Some say COVID-19 vaccines are made with fetal tissue. Others say the government is using them for gene therapy to alter people’s DNA.
These are just some of the out-there myths that Anita Corbett, public health graduate student, had to learn about for one of her classes. The lesson aimed to help students learn to dispel common myths about the coronavirus vaccine, which are mostly based on a fear of the unknown, she said.
It’s not uncommon to hear people on social media joke about getting “microchipped” or that they’re equipped with 5G once they get vaccinated. Although most don’t believe those things, prevalent distrust still exists in some communities.
Rebecca Deen, political science associate professor, said from what she’s seen, many of the people hesitant to get vaccinated are people who question the speed at which it was developed.
Even if they’re not COVID-19 deniers and are concerned about the virus, they can be less inclined to get vaccinated if they think it wasn’t thoroughly tested. Deen thinks the mistrust comes from a lack of information, both about the process and science in general.
Because vaccine development at current speeds had never been done before, Deen said people may think that safety steps were not taken seriously. She said if those steps were talked about more openly, people might not be as concerned.
There’s always been an anti-science train of thought in America, but it’s gotten worse in the last few decades, Deen said. Even when scientific experts endorse a theory or provide evidence to support their beliefs, some people will never buy it, she said.
“They don’t think that’s a credible reason for them to accept the information,” she said.
Emily Canales, marketing and management senior, said she’s heard people say they shouldn’t get the vaccine because they already have the antibodies. They believe it doesn’t do anything or even that a microchip will be implanted in them, she said.
Canales said she thinks misinformation is one reason certain groups and communities believe these myths.
She remembers a statement from the World Health Organization last year that called the situation an “info-demic,” referencing the abundance of information being shown to people on and offline, some of which is intentionally misleading.
“People will just have a hard time knowing what to believe and what not to believe,” Canales said. “People will just hear one thing and run with it without doing a lot of their own research.”
That type of misinformation is predominantly spread by white communities, Corbett said, while distrust from communities of color generally stems from worries that the vaccine is an experiment they don’t want to be a part of, she said.
Andrea Jenkins, political science and sociology senior, said her mom was misled by Facebook pages that were posting about the “bad chemicals” in the shots. Her mother’s friends were also concerned about the vaccine being given to younger kids, even relating the situation back to the older myth that vaccines cause autism.
The claims were mostly about the vaccine coming out too soon, harsh chemicals being put into the body and that the vaccine wouldn’t actually help with COVID-19, Jenkins said.
Her mother is getting older, and Jenkins was concerned about her contracting the virus. She said she knew her mom was more conservative in her beliefs, and vaccine misinformation was prevalent in the circles her mom ran in.
“It was not surprising, but it was upsetting,” Jenkins said.
Corbett said some people believe the coronavirus isn’t valid and the government is overreaching, but others have historical reasons to be fearful.
Another myth discussed in her class was that COVID-19 vaccines are a money-making scheme controlled by tech billionaires who want to use Black people as lab rats, she said.
Although there are instances in history that have led to this distrust, Corbett said advocates need to relay that while medical mistrust can be valid, the current vaccine situation is not the same.
Deen said her advice for educating others on COVID-19 vaccines is to get your information from a variety of sources and do your own fact-checking.
This is something she carries into the classroom as well. Deen trains her students to be skeptical, not skeptics, and when they hear something interesting, she encourages them to learn more about it.
There’s something called a “confirmation bias,” where people are more willing to accept information that confirms what they already believe. It’s dangerous but natural, Deen said.
It’s how human brains are wired, and people have a responsibility to fight against it by searching and having a healthy skepticism, Deen said. Be willing to consider the possibility that what you think is true may be wrong.
As vaccine myths continue to be prevalent in communities, it’s ultimately up to the individual to research for themselves and learn what is and isn’t reliable information.