With April Fool’s Day around the corner, many of us were expecting a cheerful end to the hardships that 2020 brought with it, maybe even hoping against hope that the television channels will flash a headline that would say that COVID-19 was a big fat hoax and you could go out and have fun without worrying about a deadly pandemic.
Unfortunately, 2021 has other plans. There has been a huge rise in COVID-19 cases in the country. The pandemic and internet have proved to be a dangerous combination as misinformation around the pandemic has now moved on to vaccines.
People are still sharing miracle cures, questioning the need for a vaccine and sharing news bulletins from last year as recent lockdown announcements.
Here are 10 COVID-19/vaccine myths that you should not fall for this April Fool’s Day:
“COVID-19 is Just Like The Flu”
A video of doctors went viral last year that claimed that “COVID-19 is a normal flu virus” and the world is no longer dealing with a pandemic. Users shared that video claiming that these were WHO doctors who took a complete “U-turn” on their finding of the novel coronavirus.
While COVID-19 and influenza have similar symptoms as both cause respiratory disorders and are transmitted by contact, there are several dissimilarities between the two. According to data provided by WHO, the speed of transmission of influenza is faster than COVID-19 while the reproductive number – the number of secondary infections generated from one infected individual – for COVID-19 is understood to be higher than that for influenza.
In addition to flu-like symptoms, the novel coronavirus results in complications like blood clots in the veins and arteries of the lungs, heart, legs or brain.
“Using Hand Sanitisers Damage Your Hands”
Public health experts have emphasised the importance of hand hygiene to tackle coronavirus. Wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds, or if soap is not available, use a hand sanitiser.
However, several viral posts calling sanitisers dangerous have been doing the rounds. A picture with swollen, puss-filled hands is doing the rounds with the claim that it was caused by overuse of hand sanitisers.
We reached out to Dr DM Mahajan, senior consultant with the dermatology department at Apollo Hospitals, Delhi, to verify this claim. According to Dr Mahajan, in a normal sanitiser, such is reaction is unlikely, unless it contains something that causes burning, or if it has been used alongside a caustic agent.
India’s Health Ministry or any other health agency has not spoken about hand sanitisers leading to burns.
“Vegetarians Are Safe from the Coronavirus”
An image that was circulated on social media claimed that COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has not been observed in a single vegetarian person.
“There hasn’t been a single confirmed patient of COVID-19 who is a vegetarian,” it says. This information was attributed to the World Health Organisation.
No report by the WHO has any mention of such a claim. Dr Sumit Ray, a critical care specialist at Artemis Hospitals, told The Quint that being vegetarian or non-vegetarian is inconsequential, and not a criterion that the WHO has based its tests on.
“The WHO has not conducted tests based on vegetarian or non-vegetarian status of the patients,” Dr Ray said.
In fact, India’s Health Ministry also debunked this claim, in its objective of busting COVID-19 related myths.
“Masks Cause CO2 Toxicity in Your Body”
Around Independence Day 2020, a video in which a group of five young Indians seen burning face masks went viral on social media. The youths in the video claim wearing a mask is ineffective against COVID-19 and say that it increases carbon dioxide poisoning in the body.
This condition is called hypercapnia or hypercarbia.
Dr Arvind Kumar, Founder Trustee of Lung Care Foundation, told The Quint that when masks are continuously worn for eight hours, especially N95 or N99 masks, there is a 2-4 percent marginal increase in carbon dioxide levels. This can happen to doctors who perform surgery, who work with an extra layer of the surgical mask above the N95. But if a common person uses a triple-layer mask or surgical mask, then there will be no such risk.
Dr Richa Sarin, Pulmonology and Critical Care Medicine Consultant at Fortis Hospital, backed this claim and said that the mask that regular people use is not airtight or sealed. It is not that the CO2 you are releasing through your breath is not going out. “These masks prevent aerosols and virus from going in or out. But the carbon dioxide molecules are much smaller in size and can go out easily through a mask,” she added.
“Garlic Water Can ‘Cure’ Coronavirus”
A message viral on WhatsApp said that boiled garlic water can sure coronavirus. “Good news, Wuhan’s coronavirus can be cured by one bowl of freshly boiled garlic water,” the message read.
Dr Sumit Ray, Senior Consultant, Critical Care Medicine, says, “There has to be proof by rigorous research before verifying a certain medical claim. The effect of garlic or garlic water hasn’t been studied in the scientific way that medical practice requires on any viral infection or COVID in particular.”
He adds that while there may be anecdotal evidence, but modern science needs robust research methodologies on proven cause and effect to come to a conclusion.
The WHO did say that garlic may have some antimicrobial properties, but “there is no evidence that it can protect people from the current COVID-19 outbreak”.
“Cow Urine and Cow Dung Are Cures for COVID-19”
Swami Chakrapani, president of the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha, asked world leaders to drink cow urine and skip meat to beat coronavirus. These perils of wisdom were offered during a ‘gaumutra party’ he had arranged to tackle the threat of COVID-19.
