The facts about vaccines and COVID-19
Waterloo experts address common COVID-19 myths and misinformation
Waterloo experts address common COVID-19 myths and misinformationBy University Relations
For many of us, navigating information on COVID-19 is increasingly difficult as the pandemic – and the science behind the pandemic – evolves over time and as the information available grows. With so much information at our fingertips, it can be hard to work out what’s real, and what’s not.
We asked some leading Waterloo experts to help sort through some common misinformation and myths on the pandemic and give us the latest facts. Our experts cover issues from transmission of the virus, the side effects of vaccination and the legalities of vaccine mandates.
The responses below are provided by Dr. Zahid Butt, a physician, epidemiologist, and assistant professor in the School of Public Health Sciences. His research focuses on the prevention and control of infectious diseases, especially in the context of marginalization and social disparities.
Myth: Children and young people do not contract or spread COVID-19.
Fact: A person of any age group can contract or spread COVID-19 infection. Younger age does not protect against COVID-19 infection and children and younger people can spread COVID-19. We have seen multiple outbreaks among children in school settings as well as establishments and workplaces where younger people were working. The only way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is to follow public health guidelines such as physical distancing, wearing masks, frequent hand sanitization and getting vaccinated.
Myth: Natural immunity is better than immunity provided by vaccines.
Fact: Currently, there has been very limited research that documents whether natural immunity against COVID-19 provides better immunity than vaccines. Given the limited evidence about natural immunity against COVID-19 and the fact that contracting COVID-19 can lead to serious consequences such as severe disease and death, it is not advisable to contract COVID-19 to acquire natural immunity. In addition, COVID-19 infection may also lead to developing long COVID-19 which is a long-term serious consequence of COVID-19 infection.
The responses below are provided by Kelly Grindrod, an associate professor at Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy and a licensed pharmacist. Grindrod has spearheaded mass vaccination efforts in the Region. Her research focuses on using digital technologies to improve how we manage medications.
Myth: The side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine are worse than the virus.
Fact: No, a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine highlighted that the BioNTech-Pfizer mRNA vaccine is much safer than a COVID infection. The study looked at data for over 1.7 million Israelis, including over 880,000 who had received the vaccine. Researchers found that for every 100,000 people who had tested positive for COVID, 166 developed an arrhythmia, 125 developed kidney failure, 62 had a blood clot in the lung, 43 had a peripheral blood clot (e.g., lower leg), 25 had a heart attack, and 8 had a bleed in the brain. The vaccine was not associated with any of these effects. We have also been paying close attention to the risk of heart inflammation (myocarditis) with the vaccine after initial reports of this rare side effects, especially in teen boys and young men. This study found that people infected with COVID were over three times more likely to have myocarditis compared to the vaccine. Finally, for every 100,000 people vaccinated, rare side effects included 78 people with swollen lymph nodes, 16 with shingles, and 5 with appendicitis.
Myth: Vaccines impact fertility.
Fact: There is no evidence that the vaccines have any impact on fertility. In the clinical trials, people who were pregnant or who were planning to become pregnant were excluded but some people did become pregnant unintentionally. There were similar numbers of pregnancies in the placebo and vaccine arms of the trials. In fact, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada recommend that people get vaccinated before pregnancy. This helps to ensure that people who are pregnant have the benefit of full immunity for the duration of their pregnancy.
The response below is provided by Roderick Slavcev, an associate professor at the School of Pharmacy and a member of the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology. His research focuses on novel bacteriophage nanomedicines for the development of novel vaccine, pharmaceuticals and gene delivery systems.
Myth: There is no additional benefit to getting vaccinated if you’ve already had COVID-19.
Fact: Individuals inoculated only through previous SARS-CoV-2 infection alone are generally less protected against reinfection by a variant and increased susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection or severity of COVID-19. Infection differs among individuals and protective levels of neutralizing antibody may vary dramatically and wane quickly over time. Newer compelling data suggest that variable outcomes are in part linked to genetic predisposition, explaining global variation of susceptibility and severity.
The mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are focused on generating neutralizing antibodies against the spike protein and particularly (Pfizer) receptor binding domain of SARS-CoV-2, thereby blocking viral entry into target cells. This focused response and repeated dose builds targeted affinity of these neutralizing antibodies to the spike, improving neutralizing antibodies against this component of the virus. This improves levels of protective neutralizing antibodies against the virus that can even be cross-protective against variants.
The responses below are provided by Emmett Macfarlane, an associate professor in the department of Political Science at Waterloo. His research focuses on the intersection of rights, governance and public policy, with a particular emphasis on the Supreme Court of Canada’s impact on public policy and political discourse under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Myth: Institutions and companies can’t legally mandate vaccines.
Fact: In fact, institutions and companies may have a legal obligation to establish vaccine mandates. Institutions and companies are required by law to take all reasonable measures to protect the health and safety of employees, members, customers and others. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, this includes reasonable measures such as masking and distancing requirements, vaccine mandates and work-from-home accommodations (where possible).
Myth: Vaccine mandates violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Fact: Properly crafted vaccine mandates that include exceptions for people with (very rare) medical circumstances that prevent them from getting vaccinated would be upheld as reasonable under the Charter. All rights under the Charter are subject to "reasonable limits" that can be justified in a free and democratic society. A pandemic is precisely the sort of circumstance for special measures to protect the health and safety of the community. More significantly, the Charter of Rights does not include the right to put other people at risk, or the right to a particular job or access to spaces. Those who refuse to get vaccinated can be subject to limitations in this regard.
When seeking out information about COVID-19 and vaccines, be sure to use trusted and reliable sources that are backed by science, data and research. For additional information on myths and misinformation about COVID-19, review the trusted resource list below.
Dr. Zahid Butt sets the record straight on some COVID-19 misinformation. Listen to his interview on the Beyond the Bulletin Podcast.
The University of Waterloo acknowledges that much of our work takes place on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. Our main campus is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land granted to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River. Our active work toward reconciliation takes place across our campuses through research, learning, teaching, and community building, and is centralized within our Indigenous Initiatives Office.