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Five things a scientist wants anti-vaxxers to know about the coronavirus vaccines

The most common myths debunked

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U.S. Secretary of Defense/Flickr & DrRosena/Twitter

A medicine cell biologist has cleared up some of the popular vaccination myths. 

More than 30 million people in the UK have received their first vaccine dose so far, with more than 4 million also having had their second jab.

However, there are a number of people not convinced about the safety of the vaccination. In the UK, the Centre for Countering Digital Hate suggests 5.4 million people believe in the ‘anti-vaccination movement’.

The anti-vaccination movement is based upon three major claims – all of which remain unsupported by facts: ‘Covid is not dangerous’, ‘vaccines are dangerous’ and ‘experts cannot be trusted’.

HuffPost UK spoke to UCL medicine cell biologist Dr Jennifer Rohn to debunk vaccination myths that are currently circulating.

United Nations

MYTH: ‘Vaccines alter your DNA’

Some rumours have circulated that the vaccine can modify your DNA, this is not only not physically possible but also not backed by a single piece of evidence, like many of the anti-vaccination myths.

Jim Corr, guitarist of Irish group The Corrs, wrote on Twitter: “The vaccine is a novel experimental RNA vaccine which will alter the very DNA of the recipient.”

The key problem with this statement is that it not only represents a complete misunderstanding of how vaccines work, but it is being Tweeted by a ’90s pop star who has no scientific or medical qualifications.

Firstly, DNA and RNA are different things. DNA is a long molecule containing unique genetic code – what we call genes – that are responsible for development, function, growth and reproduction of proteins in each cell of the body.

RNA is of a similar structure however it essentially tells the proteins how to behave. It does this in three ways, including acting as a messenger between DNA and proteins. Here it is called ‘messenger RNA’, known as ‘mRNA’.

Dr Rohn explains that those made by Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA vaccines that use a part of Covid-19’s RNA to tell our cells to produce antigens. The antigens are then recognised by the immune system and prepare it to fight coronavirus.

RNA cannot physically change the coding of DNA, Dr Rohn confirms.

Instead, she thinks people are confusing vaccines with gene therapy, an experimental technique that can be used against cystic fibrosis and some cancers but – crucially – has nothing to do with vaccines, how they are developed or how they work.

MYTH: ‘You don’t need the vaccine if others have one’

Back to unqualified musicians on Twitter for such rumours, like Ian Brown, who tweeted: “So if you want a vax and you believe it works and you’ll be protected then you wont mind if i dont have one because you will already be protected. [sic]”

Firstly, the former Stone Roses singer has no scientific or medical qualifications.

Secondly, not everyone can be vaccinated, some have compromised immune systems and others are undergoing certain medical treatments and cannot safely take the vaccine. These people will be relying on the wider population to take the vaccine and therefore indirectly protect them.

Herd immunity, however, is typically only achieved when 70-90% of the population is vaccinated.

Dr Rohn says: “It’s quite a shocking thing to say: ‘I’m going to sit back and reap the benefits of vaccination without actually getting the vaccine myself.

“I think that’s completely selfish because not everyone can get vaccinated. There are people who are too vulnerable and they’re immunocompromised and they’re relying on everyone else to do the right thing.”

United Nations

MYTH: ‘Vaccines contain tissue from aborted foetuses’

This rather horrifying myth is completely untrue. Dr Rohn explains: “You would never put human tissue into a vaccine because it might cause an immune reaction that you don’t want.”

Where the confusion lies, she believes, is with the fetal cells that were used in the early 1960s from legally and electively aborted fetuses for research purposes.

These cells have been reproduced over the years to provide a consistent genetic make-up for conducting vaccine research.

Dr Rohn says: “There are cell lines that we use in the lab all the time that are derived from stem cells.

“Some of them are 50 years old and they’re an essential part of the research arsenal. It’s not like we’re going out and aborting foetuses to do research on them.”

The mRNA vaccine is synthetic and made from a DNA template in a lab, such as the Moderna vaccine – a synthetic vaccine sequenced in a lab. The AstraZeneca vaccine, however, used the cell line from an aborted fetus to develop the vaccine.

