mean it is not safe.

“Billions of people all over the world have now received the vaccine over the past eight months. And there are only very rare side effects.” — Dr Lisa Frigati, paediatric infectious disease specialist at Tygerberg Hospital

Myth 6: You can still get Covid-19, so there is no point in getting the vaccine. False.

Expert opinion: “Your chances of getting severe disease, ending up in hospital or even dying, are severely decreased if you get the vaccine.

“The variant that is now circulating in the Western Cape is the Delta variant, and recent research shows that the J&J vaccine all the healthcare workers received (more than 480,000 healthcare workers received the J&J vaccine) is 96% effective against death and 66% effective against severe illness requiring hospitalisation. So that is why you should be vaccinated.

“Ideally, we would like a vaccine that also stops us from getting infected with the coronavirus, but until then, the benefits of reducing severe disease and not dying, and decreasing the burden on hospitals, is why you should be vaccinated.” — Dr Lisa Frigati