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    Correcting this week’s misinformation: week of February 1, 2024

    Are mRNA vaccines creating unusual genetic activity?

    The Claim:

    video showing two doctors discussing a recent study puts forth a number of claims about how some people might get Long COVID-like symptoms after getting a COVID-19 vaccine. They suggest that the vaccine’s spike protein might be unusual and stay in the body longer than expected and that the vaccine needs to be tailored to the individual.

    The Facts:

    The study this video refers to discusses a natural occurrence called a frameshift, where an error in reading the mRNA could result in an abbreviated protein, or a different protein altogether. The study acknowledges frameshifting is occurring, notes “there are no adverse outcomes reported from mistranslation of mRNA-based SARS-CoV-2 vaccines in humans,” and discusses how to reduce frameshifting in future vaccines.

    The video then looks at this article, with interviews from the paper’s authors, and dissects the language to attempt to question the current vaccine’s safety. Namely, it looks at the line “We need to ensure that mRNA vaccines of the future are as reliable” to try to imply that future vaccines will be safer than current ones.

    The video interprets this line as scientists trying to make future vaccines more slip-resistant so frameshifting is reduced. This endeavor, according to their scripts, means that current vaccines aren’t safe.

    Looking at the line within context results in a completely different interpretation. Research has shown beyond doubt that mRNA vaccination against COVID-19 is safe. Billions of doses of the Moderna and Pfizer mRNA vaccines have been safely delivered, saving lives worldwide. Still, scientists would like to reduce frameshifting in general, and if they do, ensure that vaccines are as reliable as they currently are.

    The video from the tweet also implies the question “If frameshifting is occurring, what is the result?” According to this paper, the answer is that this frameshifting primarily results in an abbreviated protein and not any new, harmful proteins and that the vast majority of the spike protein is translated faithfully.

    Lastly, the video asks “How much do we need to have to know before we consider it completely safe.” With billions of doses given worldwide, we have enough evidence to show that the vaccine is safe and effective.

    Should we promote other public health measures?

    The Claim:

    RFK Jr., as part of a monologue against the World Health Organization, asserts that nutrition, sanitation, clean water, and access to healthcare are more important than vaccination.

    The Facts:

    Sanitation is a huge component of public health. Over 2.2 billion people around the globe are sickened annually, with over 1.5 deaths, of which over 500,000 are in children under 5, from diarrheal disease, most of which could have been prevented with sanitation measures.

    According to the USDA, food insecurity is associated with chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Providing access to clean water, sanitary systems, and nutrition across the globe would be a major benefit to us all.

    But there are many diseases that nutrition, sanitation, and clean water cannot prevent. Two significant causes of death in children worldwide, rotavirus, a diarrheal disease, and pneumonia are both thought to be spread through the air. And both can be prevented or mitigated through vaccination. 30 million deaths from measles, also airborne, have been prevented in 20 years of immunization.

    It is not a matter of vaccines or nutrition and sanitation; vaccines are an integral part of public health, and together, all these interventions lead to a healthier population.

    Do boosters help if I've already had COVID?

    The Claim:

    Another video claims that getting a booster if you’ve already had COVID will not lower your risk of dying.

    The Facts:

    The video, looking at this study, concluded that a fourth dose of COVID vaccine will not reduce your chances of dying from COVID, but is missing several key factors.

    First off, the data doesn’t actually show what you might think. When we look at the risk of dying from COVID after getting a fourth vaccine dose, the odds are pretty much the same as not getting it (the risk ratio is close to 1, which indicates no real change). But with statistics, there’s always a bit of uncertainty. This uncertainty is represented by a 95% confidence interval, which in this case ranges from 0.7 to 2.2 for people who got four doses compared to three. This wide range means we can’t really say for sure what the actual risk is. Just because this range includes the number 1, it doesn’t mean there’s no difference between the groups; it just means this particular data doesn’t clearly tell us if the fourth dose is better, worse, or the same.

    Next, according to the paper, the authors started pulling data on October 1st. At that time, people who had received the fourth dose had received it anywhere from 19 days prior to 69 days prior. One problem with the data was that the updated bivalent booster wasn’t authorized or available until September 12, meaning that a number of people who had received a fourth dose had received a dose known to an older, less effective vaccine. If you’re trying to prove that the vaccine isn’t effective, it’s not fair to use information about an older vaccine that we know isn’t as good as the latest one available.

    Lastly, not many people in the study actually died, and the authors didn’t look at other health problems the participants might have had. The people who got four shots were on average 63 years old, and those who got three shots were around 44 years old. Since older people are at higher risk of dying, the study should have taken into consideration participant age and health.

    Meanwhile, there are other studies in other countries that demonstrate the effectiveness of a fourth dose.

    Disclaimer: Science is always evolving and our understanding of these topics may have evolved since it was originally posted. Browse the latest information posted in Just the Facts Topics.

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