Even the seriously anti-abortion Catholic Church said ‘one is morally free’ to use the vaccine if it has been developed using the cell line, despite its historical association with abortion. They add: “This is especially important for parents, who have a moral obligation to protect the life and health of their children and those around them.”

To be clear though – none of the Covid-19 vaccines contain cells from aborted fetuses.

Daniel Schludi / Unsplash

MYTH: ‘Vaccines cause autism’

There is zero scientific evidence to back up this anti-vaccine and ableist conspiracy theory.

This myth is believed to be based upon a fraudulent paper from 1998 that has now been retracted due to clear evidence of falsification of data.

Simply put – vaccines absolutely, scientifically do not cause autism. Anti-vaxxers should also consider why they think so negatively of autism.

MYTH: ‘The vaccine isn’t safe because it’s been developed so quickly’

The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine smashed the previous record for vaccine development from four years to under one. ‘Understandably, there is concern’, Dr Rohn explains.

Adding: “Usually it takes 10 years and this time it’s taken 10 months, so of course people are going to wonder if any shortcuts have been taken.”

However, the speed at which the vaccine has been developed is simply due to the amount of money and effort put in – the UK alone spent £6 billion to develop and procure the vaccine.

Additionally, vaccine development did not start from scratch. Dr Rohn says: “There’s been an enormous amount of groundwork on these prototypes so we were quick off the mark from a research point of view.

“The actual trials are taking a long time and that’s where nothing is being compromised.

“No reputable regulatory body will approve this without a completed and successful series of clinical trials.”*

*This interview was done before any vaccine was rolled out in the UK.

On vaccine misinformation, a government spokesperson said: “Letting vaccine disinformation spread unchecked could cost British lives.”

They added: “We continue to work closely with social media firms to promote authoritative sources of information so people have access to vaccine facts not fiction.”

See the government’s Covid-19 vaccination guidance here

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Feature

Remembering Lee Rigby nine years on from the devastating Woolwich terror attack

Nine years ago today, Lee Rigby lost his life in a sickening terror attack that haunts the nation to this day

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Gov.uk & Wikimedia Commons

It was an attack that shook the nation: On May 22nd 2013, Fusilier Lee Rigby was brutally murdered in a violent onslaught as horrified passerby’s watched on.

Lee, twenty-five, was a drummer in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, and had served in Cyprus, Germany and Afghanistan before becoming a recruiter with ceremonial duties at the Tower of London.

The father-of-one, from Middleton, had been an avid supporter of charity Help 4 Heroes, and was even wearing one of the foundation’s hoodies when he was targeted in an unprovoked and savage attack.

The father-of-one was outside his barracks in Woolwich, London at around 2pm, when he was hit by a car driven by Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, both said to be influenced by extremist group al-Muhajiroun.

Gov.uk

The pair didn’t have any former knowledge of Lee, and it was believed to be his Help 4 Heroes hoody that alerted them to his connection with the military.

After hitting him with their car, the men leapt out and unleashed a brutal attack on the defenceless Lee, before a brave passer-by – later identified as Ingrid Loyau-Kennett – attempted to shield him from any further harm.

Ingrid was later nicknamed the ‘Angel of Woolwich’, but revealed that witnessing the attack had ‘ruined her life’.

ITV News

Speaking to The Sun three years later in 2016, Ingrid said that while she was glad she stood up for Lee, she could feel nothing but ’emptiness around me’.

And Ingrid wasn’t the only passerby to get roped into the atrocity; another member of the public was approached by Adebolajo, who instructed him to start filming on his phone as he attempted to give an explanation for the brutal murder. 

In the now infamous footage – which was controversially aired by ITV News later that day – Adebolajo can be seen soaked in blood and brandishing a meat cleaver as he blamed the British military’s murder of innocent muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Adebolajo was heard saying: “The only reason we have killed this man today is because Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers. And this British soldier is one…”.

Wikimedia Commons

Nine minutes after the first 999 call, armed police swooped upon the scene and opened fire. London Ambulance Service later confirmed that a man had been found dead at the scene, while two other men were taken to hospital, one of them in a serious condition.

In September that year, Adebolajo and Adebowale were found guilty of the murder of Lee Rigby, and were both sentenced to life imprisonment. They remain behind bars to this day.

