In collaboration with nib Group CMO Dr Mellissa Naidoo
There’s so much information about the COVID-19 vaccine circulating that, at times, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction, especially with some false information spreading quickly and widely on social media. So, with the help of nib Group Health & Chief Medical Officer Dr Mellissa Naidoo, we’re debunking some of the biggest COVID-19 vaccine myths.
Myth 1: The COVID-19 vaccine can give you COVID-19
Fact: COVID-19 vaccines do not contain the live virus or even the whole virus that causes COVID-19, so no, they can’t give you COVID-19.
Most vaccines use a component of the coronavirus (usually the spike protein) to trigger an immune response in your body so that you start to produce immune cells and antibodies against the virus.
You may experience some minor side effects, such as a mild fever or fatigue as part of this immune response, but these aren’t signs that you have developed the disease as a result of receiving the vaccination.
Myth 2: The COVID-19 vaccines were developed quickly, so they are not safe
Fact: COVID-19 vaccines may have been developed in record-breaking time, but there have been no short-cuts in safety assessments.
Any vaccine approved for use in New Zealand has to go through the normal rigorous safety checks conducted by Medsafe, the country’s medical regulatory body.
Every vaccine is evaluated for its safety and effectiveness. Medsafe reviews the results of vaccine trials, and is in regular communication with pharmaceutical companies to keep up to date with the latest COVID-19 vaccines in development.
The Ministry of Health and Medsafe websites have detailed information on how vaccines are tested and approved in New Zealand.
“It can be confusing to know which information sources are trustworthy, so it’s best to stick to official public health websites to ensure you are accessing the most reliable, verified and up to date information,” Dr Naidoo says.
“If members do have any concerns, we encourage them to talk these through with their GP or trusted health professional. They can help separate fact from fiction and provide further information specific to their circumstances.”
Myth 3: The vaccines have serious and dangerous side effects
Fact: So far, serious side effects, such as severe allergic reactions, have been extremely rare with the Pfizer/BioNTech variant – currently the only approved New Zealand COVID-19 vaccine.
If you’ve had a severe or immediate reaction to any vaccine or injection previously, it’s important to discuss this with your vaccinator beforehand. You will also have to remain at the place of vaccination afterwards for at least 30 minutes – just as a precaution, to ensure you aren’t experiencing any allergic or adverse reactions.
Mild side effects are common after any vaccine shot and it’s no different with COVID-19 vaccines. Some common (but short-term) side effects of the vaccines include pain/swelling at the injection site, fever, muscle aches, fatigue and headache. These are signs that the vaccine is working to stimulate your immune system.
Myth 4: Once you have had your vaccine shots, you no longer need to take COVID-19 precautions
Fact: The COVID-19 vaccines are only one part of New Zealand's overall strategy to get back to a new normal.
We will still need to continue with physical distancing, regular hand washing, tracing or recording where you’ve been, and (in some situations) mask wearing.
Myth 5: The flu shot will protect me from COVID-19
Fact: Immunisation against influenza will not protect you against COVID-19.
If a person was to get infected with both the flu and COVID-19 it could be serious, so make sure you still get your annual flu vaccination.
“During this pandemic, you want to remain as fit and healthy as possible and vaccination is an important preventative tool,” she advises.
“In addition to getting vaccinated, adhering to simple and effective measures such as good hand and respiratory hygiene, physical distancing and isolating when unwell, is just as important to protect ourselves and our community from transmission of infectious disease.”
Just remember, there should be at least a 14-day gap between your flu jab and any of your COVID-19 shots.
Myth 6: The COVID-19 vaccines will modify my DNA
Fact: None of the COVID-19 vaccines will modify your DNA.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is a messenger RNA vaccine (also called mRNA). The mRNA from the vaccine doesn’t enter the nucleus of our cells – where our DNA is kept. The mRNA is expressed for a short time and then our cells degrade it, so there is no way that the vaccine can modify your DNA.
Myth 7: I’ve already had COVID-19 so I don’t need to get the vaccine
Fact: It’s not known how strong natural immunity is after a person has had the COVID-19 infection and how long it lasts. It varies from person to person.
“There are severe health risks associated with COVID-19 and members who have had COVID-19 should still get vaccinated to help protect them against the possibility of re-infection,” says Dr Naidoo.
When it comes to new variants of COVID-19, previous infection may not provide any protection. This is happening in South Africa, where people have been re-infected with a new variant that has become the dominant form of the virus there.
If you're one of the very few Kiwis who have already had COVID-19, your natural immunity may not be enough to protect you from getting COVID-19 again.
As Dr Naidoo points out, “Vaccination is still beneficial even if you’ve had COVID-19, as the vaccine effectively tops up immunity and could protect you for longer against re-infection.”
To find out the latest on the COVID-19 vaccines and their rollout from the most reliable source, visit The Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 vaccines website.
Please note: The information throughout this article was prepared on 13 April 2021 and it should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.
About Dr Mellissa Naidoo
Dr Mellissa Naidoo is Group Executive Health & Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for nib. She is a specialist in Medical Leadership and Healthcare Management, with over 18 years’ experience working as a doctor in clinical, medical education and health executive roles in public and private hospitals.
Mellissa is passionate about the future of health and the role clinical innovation and digital technology will play in access to care and better health outcomes for everyone. She is actively involved in training the next generation of medical leaders and an Adjunct Associate Professor with the University of Queensland and Bond University Medical Schools.