A claim that the new and possibly more contagious variant of the novel coronavirus was caused because of the Pfizer vaccine being administered in the UK, has gone viral on the internet. This comes hours after the United Kingdom raised alarm about the new variant of the virus.
However, we found that the vaccine that was administered in the UK - Pfizer - is an mRNA vaccine which does not contain a “live virus” and hence, can not cause the disease in a vaccinated person. Moreover, the UK government announced that the new variant was first discovered in September, much before the vaccine was approved and administered.
The tweets about vaccines causing the new variant came up shortly after reports of the new variant surfaced. One tweet with the claim read, “BREAKING. New vaccine last week, a new strain of COVID this week, who'd have thunk. Wake up peops.[sic]”
Another one said, “There is no new Covid strain it's coming from the vaccines.”
WHAT WE FOUND OUT
The UK approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine on 2 December 2020 and it started the vaccination process from 8 December. According to the UK government’s press release, the first case of the new variant “emerged in September 2020 and then circulated at very low levels in the population until mid-November”.
The first case of the new variant came much before the vaccine was first administered, so the vaccine could not have been the reason for the new variant. The Pfizer vaccine is the only vaccine that has been approved in the UK so far.
The Pfizer vaccine uses mRNA technology, which is a new way to develop vaccines. The coronavirus itself isn't there inside the mRNA vaccine. Instead, it is embedded with a piece of genetic code that trains our bodies to recognize imminent enemy action from the spike protein on the surface of the virus.
The mRNA vaccines do not contain a live virus and do not carry a risk of causing disease in the vaccinated person,” the US Centres of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says.
We reached out to Dr Shahid Jameel, a virologist and director of Trivedi School of Biosciences, Ashoka University, who confirmed it to us that the Pfizer vaccine cannot give the recipient a coronavirus infection.
“The Pfizer vaccine only contains something called the messenger RNA. The RNA is only a copy of the DNA that makes the spike protein. It's not the complete virus DNA,” Dr Jameel said.
The UK has raised alarm across the world about the new variant, leading to lockdown in parts of England and travel restrictions imposed by several countries including India.
The chief medical officer for England Chris Whitty stated clearly that there was no evidence to date that this variant alters disease severity, either in terms of mortality or the seriousness of the cases of COVID-19 for those infected. Experts believe that regular COVID-19 vaccines would still work against the new variant.
Evidently, the claim that the vaccine caused the new variant is false. The vaccines have undergone several clinical trials and have been proven safe and effective.