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N4T Investigators: Online myths have some questioning the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine

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TUCSON (KVOA) - As the long-awaited vaccine for COVID-19 is being administered to healthcare workers and the most vulnerable, many myths are circulating online encouraging people not to take the vaccine. 

Many medical professionals are calling the speed these vaccines were developed at a miracle of modern medicine, but some people say the speed means it must have been rushed and unsafe. That’s just one of several myths shadowing this vaccine. 

2020 will come to an end with at least two COVID-19 vaccines approved by the FDA. Steve Dudley, Director of the Arizona Drug and Poison Information Center, said his office is receiving none-stop phone calls about the vaccine.  

“Literally hundreds a day,” Dudley said. 

He said some callers want to know when they can get the vaccine, but others are worried the vaccine is unsafe. 

“There’s a group that’s legitimately concerned about the lack of complete data we have presented with a new drug or vaccine before it hits the market," Dudley said. "There’s some questions. We just don’t have answers too then there’s a group that’s hearing misinformation and lies that’s being spread on the internet.” 

Misinformation like the vaccine will give you COVID-19 or will alter your DNA.   

“There have been tens of thousands of people in the studies who have received the vaccine," Dudley said. "We know the safety profile is very good. We expect those normal things pain at the injection site or discomfort.” 

Another myth is the vaccine will cause Bell’s Palsy, a form of paralysis in the face. While this did happen to a few people in the test studies, Dudley said the concern lacks context.  

“Out of the 18,000 patients in the Pfizer study, four patients got that reported," Dudley said. "One already got Bell’s Palsy before the vaccine so you look at the background rate how many Americans just have that it’s the same exact percentage.” 

He believes the people who should be wary of taking the vaccine are anyone with known allergies to the contents of the vaccine and “perhaps” pregnant women.  

“There is a lack of data," Dudley said. "We do have a little data that would suggest pregnant women should be able to get the vaccine and it doesn’t affect fertility but that’s going to be one of those safety monitoring parameters we are going to have to continue to follow.” 

Dr. Shannon Thorn is a physician with the Tucson Infectious Disease Consultants, he worries misinformation surrounding the vaccines could stop many people from taking it. 

“The only way out is through vaccination at this point," Thorn said. "We’ve been waiting months and months for this to happen and it’s almost a miracle the process that has gotten us to this point."

Though, there are doctors who disagree. Dr. Jane Orient is no stranger to controversy. She's the executive director of the Tucson-based Assocation of American Physicians and Surgeons. 

“I’ve been called a lot of bad names and had my picture in the New York Times because Chuck Schumer attacked me and called me anti-vax, that’s not true,” Orient said. 

She doesn’t consider herself anti-vax. However, as far as the COVID-19 vaccine is concerned, she believes it should be a decision one makes with their family doctor. She said she believes there’s legitimate reasons to not take the vaccine. 

“There is concern that there will be side effects. Will we find out about them, will they be all coincidental or will some be related to the vaccine? Maybe we should wait a while and see what happens," Orient said. "I think in every case you need to look at the individual patient what is the risk of the condition and what is the risk of the treatment." 

But Steve Dudley and Dr. Thorn say they are confident the vaccine is safe and the only option available right now is to try and repair the damage of 2020. 

 “The sooner we all get on board with the vaccine the sooner we get back to normal life,” Dr. Thorn said. 

The vaccine right now is only available to health care workers and the most vulnerable. But Steve Dudley and Dr. Thorn say they hope to see it made available to everyone soon. 

If you have a story you’d like us to look into email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line 520-955-4444.  

Chorus Nylander

Chorus Nylander is the Chief Investigative Reporter for News 4 Tucson. He is focused on giving the voiceless a voice and holding the powerful accountable.

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