False narrative that vaccines cause long COVID takes off

Old false narratives have re-emerged in recent weeks as vaccine opponents raise objections to vaccines of all kinds. Some policymakers are using fears about emerging mRNA technology to score political points, while anti-vaccine advocates attempt to undermine the safety of childhood vaccines that have been in use for decades. Meanwhile, the debunked myth that COVID-19 vaccines cause long COVID, or so-called “long vax,” is gaining increasing traction online.

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Trending narratives from the past month 

Anti-mRNA fearmongering ramps up online and in Congress

False and misleading claims about mRNA technology have increased over the last month. A U.S. congressperson misrepresented a study exploring the use of edible plants to produce mRNA vaccines more efficiently. Several trending posts claimed that a recent congressional spending bill allows mRNA vaccines to be added to food, although the bill makes no mention of mRNA. Vaccine opponents are also spreading false information about the annual flu shot “transforming” into an mRNA vaccine or “merging” with a COVID-19 vaccine and being administered without the public’s knowledge. Read the fact checks here and here.

Old anti-vaccine myths about childhood immunization resurface online

Several long-debunked myths about routine childhood vaccines are circulating online. A widely circulated clip highlights the alleged danger of the diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTP) vaccine. Some viral posts attempt to falsely link childhood vaccines to sudden infant death syndrome and autism, while others claim that unvaccinated children are healthier and less prone to chronic illness than vaccinated children. Amish children, in particular, were frequently and baselessly cited as proof of the benefits of vaccine refusal. Read the fact checks here and here.

Claim circulates that long COVID is actually “long vax”

The false claim that long COVID is actually “long vax,” or lasting COVID-19 vaccine side effects, is trending online. One controversial doctor insisted without evidence that 70 percent of the people he treats have “long vax, not long COVID.” Variations of the refrain “long COVID is code for vaccine injuries” trended on social media. Additionally, an unpublished study finding that long COVID symptoms are similar in prevalence and severity to the long-term side effects of other respiratory viruses, like the flu, was used by vaccine opponents as evidence that long COVID does not exist. Read the fact checks here.

What you might say in response

mRNA vaccines are safe. False narratives about mRNA vaccine safety are based on speculation and conspiracy theories. 

  • mRNA exists naturally in every living thing, including the plants and animals that humans eat. mRNA vaccines are safe and based on decades of research
  • There is no evidence of mRNA vaccines in the food supply. Variations of this myth have persisted for several years, and are debunked each time they resurface. 
  • Some early-stage research is exploring more cost-effective and practical ways to produce and deliver vaccines, including growing them in vegetables. If viable, such vaccines would not be in use for years and would never be without the public’s knowledge.
  • Several mRNA flu vaccines are currently in clinical trials, but none have been approved for use or are currently on the market. 

Decades of data support the safety of routine childhood vaccinations, which protect children against potentially deadly and debilitating diseases. 

  • As recent measles outbreaks show, declines in routine immunization are dangerous to those who are unvaccinated or under-vaccinated, including infants and those who can’t be safely vaccinated.
  • Decades of research support the safety of childhood vaccines and have consistently shown no link between any vaccine and chronic illness.
  • Vaccines have the highest testing and safety standards of almost any medical intervention. All vaccines undergo rigorous safety trials and are closely monitored by health authorities.
  • The Amish have been used as an anti-vaccine talking point for decades despite evidence showing that many Amish are vaccinated, albeit at lower rates than the general population, and that their lower immunization rates make them particularly vulnerable to vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks.

Long COVID is a real condition that affects millions of people. “Long vax” is an anti-vaccine talking point.

  • Reports of long COVID predate COVID-19 vaccine by nearly a year, and there is no evidence that the condition is a vaccine side effect. 
  • On the contrary, research over the last three years has consistently shown that COVID-19 vaccination reduces long COVID risk
  • Instances of lasting side effects following vaccination are exceptionally rare, making research into post-COVID-19 vaccination conditions limited. The largest studies to date on the potential phenomenon are small non-peer reviewed analyses.

What we’re reading

Studies and trainings

Interested in learning more about how to debunk false claims with patients? Check out the new Infodemiology Training Program. In videos that range from 5 to 10 minutes each, the program introduces health care providers to the basics of infodemiology and provides you with actionable skills to help improve patient care. Get started today.

Quick response media assets

Below, we've provided a social media asset in English and Spanish. Use these assets on social media to fight false claims and help provide your network with accurate information. Just right-click the asset, or press and hold on mobile, to download.

COVID-19 vaccines reduce the risk of long COVID

Proposed social copy:
Vaccine opponents are spreading the myth that COVID-19 vaccines cause long COVID. So, here are the facts. Long COVID cases were reported months before any COVID-19 vaccine had even entered a clinical trial. According to the CDC, over 6% of Americans have had or currently live with long COVID. Long-term symptoms after vaccination, also called post-vaccination syndrome, are exceptionally rare, and research on the topic is largely limited to small non-peer reviewed papers.

Las vacunas contra el COVID-19 reducen el riesgo de padecer COVID persistente

Publicación propuesta:
Los opositores a las vacunas difunden el mito de que las vacunas contra el COVID-19 causan COVID persistente. Pero el hecho es que los síntomas de COVID persistente fueron reportados meses antes de que cualquier vacuna contra el COVID-19 incluso entrara en la fase de pruebas clínicas. Según los CDC, más del 6% de los estadounidenses tuvieron o actualmente padecen COVID persistente. Los síntomas a largo plazo tras la vacunación, también conocidos como síndrome post-vac, son excepcionalmente raros, y la investigación al respecto se limita a pocos estudios pequeños no revisados por pares.

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