Thursday, March 18, 2021

Dispelling Myths and Misinformation — Face Masks and the COVID-19 Vaccine


As I’ve been talking to friends, colleagues and acquaintances, I’ve noted that the degree of misinformation and lack of understanding about face masks and the COVID-19 vaccine is staggering. So, since I’m a scientist by training, I’m providing some brief insights into this topic, which is important from a public health perspective.

1- Many people say face masks don’t work, a most curious statement given that I wonder how many people would want to have surgery if their surgeon as well as anesthesiologist and others in the operating room didn’t wear a face mask. We’ve known that face masks that cover your nose and mouth prevent the transmission of disease-causing organisms since the late 1800s. 

2- Other people claim that if you’ve been vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask. Untrue. If you’ve already had COVID-19 or you’ve been vaccinated, you still need to wear a face mask. That’s because the vaccine, like all vaccines, is not 100% protective. But, more importantly, because the COVID-19 virus — referred to as SARS-CoV-2 — had been allowed to spread unchecked or poorly checked in so many countries (including Brazil, the UK and South Africa), the virus mutated, resulting in an array of variants that are more infectious, more lethal or both. So you need to continue wearing a mask after you’ve been vaccinated if you’re around unvaccinated people. 

3- I’ve heard many people claiming they’re not getting vaccinated because they believe the vaccine was “rushed,” and wasn’t properly tested. Not true. Maybe people think it’s been rushed because we’re all accustomed to traditional vaccines that take a minimum of four to five years to develop. Those vaccines require growing the infectious organism in the lab. That’s not how the COVID-19 vaccine was developed. It depended on making synthetic viral mRNA, a segment of a molecule that would code for not the virus but its spike protein. And this research into mRNA has been going on for years. In fact, scientists have been studying it for a litany of infectious diseases, including rabies, Zika and the flu. So, there was no rush to develop the COVID-19 vaccine. It was the result of a long history of scientific studies. 

4- I was surprised to hear many people believe that if you get the vaccine it will do something to your DNA, changing it irreparably. In fact, one person said to me “Once you get the vaccine, it’s forever.” I wasn’t even sure what that meant. In fact, the mRNA in the vaccine does not and cannot enter the cell’s nucleus where DNA resides. In addition, after you get the vaccine and the mRNA forms the viral spike protein so the immune system is activated and ready to defend us against the virus, that mRNA is broken down by the body. End of the story. No changes are made in the body’s DNA.

5- Finally, there are people who claim they’re not getting the vaccine because they don’t trust the pharmaceutical companies or the government. Does that mean that these same people refuse medications when they have an illness, refuse to go to the hospital when they need treatment including surgery? I think not. 

Get vaccinated when it’s your turn and wear a face mask. It’s for your good and that of your neighbor. After all, we’re all in this together.