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Microchips and mandatory shots: Don't fall for these coronavirus vaccine myths

Fears about the coronavirus vaccine abound, but most of them aren't valid.

covid-19 vaccine being filled into a syringe
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For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

As the development of the COVID-19 vaccine continues, people continue to voice concerns about the fast-tracked injection. The vaccine is the answer to controlling the pandemic and getting life back to something that resembles "normal," but it's stirred up myths and fears, from the idea that it will include a microchip that allows the government to track you to worries over mandatory vaccination orders. 

We asked medical and health experts about eight common concerns surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine -- here's what they have to say. 

Read more: Coronavirus vaccine: Pfizer, Moderna and how many vaccine doses are coming in 2020

1. The COVID-19 vaccine will give you COVID-19

No, the vaccine will not give you the disease, says Dr. Thomas J. Duszynski, the director of epidemiology education at Indiana University. It's just like the flu vaccine can't give you the flu. And you can't get HPV from the HPV vaccine, and so on. However, because of the way vaccines work, people might have a false perception that a vaccine can give them the virus it's supposed to protect against, Dr. Dusznynksi says. 

"Some people may believe that as soon as you are vaccinated you are protected from the disease and that is not correct. When you get vaccinated, we have to wait for something called sero-conversion," he explains. During sero-conversion, your body recognizes the vaccine contents as an invader and begins to ramp up its attack on the invader.

This eventually leads to the development of antibodies that protect you from the virus. This process can take several weeks, so if you get the COVID-19 vaccine and shortly thereafter are exposed to the virus, you could still develop the illness -- leading to the perception that you got the disease from the vaccination, which is incorrect, Dr. Dusznynksi says.

2. The COVID-19 vaccine will be mandatory for everyone, no exceptions

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This is false. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has already stated that mandatory vaccination would be "unenforceable and not appropriate." 

However, Dr. Robert Quigley, senior vice president and global medical director of International SOS, a health risk mitigation firm, says that local governments may exercise their right to enforce vaccination

"In previous times of public health crises, you'll find that states have exercised their legal authority to introduce a vaccine mandate that requires people who live in that state to get vaccinated," he says. "So yes, once a COVID-19 vaccine is available, your local government can require that those who live in the state be vaccinated, but it will not become a national mandate." States that do this may punish noncompliance with a monetary fine.

Individual employers, schools and school districts, sports teams and other institutions may require mandatory vaccination for people to attend or involve themselves.

3. The COVID-19 vaccine will be forcefully administered by the military

While the military does have a role to play in the COVID-19 pandemic and disaster response, the Department of Defense has made it clear that it is a "logistics-only" role

"The COVID-19 vaccine will not be forcefully administered by the military against anyone's will," Dr. Quigley says. "The DoD will have a role in assisting with distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines, and distribution only." This means the military will help source, acquire and deliver items like needles, syringes, swabs and other items needed to safely and effectively develop and administer vaccines. 

4. It's impossible to make an effective vaccine in just one year

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It's normal and valid to worry about the speed at which the development of COVID-19 vaccines are progressing. However, just because the vaccine has been fast-tracked doesn't mean it won't work. 

"Vaccine making typically takes several years," Dr. Roshni Mathew, pediatric infectious diseases physician and the associate medical director for infection prevention and control at Stanford Children's Health, says. 

"In the case of COVID-19 vaccines, several steps that typically occur in sequence, occurred in parallel. The safety and efficacy safeguards, however, are all still in place and vaccines will not be approved for civilian use till they meet all the required standards," says Mathew.

5. The COVID-19 vaccine is a microchip so the government can track you

No. The COVID-19 vaccine will not contain any sort of microchip or tracking device implemented by the government. The COVID-19 vaccine is about preventing more cases, hospital stays and deaths. 

The vaccine syringes will likely contain something called an RFID microchip from medical solutions company ApiJect Systems America, which will allow public health agencies to collect information about when and where the vaccine was administered, but that microchip wouldn't be injected into your body. 

Plus, if the government wanted to track you, they could just use your social security number, your Facebook data, your cellphone usage, your home video security system or your mortgage loan information.

6. The COVID-19 vaccine will make you more susceptible to other illnesses

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Vaccines historically do not result in immune suppression that leaves people susceptible to various diseases, Dr. Quigley says. "The infection itself may suppress the immune system of the host and negatively impact the host's ability to stimulate antibody production," he explains. "The vaccines, on the other hand, should be able to boost adaptive immunity," which refers to immunity acquired after exposure to a pathogen like the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Additionally, the COVID-19 vaccines in development in the US do not contain live viruses that could make you sick, Dr. Mathew says. "The vaccines simply cause the body to recognize the virus protein so the body's immune system can develop a response to it."

7. The vaccine is a bigger risk than contracting the illness; we should let the virus run its course naturally

Definitely not, says Dr. Tom Kenyon, a former CDC director and Project HOPE's chief health officer. "COVID-19 is on track to become the leading infectious disease killer in the world in 2020, exceeding the annual number of deaths from HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria," he says. "This is staggering." 

Allowing the virus to "run its course," as advocates of herd immunity say, will require hundreds of millions of cases -- just in the US. 

"It will take time, but to bring this pandemic to an end will require us all to unite and be vaccinated, as well as continue to follow recommendations from the scientists to wear a mask, keep a safe distance from others and to wash our hands," Dr. Kenyon says. 

8. The COVID-19 vaccine will completely stop the pandemic

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Dr. Quigley puts it plainly: "This is not true." While a vaccine is the best way to prevent more people from contracting COVID-19, reduce hospital stays and minimize COVID-19 deaths, it's naive to think the production of a vaccine will automatically end the pandemic, he says. 

"Vaccines seek to create a world where we can return to our daily lives through immunity," Dr. Quigley says, but several challenges come with vaccines -- such as encouraging the public to actually get vaccinated. 

Plus, even if the entire population were to agree to vaccination, it's not as if every single person could get vaccinated simultaneously. "The vaccine is one strategy to reduce the risk of transmission and acquisition of infection," Dr. Mathew says. "Since the vaccine is not 100% efficacious, all the other measures [such as mask-wearing] would need to be in place till a substantial number of people are vaccinated."

Editor's note, Dec. 7 2020: This story has been updated to clarify that in order to reach herd immunity of the coronavirus in the US, we would need to have hundreds of millions of cases, not deaths.  

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.