SINCE the coronavirus pandemic started and the vaccination programme got underway, there have been dozens of myths and conspiracy theories circulating online.

Some of these claim that Covid is no more dangerous than a bad case of the flu; suggest that vaccines cause miscarriages and infertility, and even link the virus to the 5G mobile network, or an outlandish ‘microchipping’ scheme.  

Here are some of the debunked myths and conspiracy theories that have been shared throughout the pandemic – and the reasons why they are not true...

Myth: Covid is only as dangerous as a bad flu

The most effective way to compare Covid with seasonal flu is to look at the case fatality ratio (CFR) for both.   

This measures how many people with symptoms have died of a disease.   

The CFR of Covid in the UK is 2.1%, while the same figure for seasonal flu, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is 0.1%.  

So, Covid's fatality rate is 21 times higher than seasonal flu for people who have displayed symptoms – and the CDC also says it is more infectious.  

Myth: People who have had Covid do not need the vaccine

People who have been infected with Covid have some protection from the virus – but this protection starts to decline after six to eight months, whereas fully vaccinated people will have “good immunity” for a year or more, according to microbiologist Sabra Klein.    

For people who have already had Covid, one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine has been shown to give levels of immunity comparable to people who have not had Covid and have received two doses of a vaccine.

People who are fully vaccinated after having Covid have the highest level of immunity against the virus – meaning it is safer to be vaccinated, even if your body already has some immunity. 

Vaccines also work well against different variants of the virus, while people who had Covid but have not been jabbed may be more vulnerable to them.

Myth: Fully vaccinated people cannot get or transmit Covid

Vaccines are effective at protecting people from becoming severely ill from Covid, but they are only around 50-60% effective at preventing infection.

BBC journalist and presenter Andrew Marr believes that he caught the Delta variant of Covid during the G7 summit in Cornwall and, despite having two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, he felt “seriously ill”, with a high temperature, aching muscles, a headache and flu-like cold symptoms.

He did not experience breathing difficulties and went on to recover by the time his period of self-isolation ended.

Marr said: “You may think you have superpowers because you have been double vaccinated. And, yes, the vaccine seems it does protect very well against admission to hospital. But that doesn't mean you can't become infected.”

Fully vaccinated people are less likely to pass the virus onto others than non-vaccinated people, but studies of healthcare workers in India and Vietnam have shown that it can happen.

Somerset County Gazette:

Myth: Asymptomatic people cannot transmit Covid-19

Similarly, people with Covid who do not display symptoms are less infectious than people who do get symptoms, but they can still pass the virus on.

People who experience symptoms and feel ill are more likely to self-isolate than people who do not, meaning asymptomatic people may actually have a greater contribution to the spread of the virus. 

One study has estimated that transmission from asymptomatic people accounts for more than half of all Covid transmissions.

Myth: The vaccine causes miscarriages and affects female fertility

Full Fact, a charity that fights bad information by checking claims made by politicians, public institutions, journalists and viral online content, has said that there is no scientific reason for the vaccine to affect pregnancy.

Last week, the organisation referenced a new, not-yet peer reviewed study looking at 2,456 pregnant women who received an mRNA vaccine (such as Pfizer or Moderna) before they conceived or up to 20 weeks into their pregnancy.

It found that there was no increased chance of miscarriage.

Another study has found that the miscarriage rate amongst vaccinated people is in line with the rate expected in the general population.  

The NHS has said that there is “no evidence the COVID-19 vaccines have any effect on your chances of becoming pregnant”.

Myth: Lockdowns cause a rise in suicide and self-harm

Last year, a University of Manchester study compared suicide rates in pre- and post-lockdown months in several parts of England, concluding: “We have found no evidence of the large national rise in suicide post-lockdown that many feared.”

The study noted that “it is too soon to examine the full long-term impact of economic adversity on mental health and suicide” and did not rule out that some areas may have had higher figures. 

The University's findings were supported by studies carried out in Germany, Norway, the United States and Australia.

Myth: The vaccine was rushed and is not safe

Vaccinations go through clinical trials with rigorous safety processes to ensure that they are safe when they are distributed amongst the general population.

It is true that the Covid vaccines were produced at an accelerated pace – but Professor Andrew Pollard, head of the Oxford Vaccine Group, confirmed last July that the safety procedures were still in place.

The Oxford Vaccine Group completed the first two trial stages quickly, but this was partly because of previous work done on coronavirus vaccines in Oxford, giving the process a head-start, and because of unprecedented funding and huge interest in the trial – making it far easier than normal to find volunteers, saving time.  

41.9 million people in the United Kingdom - 62.9% of the population - have now been fully vaccinated.

Somerset County Gazette: Supermarkets made face masks mandatory. Photo: PA

Myth: Face masks do not offer any protection

Covid-19 is mainly spread through respiratory droplets that are released when people with the virus breathe, talk, cough, sneeze or sing. 

These droplets can then be inhaled by somebody else.

Face masks prevent up to 80% of these droplets escaping into the air and stop around 50% of them being inhaled, according to laboratory tests and studies.

Real-world examples can also be used as evidence to show that face coverings are effective.

In one example from Missouri, 139 people were exposed to two hairstylists who were displaying symptoms.

The stylists and the clients were all wearing face masks.

In the following days, health officials traced all 139 people and asked them to self-isolate for a fortnight. 

None of them reported feeling unwell in that time. 

67 of the clients consented to being tested and interviewed after being exposed to the symptomatic stylists  – and all of their tests came back negative.

Myth: Children will not become ill if they are infected

Children are at far less risk of becoming seriously ill from Covid than adults, but it is still a possibility.

Around one in 200 children with Covid are hospitalised, but most children who become ill with the virus recover in under a week

Headaches and tiredness are the most common symptoms seen in children and only a low number will experience prolonged illness. 

There is also anicdotal evidence that young people have been more seriously affected by the Delta variant, though no studies have yet been published to confirm.

Myth: The vaccine is being used to implant microchips

Some of the theories that have circulated are slightly more far-fetched. 

The head of the Russian Communist Party and a former advisor to President Donald Trump were among those who claimed that the vaccination programme is being used as a cover to implant microchips into people.

The conspiracy theory spread and started to revolve around Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

28% of 1,640 Americans who responded to a YouGov poll in May 2020 said they believed that Gates wanted to use a mass vaccination campaign to implant microchips into people to track them with a digital ID – which rose to 44% for Republicans.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation did fund a study into a technology that could store someone’s vaccine records in ink (like an invisible tattoo), although this technology has not been rolled out, would not lead to people being tracked, nor would it involve personal information being stored in a database.

This study was referenced in a widely-shared but debunked article, ‘Bill Gates will use microchip implants to fight coronavirus’.

Somerset County Gazette:

Myth: 5G causes Covid

5G networks use radio waves with a frequency at the lower end of the electromagnetic spectrum, which means they cannot cause damage to human cells or affect our immune systems.

This makes it clear that 5G, a superfast internet technology introduced in the UK in 2019, does not cause or transmit Covid-19.

This did not stop there being 90 reported attacks on telecommunications infrastructure in the UK by May 25, 2020, which were believed to be motivated by conspiracy theories linking the technology to the virus.

Comparing the global spread of Covid-19 with existing 5G infrastructure can also be used to disprove the link between the virus and 5G. 

As of April 2020, only 34 countries had 5G networks.

At the same time, 181 countries had confirmed coronavirus cases.