In the wake of his death, Lee’s parents Lyn and Ian founded the Lee Rigby Foundation in his honour to support other grieving families of deceased military members by paying for holiday breaks and excursions. 

They also worked tirelessly to open the Lee Rigby House in Staffordshire as a permanent retreat for bereaved Forces families and veterans.

Lee’s family told the Manchester Evening News on their grief:  “It doesn’t get any easier with the passing years.

“But we are more determined than ever before to do right by him and honour his life, his memory and his enduring love and spirit.”

For more information on the Lee Rigby Foundation’s mission and to donate yourself, visit the official website here.

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Manchester Arena Attack: How survivors are using their horrific experience to create something positive

Liv’s Trust has been funding education, music and dance for under twenty-fives across Greater Manchester for the last five years

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pdjohnson / Flickr & Liv's Trust

Today, Sunday May 22nd, marks five years since the devastating Manchester Arena attack.

As concert-goers streamed out of the arena in the wake of an Ariana Grande concert, a suicide bomber detonated a homemade device, claiming the lives of twenty-two people – many of them children – and injuring hundreds more.

The unprecedented attack was the UK’s worst terror attack since the 7/7 bombings and, today, still stands as one of Manchester’s darkest days.

But out of the heartbreak, devastation and sorrow, Liv’s Trust was born.

One of the people to die in the attack was fifteen-year-old Olivia Campbell-Hardy, a talented teenager from Bury with the dream of one day becoming a music teacher. 

Liv’s Trust

In the wake of her death and struggling to come to terms with the tragedy, Olivia’s dad Andrew Hardy and her grandparents Steve and Sharon Goodman channeled their grief into the launch of a fundraising charity in her honour, which they later christened Liv’s Trust.

Staying true to its motto, ‘We Choose Love’, the foundation is dedicated to Olivia’s passion for the performing arts, and funds education, music and dance for under twenty-fives across Greater Manchester in the hope that others can achieve the dreams Olivia once had.

And, in the near five years since its launch, Liv’s Trust has not only helped countless people achieve their dreams in the arts, it has given Olivia’s grandad Steve a reason and a drive to carry on each day.

Speaking to Proper Manchester, Steve said: “Liv’s Trust gives me a reason to get up every day, and to keep working for it.

“Sharon and I are struggling a bit with the anniversary coming up, but the charity is helping us to have a bit of focus, and helping us to take our minds off of things.”

Liv’s Trust

Since its launch, Liv’s Trust has helped people through a variety of different means, whether it be with the financial costs for teaching qualifications or by funding music lessons for schools and for children with additional or behavioural needs.

It has also contributed to travel costs for dance schools to take pupils to competitions, and has even paid for individual people to compete and fulfil their dreams, including one young woman with a dream to play the clarinet.

The woman, a student at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM), had her travel costs to London covered by the charity, which enabled her to eventually achieve her dream qualification.

Now that student has her Masters degree in the Clarinet and is teaching music, ‘just like Olivia had wanted to’, Steve noted.

And more recently, the trust extended a helping hand to a young Ukrainian refugee by arranging breakdancing lessons, a hobby he had pursued back in his home country before Russia’s invasion.

Steve explained: “After he moved into our community, someone asked if we could help him get some dance lessons here so he can continue with his training… It’s helped him massively with settling into our community and his new life.”

Though Liv’s Trust wouldn’t be where it is today without the help of its patrons and ambassadors, who all work tirelessly to keep Olivia’s legacy and memory alive.

One of those ambassadors is sixteen-year-old Amelia Thompson, a Derbyshire schoolgirl who survived the devastating attack on that fateful night.

Amelia was invited to the launch of Liv’s Trust and, after meeting Steve and Sharon became the charity’s ambassador where, for nearly five years, she has tirelessly raised money for the cause – last year, she even took part in a charity skydive, raising over £1,400 for the trust. 

Speaking of what the charity means to her, Amelia said: “I think it’s so important to continue being a young ambassador because it’s so important to carry on Olivia’s legacy and to keep the memory and the spirits of the twenty-two alive.

Supplied

“People should never forget the lives that were lost that night.”

