Prevalent Covid myths are still spreading

As the omicron variant of Covid continues to spread in the United States, causing a record number of infections and hospitalizations, new coronavirus myths continue to bubble.

The variant has been the subject of constant scientific scrutiny since its first detection in South Africa in late November. Recent studies have revealed its strengths and weaknesses: It is four times more transmissible than the delta variant, it causes less severe physical symptoms than previous variants, and Covid boosters greatly increase your protection against it.

In total, the World Health Organization has collected data from more than 5,800 studies around Covid-19 around the world. But despite the data, pandemic lies are still circulating – and omicron seems to have given some new life to some of them.

CNBC Make It asked a trio of infectious disease experts about the biggest misconceptions about Covid they are hearing right now. Here’s what they said:

Myth: Vaccines don’t work because people who get vaccinated get omicron

It’s true that vaccinated people can get omicron: A two-dose regimen of Pfizer’s Covid vaccine only offers 22.5% protection against symptomatic omicron infection, according to an initial study performed in South Africa last month.

Most importantly, according to the study, getting the vaccine helps keep your symptoms mild if you get sick, lowering your risk of hospitalization or death. And if you add a booster, your protection against symptomatic infections increases dramatically to 75%, according to real-world data from the UK.

“The vaccine works, and this has been clearly demonstrated by the death rates and hospitalization rates when comparing people vaccinated to unvaccinated people,” says Dr Mark Sawyer, infectious disease specialist at Rady Children’s Hospital. who worked for the United States Food and Drug Administration. advisory committee that approved the Covid vaccines in 2020.

Not all states publicly track the immunization status of patients in hospitals, but those that support Sawyer’s claims.

According to data compiled by Time, unvaccinated people make up a significant percentage of Covid patients hospitalized in states like South Carolina, Montana and Mississippi. And recent data from New York state revealed that unvaccinated residents had a 13 times higher risk of hospitalization than vaccinated residents amid the state’s omicron surge in late December.

This is because vaccines cause your body to produce an arsenal of Covid-fighting immune cells that work together to fend off the virus. Antibodies, which help you avoid getting sick, are only the first line of defense: If you are infected, the vaccine-induced T cells target and destroy cells infected with the virus to alleviate your symptoms.

Dr David Hirschwerk, infectious disease specialist and medical director at North Shore University Hospital in Northwell Health, says he constantly reminds people that the “value of the vaccine” extends to reducing serious illness and hospital admissions.

“I hope we can continue to remember this fact,” he said.

Myth: Omicron infections are too mild to be dangerous

Dr Shaun Truelove, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said he had seen many descriptions of omicron as “super sweet” and “like flu and colds”.

While omicron’s physical symptoms can sometimes resemble the flu or a cold, it has a much higher rate of transmission. It is also more transmissible and better able to evade existing antibodies than previous variants of Covid.

In other words, says Truelove, the omicron is much more serious than the common cold or the flu. And that’s why hospitals across the country have gone into emergency mode in recent weeks, declaring they are at full capacity, he adds.

“Even though it’s the same gravity [of symptoms], this produces – in terms of numbers – a lot more hospitalizations and deaths, “he says.” I think people continue to miss this point. “

Additionally, omicron is still a form of Covid. If you catch it, even if your symptoms are mild, you are still allowing the virus to continue circulating – and the more Covid spreads, especially in unvaccinated populations, the more likely it is to potentially mutate into another dangerous variant. .

Myth: There are still many unknowns about the long-term safety of the Covid vaccine

It has been over a year since the first Covid vaccine was administered in the United States Since then, nearly 250 million people across the country have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Still, Sawyer says that a large portion of the country’s unvaccinated population is still concerned about “what we might not know about these vaccines,” especially in terms of long-term safety.

“We have administered hundreds of millions of doses of these vaccines, including to young children aged five to 11,” Sawyer said. “So if there was a mysterious side effect that was going to emerge, we would see it now and know it.”

Long-term side effects from vaccines are extremely rare. For example, J & J’s single-injection vaccine carries a very low risk of “thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome”, a serious blood clotting disorder. The mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna may increase the risk of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, in men under the age of 29, but these cases are often mild, usually resolving on their own.

For Sawyer, the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh its risks. About 63% of the U.S. population was fully immunized as of Friday, according to the CDC. Of those fully vaccinated, about 38% received a booster dose, which experts say is essential to protect against omicron.

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