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Vaccines are one of the greatest medical breakthroughs of the modern world and have saved the lives of children and their families across the globe.

With the outbreak of COVID-19, the topic of vaccinations has consumed news reports and daily life since the virus first exploded. Unfortunately, misinformation and conspiracy theories have tainted trust in the efficacy and science of vaccines and stirred up fear within communities. 

We’ve decided to dispel some common myths surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine, backed up with facts and scientific evidence from the experts.

1. The vaccine has been rushed 

Have COVID-19 vaccines been properly tested given their relatively fast development?

This is a myth.

While it may seem that the vaccine was ‘rushed’, researchers around the world looked to studies of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) to help influence and guide the immunisation development strategy for COVID-19.

All vaccines are meticulously tested for safety by the Therapeutic Good Administration before they can be used in Australia. This includes a rigorous analysis of clinical trial data, ingredients, chemistry and manufacturing processes to ensure the vaccine is effective and safe in fighting the COVID-19 virus.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) convened the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on immunisation to consider the emergency use of various COVID-19 vaccines, as well as reported side effects. WHO maintains in various public statements that the use of COVID-19 vaccines is safe, and the benefits outweigh the risks. You can read more about WHO’s advice on AstraZeneca and Pfizer on their website. 

2. The vaccine can give you COVID

Do COVID-19 vaccines transmit the virus to the patient?

Another myth.

None of the approved vaccines in Australia contains the live SARS-COV 2 virus which means a recipient will not contract COVID-19 as a result of being vaccinated. While flu-like symptoms have been recorded as rare side effects, these are not the result of the live virus within the vaccine. In fact globally no approved vaccines contain live SARS-COV 2 virus. 

There are, however, vaccines which contain inactivated, or “dead”, SARS-COV 2 virus. The use of “dead” virus in vaccination isn’t uncommon, and actually helps the immune system recognise the virus post-vaccination. 

3. The vaccine will alter your DNA

Can COVID-19 vaccines alter DNA? 

The answer is, no!

It may seem confusing, especially with Pfizer/BioNTech using mRNA technology within their vaccine.

The Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine uses a fragment or piece of messenger RNA (mRNA) which triggers the body to make COVID-19 spike proteins. This leads to an immune response that protects you against COVID-19.

There is a crucial difference between mRNA and DNA. 

DNA is a long string of genetic code that makes up who we are. The mRNA is a small copy of part of the DNA and it often sends instructions to other parts of the cell.

Inside our cells, DNA is stored in the nucleus while mRNA sits in a different part of the cell. The mRNA is broken down quickly by the body and does not enter the nucleus. It cannot affect or combine with our DNA and change our genetic code. 

COVID-19 mRNA vaccines teach cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response specific to COVID-19. They work with the body’s natural defences to develop immunity to disease.

4. The vaccine causes infertility

Can COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility?

This is another dangerous myth. COVID-19 vaccines do not cause infertility.

This disproven theory linking vaccinations with infertility is based on the idea 

that one of the spike proteins in COVID-19 and the Syncytin-1 protein (which helps with placenta development) is the same. But this isn’t true.

Just like any vaccine, the COVID-19 vaccine works to train our bodies to develop little soldiers, also known as antibodies,  to fight against the virus that causes COVID-19, to prevent future illness.

5. Masks not required after vaccination

Do you need to wear a mask after vaccination?

For now, we do. 

While COVID-19 vaccines prevent people from having severe COVID-19 outcomes like hospitalisation and death, it is still possible for a vaccinated person to have a mild case and spread it to others. The world is also seeing new COVID-19 variants emerge, some of which are more contagious or may render current vaccines less effective. 

So until we have the majority of the population vaccinated, we should take every precaution to reduce spread, including wearing masks.

6. The flu shot works against COVID-19

Is the flu shot effective against COVID-19?

Unfortunately no.

While COVID-19 and the flu are both viral infections, they actually belong to different virus groups and the flu shot won’t protect you from COVID-19 and vice versa.

