If We Want To Put The Pandemic Behind Us, We’ll Have To Crack Down On Vaccine Disinformation

When your job is teaching innovation and you have a background in biology, having to listen to the nonsense currently being trotted out by vaccine denialists can feel like déjà vu all over again, as you once more have to patiently unpick the same old myths, fallacies and unfounded fears.

As a result of a recent article on vaccine denialism in the Spanish press, I have come into contact with many of the arguments that at the time, even before Covid-19 vaccines were available, were being spread by groups like QAnon and others, along with bogus “documentaries” peddling insane conspiracy hypotheses that went so far as to deny even the pandemic itself.

Starting with disinformation campaigns that can be traced to a few hundred users associated with the previous US president and the loony fringe of the Republican Party, a vast conglomerate of hypotheses with no scientific basis, along with an ignorance of how the immune system or protein synthesis works, to instill doubts about the use of messenger RNA to generate an immune response, and that will be key to public health at all levels for the future. Raising doubts about COVID-19 vaccines is irresponsible, and to continue doing so in the years to come will be suicidal, because it will mean refusing treatment for conditions ranging from malaria to cancer.

Facebook, which supposedly has a policy against disinformation about vaccines, but allows campaigns aimed at denialists, has just launched an initiative to remove images related to the subject, while Twitter and YouTube also remove such content.

Doubting the efficacy of vaccines makes no sense in the light of the vaccination campaign figures, which verify their efficacy, but let’s look at the unbearable lightness of the arguments used by the denialists:

  • “Vaccines contain microchips”: a ridiculous idea that withstands no scrutiny, and that typically portrays Bill Gates as the head of a global conspiracy to control us. There is no technology capable of creating these hypothetical microchips, and even if there were, it’s not possible to pass a microchip through a needle, and nor could it be used in any minimally practical way for anything. In short, with the current state of man-made technology, it is either completely experimental and not yet fully developed, or completely impossible.
  • “Vaccines will alter my immune system”: repeated by some as a mantra, this charge reveals a profound ignorance of how the immune system works. Today’s vaccines do exactly the same thing that vaccines have been doing for many centuries (the first date back to the practice of variolation in China between the 10th and 15th centuries). A vaccine provokes exactly the same response prompted by the introduction of any pathogen into the body: it prepares the immune system to fight it. It’s not any kind of “alteration”, it’s precisely what your immune system is supposed to do.
  • “The vaccine will alter my DNA”: again, this shows a failure to understand even the most basic principles of how protein synthesis works. Messenger RNA is not processed in the cell nucleus, but in ribosomes, outside the nuclear membrane. There is, therefore, no physical connection, not even contact between your DNA, which is in your chromosomes, in the nucleus of your cells, and the messenger RNA you are injected with, which simply crosses the cell membrane (never the nuclear membrane) and is processed outside the nucleus.
  • “Vaccines produce foreign proteins”: we are stuffed with proteins. “Foreign” proteins would be any that do not come from your body, for example, any protein that you ingest or that enters your body. If you eat a T-bone steak, it is full of foreign proteins, because you did not produce them, a cow did. The proteins whose synthesis is induced by the vaccine, on the other hand, have been produced by yourself. They are not “foreign”. You have simply been injected with the “instructions” (the nucleotide sequence) to make them. But they are made by you, and they are anything but “foreign.”
  • “Vaccines are an experiment”: no they’re not. The different Covid vaccines have been developed quickly because we’re talking about saving millions of lives, but no shortcuts of any kind been made during their approval process, which is very rigorous and involves several clinical trials. The fact that they have been approved by means of an urgent procedure only means that administrative processes have been shortened. To posit that there is a risk arising from this is absurd.
  • “Vaccines will have long-term effects”: yeah, right. And high-speed trains dislodge our internal organs, WiFi and 5G (and before that 4G, 3G, 2G or simply, mobile telephony) cause cancer, and who knows how many other myths. You have to be an idiot to deny any discovery or development of science on the grounds that “it will cause long-term effects that we cannot yet prove”. As a fallacy, it’s perfect: if after 20 years nothing happens, the doomster can simply say, “wait a few more years”. With that mentality, we would still be living in caves.
  • “Vaccines have side effects”: everything has side effects, and particularly drugs. Most of the drugs you take on a regular basis, from painkillers to birth control pills, have side effects, in many cases with a higher frequency than the Covid vaccines. Those who argue that vaccines have a lot of side effects probably never read the package inserts for any commonly prescribed drug. 
  • “The vaccine will cause infertility”: another falsehood completely lacking any scientific basis. The placental protein that some claim is “very similar” to that of the coronavirus spicule has been repeatedly tested and it’s been shown that any similarity was never sufficient to generate an immune response. No reactivity to placental proteins has ever been demonstrated.
  • “Vaccines contain cells from abortions”: no, they don’t. In some cases, cells from lines obtained from voluntary abortions were used not in vaccines, but to evaluate their efficiency (this is routinely done to test drugs), and the Catholic Church itself has said in a note and even in a video that this is not a problem and does not justify any moral objection.

In short, let’s put a stop to the nonsense, myths and fake science. All technological advances down the years have prompted skepticism and fears that have slowed down their adoption among some groups. If the advance in question is helping us defeat a global pandemic, opposition to it becomes a very serious public health problem, which must be tackled as soon as possible using all the necessary methods, because the potential damage is extremely serious.

This leads us, therefore, to the urgent need for procedures to isolate such attitudes and those who defend them: we need passports that allow us to identify, simply and unequivocally, those who unjustifiably refuse to be vaccinated, in order to exclude them from any activity likely to generate a risk of contagion. Leaving something so important to good faith is not only absurd (in the case of people who have demonstrated, moreover, their lack of responsibility and social conscience), but also dangerous. Apps or digital documents that can be reliably verified for any activity, be it traveling or entering a bar, is essential if we really want to put the pandemic behind us. The sooner we put an end to misinformation and denialism, the better for everyone.

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