by Frederico Links
COVID-19 vaccines continue to swirl at the epicentre of anti-vaccine propaganda as Namibia’s vaccine roll-out gathers pace.
Of late it has become clear that many Namibians have been exposed to and been sharing a lot of anti-vaccine propaganda via social media platforms and more traditional media.
CLAIM: Covid-19 vaccines are ‘experimental’
This claim has three strains: Firstly, it is suggested that the techniques and technologies used are new and thus not to be trusted.
Secondly, the vaccines have not undergone or are not undergoing animal trials, which could indicate a substandard process, and, thirdly, some vaccines have not undergone all trial phases to assess their safety and effectiveness.
This claim and its sub-claims are misleading at best and false at worst.
Firstly, there are four different vaccine types being developed for Covid-19, and all of these types of vaccines are being produced with known and well-used techniques and technologies.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) lists the following types of vaccines: Inactivated or weakened virus vaccines, which use a form of the virus that has been inactivated or weakened so it doesn’t cause disease, but still generates an immune response; protein-based vaccines, which use harmless fragments of proteins or protein shells that mimic the Covid-19 virus to safely generate an immune response; viral vector vaccines, which use a safe virus that cannot cause disease, but serves as a platform to produce coronavirus proteins to generate an immune response; and RNA and DNA vaccines, a cutting-edge approach that uses the genetically engineered virus RNA or DNA to generate a protein that itself safely prompts an immune response.”
So, there is nothing experimental about these vaccines.
As for the vaccines not having undergone animal testing or gone through all the trial phases, this is simply not true, as all the data of such trials have been published and are available online.
In the Namibian context, all the data of animal testing and three-phase trials for the AstraZeneca vaccine (Covishield) has been published, while the phase III data for the Sinopharm vaccine has still not been published, but should be available by the end of this month or later in 2021.
CLAIM: Emergency-use vaccines are not safe
This strand of anti-vaccine disinformation points to the current batch of vaccines not being fully licensed by global health authorities, such as the WHO and others, as evidence that they are not to be trusted.
It is expected that all or most of the vaccines currently being used to fight the pandemic would eventually be fully approved and licensed.
Emergency use listing (EUL) means that vaccines have been assessed to be safe, even when all data is not available yet.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has an EUL, while the Sinopharm vaccine is being assessed for EUL, with a decision expected from the WHO by today.
CLAIM: Covid-19 vaccines are ‘gene therapy’
This particular piece of disinformation continues to circulate, claiming that Covid-19 vaccines interact with and penetrate human DNA.
The purveyors of this falsehood have been prominent international figures on social media, including some individuals in the global media space.
This anti-vaccine claim has been debunked in a previous column, and remains false.
The US National Library of Medicine describes gene therapy as follows: “Gene therapy is an experimental technique that uses genes to treat or prevent disease. In the future, this technique may allow doctors to treat a disorder by inserting a gene into a patient’s cells instead of using drugs or surgery.”
None of the Covid-19 vaccines that have already been authorised or are in development make use of this technique.
Vaccines do not interact with or influence human genes.
– Frederico Links is the editor of Namibia Fact Check, which is a project of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).
– Namibia Fact Check can be viewed at www.namibiafactcheck.org.na