WESTERN BALKANS – The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed the lives of all of us and in the last year, it has made almost irreversible changes in our daily lives. Just when humanity had almost lost hope, several types of vaccines appeared that seemed like a light at the end of the tunnel. But at the same time, a huge number of conspiracy theories, pseudo-scientific attitudes and anti-vaccination movements have emerged, seeking to discourage citizens from getting vaccinated.
Jelena Kalinić, a scientific journalist and author of the Quantum of Science blog, tries to break down all prejudices about vaccines and offer scientific evidence on the importance and justification of vaccination in a scientific and public-friendly way. We asked her to share some of her experiences with us.
What are the three most common misconceptions you notice about vaccination against COVID-19 and where do we most often see them: in the media, on social networks, in conversations of ordinary people or …?
Of course, there are many more than three misconceptions, but these are the ones that are constantly circulating the internet, in comments on social media networks and conversations of ordinary people:
- Vaccines are made too fast, they are not tested enough: They are made relatively quickly, but thanks to superhuman efforts and the pooling of large amounts of human, scientific and financial resources. If we could develop other vaccines like that, they would see the light of day faster. Yes, we know that they are safe, because they were first tested on animals and if something went wrong, they would never enter clinical trials and those on humans. The only question is how effective they are and how long the immunity gained by vaccinating with these vaccines lasts. We have pretty good data on efficacy, they are likely to change, but not so drastically compared to the studies.
- Vaccines, those based on RNA technologies like Moderna and Pfizer will change our genetic code, our DNA: No, this is not possible, because for that to happen, there must be a very special enzyme that can prescribe to “insert” that RNA into our DNA. This is not possible with these vaccines.
- Why should I get vaccinated if I am still going to have to wear a mask and maintain a physical distance?: Yes, that is true, and we will need these measures, masks and distance for some time in the future. But the sooner as many people as possible are vaccinated, the sooner we will be able to leave these measures behind and possibly use them only in some special situations, say at airports.
And there are also misconceptions that vaccines have not been tested on animals, so we are “guinea pigs”, that chips can be implanted through vaccines, that COVID-19 can be obtained from the vaccine – none of this has any basis in science.
Why do people believe in pseudoscience and conspiracy theories when it comes to vaccination against COVID-19 and how can we fight it?
Because the repeated lie becomes the truth, because they are overwhelmed by this advice on the internet, especially social media networks, but there are also official media that spread such misinformation. Because it is deep in our psyche to be alarmed by everything that smells of danger – it is the basic instinct of survival and then, galvanized by emotions of fear, panic and even hatred, those strongest emotions, we believe these things, instead of weighing, checking facts, consulting and we do not react to the first. So we have to teach ourselves to avoid suspicious content, to recognize when it comes to manipulation, to infer logically rather than emotionally, and not reacting too fast. Otherwise, it’s harder than we think.
What would you say to a young person from our region why they should get vaccinated and which vaccine is the best, is it, as some doctors say, the one we can get first?
Young people, provided they are older than 18, will be able to receive these vaccines. At least that’s how it is with Pfizer’s, while Moderna’s vaccine has a lower limit of 16 years. For others, we don’t know the age restrictions yet. But while young people will be able to receive these vaccines, the question is when is it going to be their turn. But, whenever they come, let them be vaccinated. Because the more of us are vaccinated, the sooner we will tame the pandemic, and prevent a rapid and uncontrolled mutation of the virus. And yes, that means we will be able to travel sooner, go to concerts, to cafes, and I know how much that would mean to young people. These are experiences of growing up and I know that young people need them. But even this extraordinary situation is an experience of growing up and I hope that young people will draw some conclusions and remember these times, which are difficult, but they offered us a lot to learn.
As for which vaccine, well, if a small number of people are vaccinated with a super effective vaccine, it will not have much of an effect on suppressing the pandemic. If many people are vaccinated with even a less effective vaccine, it could have effects. Then after a while, maybe someone can be vaccinated with some super-effective vaccine. We will not be able to choose and vote a lot now, let’s get vaccinated with the vaccines that are going to be available to us. We will see what our health institutions tell us and which vaccines they accept.
Author: Marija Ćosić
This story was produced during the three-month Program for Students of Journalism in the Western Balkans within the framework of the advocacy project “A Better Region Starts with Youth” implemented by RYCO with the support of the Federal Republic of Germany. All journalists’ work is their own and the content of any given article does not represent the opinion of RYCO, and RYCO cannot guarantee the validity and the accuracy of the information that these stories contain.