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In Fall 2020, WUSF began reporting on how distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine exposes inequities in Florida's health care system. Our stories focus on the voices of residents in communities of color and how Florida's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and vaccine distribution affects them.WUSF’s reporting on disparities in health care access is funded in part by the COVID-19 Response Initiative of Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation and Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

As COVID-19 Vaccine Myths Persist, USF Health Expert Shares The Facts

A vial of the Moderna vaccine on a table with vaccination cards.
Manatee County
Dr. Kevin Sneed, Dean of USF's College of Pharmacy, explains companies like Moderna were studying mRNA technology long before the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is no evidence to suggest COVID-19 vaccines cause death or infertility, according to Dr. Kevin Sneed. He clears up other vaccine misconceptions as well.

Florida is days away from expanding COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to adults of all ages and some teenagers. But months into rollout, there are still some hesitant to get shots.

Misinformation spread on social media and through word-of-mouth is partly to blame.

Health News Florida's Stephanie Colombini sifts through some popular vaccine myths with Dr. Kevin Sneed, dean of the University of South Florida's Taneja College of Pharmacy, to get the facts.

One common misconception about these vaccines, especially the Pfizer and Moderna ones which use this relatively new mRNA technology, is that they were rushed.

The whole notion that the vaccines were actually rushed is just not true. The messenger RNA technology has been studied around vaccines for at least an eight-year period, but probably more.

Number two, a lot of the research on that emanated away from cancer research and understanding cellular process a lot more. And so, you know, beginning back in 2013, Moderna as a company was already putting together the technology and a platform to be able to do this. And the whole idea, even back then, was to have a rapidly deployable vaccine should we have a pandemic.

So no, the whole idea that we walked into a kitchen and started cooking up a vaccine in April of 2020 is just not true.

Another thing we're seeing is that stories about people dying after getting a vaccine are getting tons of hits on the Internet.

And even though these are extremely rare cases, and authorities have not found the vaccines are connected to these deaths, health officials assure the shots are safe, that can still freak people out. How do you address that?

Well, at this current time, 145 million people across the country have gotten at least one vaccination in their arm. And we are not witnessing any increase in death rate above and beyond what was already expected from either normal cause or from COVID-19.

Dr. Kevin Sneed combats COVID-19 misinformation with facts.
University of South Florida
Dr. Kevin Sneed combats COVID-19 misinformation with facts.

Ten thousand people a day minimum die. And if you happen to have gotten a vaccine two weeks earlier, it doesn't mean that the vaccine caused that death.

So we have to help people understand the actual numbers, when you really compare over 145 million, soon to be 150 million people who have gotten at least one vaccine, the whole idea that the vaccinations are causing an increase in death is not real.

What are some of the other concerns you're hearing from people about these vaccines?

I keep hearing about [the COVID-19 vaccine causing] infertility in women. Well the actual fact of the matter is, during clinical trials, no pregnant woman that was known to be pregnant at the time was allowed to even get into a clinical trial. But dozens of women after entering the clinical trial became pregnant.

And the moment the company found out about them, they began to monitor those women very closely, I mean, extremely closely. And to date, no negative impact has been seen on a woman or the baby.

Are you hearing about any sort of process hesitancy, where it's not that people don't want the vaccine, but you know, they've heard, “Oh, it's going to take me five hours to get a shot, or it's really hard to get an appointment,” so they just don't want to seek one out right now?

You know, we heard a lot of that in the very beginning, especially in the African American and Latino communities. But presently, you have so many more avenues and methods to be able to get vaccinated, that should not be the issue anymore.

Click here to see how to register for a coronavirus vaccine in the greater Tampa Bay region.

We seem to see demand softening a bit even as the eligibility age is lowering. What would you say to young people who may feel like they don't need the vaccine because they're less likely to die from COVID-19?

Across the entire country, we have to get away from the whole discussion of whether you live or you die from COVID-19. What’s really unfolding right now, the untold story, is if you do become infected, the “longhauler” infection, or the long COVID-19 effects that people are having, is completely debilitating.

The whole idea that somehow either you come out just fine if you were affected, or you die, but the gap between the two is somewhere that people think that they can live, well trust me, most people don't want to be there.

But the number one thing I would also like to tell you is the highest transmission rate in America right now is between the age of 20 and 49 — and that was before spring break. So if people want to return back to normal, if they want to be able to do things, we need to get people vaccinated, we need to shut down the transmission.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.