7. The COVID-19 vaccine isn’t effective against variants.

Will the vaccine be effective against new variants?

Viruses by their very nature mutate and COVID-19 is no different. 

Despite the reports in the media about new strains of the virus, it is quite normal and actually anticipated by experts.

However, this doesn’t mean the vaccine won’t be effective in fighting the new strains. There is evidence that the current COVID-19 vaccines are still effective in fighting new variants.

Scientists are already looking ahead to adjust vaccine formulations and make sure they can handle new variants that may arise.

8. You can’t help fight COVID-19 around the world 

Is there anything I can do to help fight COVID-19?

This is the most dangerous myth of them all. Of course, there is. You can help keep your community safe by following government guidelines in regard to mask-wearing, hand hygiene, social distancing, and getting vaccinated as soon as you can. If an outbreak occurs, minimise your movements and follow government instructions. 

To help vulnerable children and families access vital medical care in areas affected by COVID-19, make a donation to our global COVID-19 emergency appeal and help promote equitable vaccine access in developing countries, such as Laos.

Papua New Guinea has been hit by a deadly outbreak of COVID-19, and the health system is on the brink of collapse. To support our COVID-19 response, please make a tax-deductible donation today

If you or someone you know is looking to learn more about COVID-19 and the vaccinations available, you can check out Vax Because. An initiative aimed at ensuring people around the world can find fact-based answers to help inform their decision-making surrounding COVID-19.

Infectious diseases are caused by microorganisms that invade the body and develop disease. Following the incubation of the illness in patient zero, an infectious disease can be transmitted stealthily in a number of ways.

We are all familiar with how the COVID-19 virus can be spread: droplets that are coughed or sneezed out by individuals who have the disease, or through contact with contaminated surfaces. Other infectious diseases, like malaria, are transmitted through other vectors, such as mosquitoes. 

With the new COVID-19 variants, we are now seeing increased transmissibility. So we’ve put together a handy guide on how infectious diseases are spread, and how transmission levels can be controlled during an outbreak. 

What is an infectious disease?

An infectious disease is caused by pathogenic microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites. These microorganisms carry diseases and can be transmitted by direct contact, coming in contact with airborne particles or contaminated surfaces and food and insect bites. 

The transmission of the organism allows the new host’s body to become infected with one of these pathogens; this is how infection occurs within a human being’s system.

Some common infectious diseases include:

  • Coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • Common Cold
  • Bird Flu
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)
  • Influenza
  • Measles
  • Malaria
  • Tuberculosis
  • Ebola
  • Hepatitis A, B and C
  • Polio (Poliomyelitis)
  • Dengue
  • Yellow Fever
  • Smallpox
  • Whooping Cough (Pertussis)
  • Tetanus

What are the ways infectious diseases are transmitted and spread?

An infectious disease, such as COVID-19, can spread because they are communicable diseases. Once they incubate in the initial host, they can be passed from person to person. 

This is how an infectious disease differs from a non-infectious disease, which is not communicable, meaning it can’t spread from person to person. Examples of non-infectious disease include cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Infectious diseases can spread in the following ways:

Direct contact

One of the most common ways infectious diseases can be spread is through direct contact with an infected human or animal, or their bodily fluids. 

Person-to-person transmission

Humans are social creatures, and behaviours such as hugging, hand shaking and kissing can transmit an infectious disease. But while many infectious diseases are spread through direct physical contact, you don’t necessarily need to be touched by an infected person for transmission to occur. 

Spending an extended period of time around an infectious individual, such as a colleague or family member, can also cause indirect transmission via surfaces they touch, or droplets left in the air. 

Mother to an unborn child

A pregnant woman can pass on germs that can give her baby an infectious disease while still in the womb or during childbirth. Some infectious diseases that can be transmitted to a baby during gestation include hepatitis, syphilis, herpes, and HIV.