Another BJP legislator from Assam had offered cow urine and cow dung as the miracle cure.
The Quint spoke with Dr Ray, who said that there are no scientific studies to support these claims.
“Scientifically, cow dung and cow urine are excreta from an animal’s (mammals) body and are unlikely to benefit another mammal, such as human being. There is no scientific study or evidence to show that cow urine or cow dung has antiseptic properties. It is not going to benefit us. Comments like these only add to the unscientific and irrational misinformation,” Dr Ray said.
Dr Pooja Kohli, Vice-President of Ayurveda Growth, NirogStreet, told The Quint that although Ayurveda texts describe eight types of animal urines that may be used in medicine, there is no evidence to say that these can be of any use in treating the coronavirus, especially because the scientific world is still trying to understand the relatively new disease.
“Patanjali’s Coronil Got WHO Recognition”
Several Indian news outlets and other social media users shared a misleading claim on the internet stating that Patanjali's 'Coronil' has been recognised as a medicine for COVID-19 by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The claim came right after Baba Ramdev launched the “first evidence-based medicine for COVID-19 by Patanjali” in the presence of Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan and Union Minister Nitin Gadkari.
Hours after the claims went viral, Acharya Balkrishna tweeted a clarification and said that the Goods Manufacturing Practice (GMP) compliant Certificate of Pharmaceutical Product (CoPP) to Coronil has been issued by the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI).
He stated in another tweet that the CPP licence was issued in accordance with the WHO GMP quality approvals.
The Quint reached out to WHO and they said, “The WHO has not reviewed or certified the effectiveness of any traditional medicine for the treatment of COVID-19. The goods manufacturing practice certificate – COPP GMP – is issued by national drug regulatory authorities, usually following WHO guidelines.”
“A Nurse in the US Died After Taking the COVID-19 Vaccine”
Social media posts saying that a nurse died in the United States of America after receiving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine have gone viral.
One of the viral claims about the incident on Facebook reads, “There are reports Tiffany Pontes Dover is dead. She is the nurse who collapsed on live television when being interviewed about the vaccine. We can't confirm it, we are trying to collect as much intel as possible.”
We found a report published on WRCB, an NBC-affiliated television station licensed to Chattanooga, Tennessee, United States. The report was titled, “First doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered at Chattanooga hospital on Thursday”. The story mentioned that Tiffany Dover, a critical care unit Nurse at the hospital, fainted shortly after receiving the vaccine.
It contained clips of the viral video where the nurse can be seen fainting and subsequently being lowered to the ground.
The same story carried an interview of the nurse after the fainting incident where she told the WRCB reporter, “I have a history of having an over-reactive vagal response. So, if I have pain from anything, hangnail or if I stub my toe, I can just pass out.”
“I have passed out probably six times in the past six weeks... it’s common for me,” Dover added.
We reached out to CHI Memorial hospital who told us that Dover was doing fine. They shared with us a photo of her with the nursing leaders of the hospital taken on 21 December 2020.
“COVID Vaccines Using Foetal Bovine Serum”
Several social media users have claimed that the vaccines for COVID-19 – Covishield and Covaxin – use Foetal Bovine Serum (FBS), pig fat and aborted male foetus in it.
One of the claims said, “Covishield vaccine contains the following:-
• Fetal Bovine Serum (FBS): The blood is taken from the heart of a calf in the womb of the cow.
• Protein made from pig fat (Polysorbate 80)
• Pig’s blood plasma (EDTA)
• Cell from the aborted human foetus (HEK293)]”
We reached out to Serum Institute of India, the manufacturers of Covishield vaccine in India. A representative from the company said, “There is no pig or any other animal-origin extract that has been used in our vaccines.”
A study conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research and Bharat Biotech mentioned that one of the ingredients they used is blood serum from newborn cattle. The study goes on to describe the process by which the vaccine was developed. However, the study does not mention the use of FBS in producing the Covaxin vaccine.
“COVID Vaccine Will Inject People With Chips”
Several videos viral on social media claim that the COVID-19 vaccine will contain a microchip that will be injected into people, which will help in tracking and controlling them.
In one of the viral videos, we see a cleric talking about vaccines containing chips that will control and change the behaviour of people. This particular video was shared in May 2020, but went viral in the first week of December when the distribution of vaccine was in its final stage.
When we conducted a Google search for “chips in vaccines”, we found a news report on the United States of America Department of Defence awarding the contract to ApiJet, pre-filled syringe maker to manufacture injectors for the COVID-19 vaccine.
In an interview to CBN news, the executive chairman of the company Jay Walker explains the purpose of the optional Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips in the injectors.
“It is designed so that there is no counterfeit. It is designed so that we know the right dose hasn’t expired. It helps public heath officials know when there are outbreaks if we have vaccinated enough people in those areas,” Walker said.
Walker goes on to compare the technology to a bar code and assured that it will not carry and register any personal information of the recipient.
“The microchip is purely optional, however, and the US government hasn’t even decided if they’re going to use it,” he added.
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