Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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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.

2021 is the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour. While we are making progress on this pervasive issue – child labour has decreased by 38% in the last decade – there are still many millions of children who are still undertaking work that is hazardous to their wellbeing.

Workers’ rights include protecting the rights of children to be free from economic exploitation, hazardous work, or work that interferes with their education.

When workers’ rights are not protected, the resulting low wages and economic conditions create a situation in which households must rely on additional income from children.

This puts children at risk of slavery, human trafficking, and sexual or economic exploitation – all of which cause grave harm to their development and well-being.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the exploitation of children.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly states children must be protected from economic exploitation and from any work that interferes with their education or development.

Yet, the International Labour Organization estimates that today there are 168 million children labourers.

For children in humanitarian settings, these issues intensify when there is an absence of strong and effective child protection systems and policies.

More than half of child labourers – 85 million children – are in hazardous work, and a majority are part of the informal economy.

Domestic work is the most common form of child labour for girls, with many working as housekeepers, nannies or caregivers. This puts them at high risk of violence in domestic settings, with little recourse to redress.

The members of the ChildFund Alliance support a holistic approach toward the elimination of child labour. This includes access to quality education, strong child and social protection systems and measures, and supply chain monitoring, as well as remediation mechanisms.

These should be accompanied by appropriate policies and measures and supported by sufficient government funding and civil society. Our specific recommendations include:

  • Governments should strengthen social protection mechanisms to enhance the family’s capacity to provide financial support and care to children;
  • Governments should create strategies to eliminate exploitative work assigned to vulnerable children;
  • Governments should ratify and domesticate ILO Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour and invest in raising awareness about laws protecting children from child labour;
  • Governments should create and enforce laws related to the protection of workers and define exploitative informal types of work;
  • Governments should adopt legislation combatting human rights abuses in global supply chains, including the use of child labour;
  • Governments should adopt legislation to criminalize trafficking in persons, in line with the definition used by the UN Protocol to Prevent and Punish the Trafficking in Persons; and
  • Governments should sign or ratify relevant conventions and their Optional Protocols. The failure to ratify and implement the provisions of these international standards into domestic laws can lead to violations of the rights of children as enshrined in the UNCRC.

Civil society plays a crucial role in addressing and eliminating child labour and harmful work.

We have seen children thrive when communities and civil society commit to protecting workers’ rights; when strong child protection systems are in place; when education is accessible, valued and safe; and when age-inappropriate work is prevented.

Change for children is possible, and we are committed to building a world in which child labour is eliminated for good.

About Meg Gardinier
Meg Gardinier is the Secretary General of ChildFund Alliance. She has over 25 years’ experience in the not-for-profit and international development sectors and has held leadership positions in a range of child rights organisations. In addition to NGO development, advocacy, fundraising, strategic leadership and volunteer management, Ms Gardinier has specialised in advocacy on issues impacting women and children. She is a founding member of the Campaign for US Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Ms Gardinier holds a Master’s Degree in International Political Economy and Development from Fordham University.