Five years on from the attack, Amelia admits that while she still struggles, Liv’s Trust has helped with her recovery and treatment.

She explained: “It does get hard around this time of the year and around the anniversary. It plays on my mind a lot more than it usually would. 

“But Liv’s Trust has definitely helped me with my recovery, and doing my own fundraising for the twenty-two has helped massively, too.

“It’s trying to make something positive out of something that was so so negative.”

Supplied

On the future of Liv’s Trust, Steve added: “We just want to keep on how we’re going and keeping it family-run.

“We never expected to be as big as we are, so to be able to help hundreds of people the way we have has given us that reason to get up in the morning.

“It’s a great feeling to be able to help somebody, especially in a way that was close to Olivia’s heart.”

For more information on Liv’s Trust, its mission and how you can get involved, visit its official website here.

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Street photographer creates incredible Mini Manchester and Blackpool nostalgia photo series

The photography series aims to encapsulate significant parts of Manchester’s history

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@giselaszlatoszlavek / Instagram

Whether it be retro beer cans or vintage match boxes, there isn’t much that Gisela Szlatoszlavek will limit herself to to capture the spirit of the city.

While Gisela works full time as a teaching assistant, she is also a keen street photographer with a passion for documenting gentrified areas of Manchester, with her even having published That Golden Mile, a sell-out book on Blackpool street photography.

And it was a combination of these two professions that sparked the idea for her ‘Little’ series, with Gisela finding inspiration during a photography lesson.

Talking on the birth of the miniature series, which sees her create scenes using tiny models, Gisela told Proper Manchester: “The pupils were working with small figurines around the classroom, and it made me think of how well that would work out in the street. 

@giselaszlatoszlavek / Instagram

“I started with Blackpool, and thinking of places that make the town iconic and recognisable… like the sunburned men wearing vests and local mums pushing prams.”

And being a local lass herself – she hails from Oldham – Gisela knew that Manchester and its vast history would provide the perfect backdrop for her new series.

She explained: “Everything I’ve done up to now is a nod to something special about the city, such as the Haçienda, the Manchester bee, Manchester United, and Manchester City.”

And despite the series only being a couple of months old, Gisela has countless instalments of a variety of different themes under her belt, all of which give an insight into life in both Blackpool and Manchester.

@giselaszlatoszlavek / Instagram

Her photographs range from trips to the football, chippy teas and seaside fun in Blackpool, and even trips to the iconic Haçienda nightclub – complete with a pair of maracas, of course.

And fans of Gisela’s work will notice a recurring retro theme, which in itself is a nod to her own passion for the 1980s: “That era was fantastic, I wish I could have taken these photos back then.

“So I wanted to try and create a lot of my series around that time period.”

A lot of the props used in the series are genuine vintage too, including retro beer cans found on eBay, cassette tapes and even match boxes from the era.

Putting together these images is no walk in the park, however, with some taking Gisela several weeks to complete from start to finish. 

@giselaszlatoszlavek / Instagram

Every aspect of the photo – from the initial idea to the construction itself – is a painstaking process, with Gisela often spending hours at a time scouring through Google Street View to establish which spots will work the best, whether it be the aesthetics, the lighting or just for the finer details to add to the final image.

Gisela then buys the figurines online, and spends even more time hand painting them to adapt them to different scenes – for some photos, she’s even gone to the effort of making miniature outfits using a magnifying glass.

And actually taking the photos is no easier, mainly thanks to members of the public and busy traffic, which Manchester’s city centre in particular has an abundance of.

She explained: “Unsurprisingly, Market Street is definitely the hardest location to work, thanks to the volume of people and things going on in the background. @giselaszlatoszlavek / Instagram

“Because I have to be as low to the ground as possible, I do get members of the public coming up to me and asking what I’m doing and checking that I’m okay… Some people even think I’ve collapsed in the street!

“But most people are lovely, and are just curious and want to know what I’m doing.” 

While the Little Manchester and Little Blackpool series remains as a side project for Gisela at the moment, she aims to one day collaborate with other artists, and eventually take on paid commissions. 

This is only the beginning for Gisela’s Little series, so make sure to follow her official Instagram page to stay updated with her latest work.

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