Claim: COVID-19 vaccines were developed too quickly
Factcheck: False. COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are the result of decades of fundamental research by hundreds of scientists which allowed the vaccines to be put into production quickly.
By last spring the myth that COVID-19 vaccines were created too quickly or needed more research had become so pervasive that New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital uploaded a video created in-house to their Facebook page aptly entitled “Was the COVID#19 vaccine made too quickly?” Jemilat Siju, RN, the vice president and chief nursing officer for ambulatory care for the Mount Sinai Health System made a particularly compelling point, stating that when it came to creating COVID vaccines “all hands were on deck to find the solution, to find the answer. So, it wasn’t the typical, it’s in a queue and we’re waiting until we get to it. Everybody was focused on making this happen. So, it’s not so much that the process was rushed, but we dedicated all of our resources into making this happen within a reasonable amount of time.”
A common misinformation tactic around COVID-19 vaccines is to cast doubt on the speed of their development and therefore their safety. While many around the world hoped that a vaccine would be developed quickly, once multiple vaccines were indeed developed in record time many people were, and still are, concerned about the development process. A common false theme spread by disinformants that has taken hold in many communities of color centers around the incorrect idea that a vaccine developed so quickly cannot be safe.
While most people had not heard of mRNA––the technology behind the Pizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines––until 2020 when the first vaccines were being announced, scientists have been exploring its possible uses for the better part of two decades. According to researchers Norbert Pardi and his colleagues, “Vaccination with mRNA offers several advantages over other vaccine platforms….” This quote is not from last month or even 2020, but from a scholarly article entitled “Zika virus protection by a single low dose nucleoside modified mRNA vaccination” published on February 2, 2017, well before the COVID pandemic had begun.
The authors of the article relied on a plethora of research going back decades, which involves various diseases including Ebola, the flu, and rabies. Their assertion that mRNA vaccine research was occurring decades before the COVID mRNA vaccines is bolstered by Dr. Danielle C. Ompad, associate dean for education and associate professor at New York University’s School of Global Health.
In an interview with the AmNews, Dr. Ompad first explained how vaccines work, stating “there are different approaches to making a vaccine depending on the disease. Sometimes it’s the actual virus and they killed it. Sometimes it’s the actual virus and they weakened it. Sometimes it’s parts of the virus.” According to Ompad, the Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines are mRNA vaccines. “What people need to realize is that the technology for mRNA vaccines is not new. The COVID vaccine absolutely is new, but [researchers] have been working on this technology for more than 20 years.”
With respect to why it seems that this has happened so quickly, Ompad stated that “it is the confluence of decades of research on the possibility of MRNA vaccines with the pandemic. We have all these biologists and molecular biologists who basically put everything on hold to dedicate as much time as possible, different labs around the world all working simultaneously to leverage the existing technology for MRNA vaccines for the COVID vaccine.”
Fighting COVID misinformation
“The Black community online is awash in medical misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic. Even as Black people are disproportionately dying from the virus due to systemic racism, harmful inaccuracies about how to keep from contracting COVID-19, how to treat it, and where it comes from are metastasizing in Black online spaces, putting people at even greater risk.” This is the Executive Summary of the report “Canaries in the Coal Mine: COVID-19 Misinformation and the Black Communities” authored by Brandi Collins-Dexter, a visiting fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.
Collins-Dexter’s solution? “To stop the unchecked spread of COVID-19 and other medical disinformation in the Black community, tech companies must change their design to clamp down on violent rhetoric that drives up hate crimes and they must completely remove, not just label, debunked conspiratorial framing that compromises public health. They also have to provide trustworthy information for the Black community.”
Local community leaders are also stepping up to fight COVID misinformation and to provide New Yorkers with accurate information. National Congress of Negro Women (NCNW) Co-op City Section President Sheila Richburg was so concerned about COVID myths within the Black community, that she and her NCNW section held a webinar on the topic. Richburg told the AmNews “we had two medical professionals to talk about COVID and treatment and answer community questions regarding their concerns.” With regards to the specific myth that the vaccine was created to quickly, Richburg told AmNews that particular myth “was one of the major concerns and it probably still is but we tried to explain that it seemed like it was quickly manufactured but a lot of [obstacles] that would have delayed the vaccine were removed.”
Ultimately, when asked to respond to people who would say the vaccine was developed too quickly, Dr. Ompad of NYU replied: “It seems like it happened overnight. But honestly, mRNA vaccines as a possibility have been waiting in the wings for their moment. This was the right moment.”
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