COVID-19 vaccination: NZ GPs plead with public not to take medical advice from social media influencers

The medical director of the Royal NZ College of General Practitioners has come out swinging against false vaccine claims from social media influencers, saying just as he wouldn't "attempt to advise you on nail art, contouring or activewear, you shouldn't be taking advice on COVID-19 from someone who isn't medically trained". 

In a statement today medical director Dr Bryan Betty said he's urging the public to think more carefully about where and who they are getting their COVID-19 information from, especially when it comes to vaccination. 

"While patients have every right to, and should, ask questions about side-effects and interactions with medication, GPs across New Zealand have reported an increase in the number of patients coming to them with vaccine hesitancy because of what they've read online," he said. 

"Doctors, such as specialist GPs, have had many years of training and understand how medications work, and their effects. Ask us your questions, not the influencer you follow on Instagram or TikTok."

Dr Betty's comments follow a Newshub report revealing many young Kiwi women in particular are displaying signs of vaccine hesitancy thanks to misinformation in wellness spaces concerning fertility and health. 

Dr Betty says the sheer amount of misinformation online is "staggering". 

"The people who are propagating these myths are actually causing more anxiety and harm. Misinformation is undermining the vaccination rollout," he said. 

"It is easy to look at something like microchipping and say it is in the realm of conspiracy theories, however unsubstantiated rumour such as the vaccine causing infertility, which has no basis whatsoever, is in the realm of pseudoscience and more difficult to counter.

"We need vaccination rates to be as high as possible to protect us if there is another outbreak because we have seen just how fast Delta can spread in the community. 

"If we want to get back to some type of new normal, high levels of vaccination will help us get there."

The College of GPs has put together a list busting some of the most common myths circulating around the COVID-19 vaccination: 

Myth: The vaccine causes infertility
Fact: There is data showing no difference in the fertility rate among vaccinated and unvaccinated people. This myth seems to stem from a misreading of a study where rats were given 1333 times the vaccine dose, and a study claiming there is a similarity between the viral spike protein and a protein in placentas.

Myth: The vaccine makes you magnetic
Fact: There are no metallic ingredients in the vaccine and it cannot cause you to become magnetic.

Myth: The vaccine is a microchip 
Fact: None of the COVID-19 vaccines in development contain software or microchips and cannot be used to track you.

Myth: The vaccine rollout is a cover to collect our DNA 
Fact: When you receive the vaccine, nothing is taken away from your body.

Myth: The vaccine can alter your cellular DNA 
Fact: The vaccine uses a fragment of mRNA (messenger RNA), which instructs your body to make an immune response against COVID-19. The mRNA does not do anything to your body or alter your DNA.

Myth: The vaccine causes cancer 
Fact: No, to cause cancer, a vaccine would need to interfere with the DNA - in particular the genes that control your cell division. There is nothing in the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination that can do this.

Myth: The vaccines are still experimental 
Fact: There is a misconception that because the trial end date is in 2023 that the vaccine is still "experimental". The endpoint is in 2023 so clinical trial participants (who are a valuable source of data) can be followed up for as long as possible - which is common practice in clinical trials. To date, millions of doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been administered, and it is one of the most tracked vaccines in history.

Myth: Vaccine related hospitalisations and deaths are being covered up 
Fact: On any given day, even before COVID-19, many people get admitted to hospital for all sorts of reasons. Hospitalisations and deaths will also occur in the days following vaccination, again for all sorts of reasons. In order to figure out if the vaccine had a role in this hospitalisation or death, there are rigorous methods in place that assess the causality.