Animal to person transmission

Diseases that spread from an animal or insect to a human are known as zoonosis or zoonotic disease. Often these diseases don’t make the animal ill. The animal will serve as a host until transmission occurs to a human, whose immune system isn’t capable of defending against the disease. 

Zoonotic diseases can range in severity from some minor short-term illnesses to major life-altering illnesses.

Examples of zoonotic diseases include: 

  • Animal flu
  • Anthrax
  • Bird flu
  • Bovine tuberculosis
  • Brucellosis

Airborne transmission

Coughing, sneezing and even talking can send droplets containing small particles of the disease into the air. If a non-infected person breathes in these particles, they may get sick too!

Contaminated surfaces

Surfaces can be contaminated with droplets from coughs or sneezes and can infect a person when they touch the surface with their hands. If they don’t wash their hands before touching their face, the disease could enter their body.

Vector-borne diseases

When we think of insect bites that cause disease, we often conjure images of mosquitos, but they are just one of many insects, also known as vectors, that spread disease.

A vector is a living organism with the ability to transmit infectious pathogens between humans, or from animals to humans. Common vectors are bloodsucking insects, which ingest disease-producing microorganisms from an infected host (animal or human) and later transmit it to a new host.

Vector parasites include:

  • Mosquitos
  • Aquatic snails
  • Blackflies
  • Fleas
  • Lice
  • Sandflies
  • Ticks
  • Triatomine bugs

Vector-borne diseases account for more than 17% of all infectious diseases and account for more than 700,000 deaths annually around the world. Common vector-borne diseases include Yellow Fever, Zika, Lyme disease and Chagas disease.

Contaminated food

Infectious diseases can also spread through contaminated food and water. The usual culprit is the bacteria E. coli, which is often transmitted through the improper handling of produce or undercooked meat.

Improperly canned food can also create the perfect environment for producing Clostridium botulinum, toxic spores that when ingested attacks the body’s nervous system leading to difficulty breathing, muscle paralysis, and even death.

Is it possible to manage the spread of infectious diseases?

Governments around the world have worked to manage and reduce the spread of infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, by implementing practices and restrictions for the safety of the community. These include:

Lockdown measures

Many countries have used lockdown measures as a means to reduce and prevent the spread of COVID-19, but this measure isn’t a new one. State-induced lockdowns can be traced back to the 14th century as a response to limiting the spread of the Black Death plague in Europe. 

The city of Athens is also known to have closed the port of Piraeus and sealed its population inside the city walls during the Peloponnesian War with Sparta to prevent plague from spreading across its Aegean network. 

Infectious diseases thrive on proximity. reducing the opportunities for groups of people to congregate, or travel, helps reduce the rate of transmission.

Physical distancing

One of the best ways to slow the spread of viruses is physical distancing. The more space between you and others, the harder it becomes for a virus to spread. 

The Australian Health Department has outlined several ways you can implement physical distancing and these include:

  • Keeping 1.5 metres away from others wherever possible
  • Avoiding physical greetings such as handshaking, hugs and kisses
  • Practising extra care if you are using public transport
  • Avoiding crowds and large public gatherings

Maintaining good hygiene

Hygiene practices reduce the risk of transmission by killing the germs and microbes that carry diseases. Soaps, sanitisers and other hygiene products contain ingredients and chemicals that are harmless to humans but kill these microorganisms. 

However, there is no guarantee it will work against every infection so be sure to maintain good personal hygiene habits as part of your daily life.

How you can help prevent and manage the spread of infectious diseases

The lives of children and families in Papua New Guinea are at risk because of a catastrophic surge in COVID-19 cases since mid-February 2021. People are becoming extremely ill with COVID-19 and many have already lost their lives to the disease. But the lives of children and families who can no longer access essential health services are also in danger.

You can help resupply health clinics and improve access to medical services by making a tax-deductible donation. Your gift will support the COVID-19 response in Papua New Guinea and help vulnerable families make it through the COVID-19 pandemic.