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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

FORGOTTEN MANCHESTER: The dark secrets buried under Victoria Station

Something lurks beneath it…

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phill.d / Flickr & G-13114 / Wikimedia

Next time you’re stuck at Victoria Station late at night when your Northern train is inevitably delayed, again, keep an eye out for any spooky goings on.

That’s because Victoria has a dark history, one that stretches back to the time before it became a bustling transport hub.

Back in the early 1800s Manchester was hit by a cholera epidemic that killed thousands of people, and most victims were buried at Walkers Croft – a 19th century church and graveyard.

Victoria Station was built on top of this burial area in the 1840s, with most of the site submerged as ground level was raised during construction.

The underground entrance at the end of Walker’s Croft opposite Victoria Station – Credit: Christopher Elison / Flickr

Walkers Croft was situated next to a workhouse and primarily catered for pauper and public grave burials, with those who couldn’t afford a proper funeral piled on top of each other in mass graves.

The death toll from cholera was incredibly high, although thousands managed to survive by drinking beer instead of the disease-ridden water.

Like other burial sites during the 1820s, the cholera pits were pillaged by body snatchers who would steal corpses and sell them to anatomy schools for dissection, which was a very lucrative trade at the time.

The next decade saw a huge public scandal hit the burial site, after three-year-old cholera victim John Brogan was delivered to Walkers Croft without his head, which had been mysteriously replaced by a brick.

A surgeon eventually tracked down the young boy’s head to Robert Oldham’s house. Oldham was a dispenser of medicines at the hospital, and although a warrant was issued for his arrest it’s thought he fled the country before he could face justice.

David Dixon / Geograph

The cemetery lies underneath the Metrolink tram platforms, while the old workhouse was situated over on the northern side of the station, where Manchester Arena sits now.

Over the years some of the bodies were dug up due to various redevelopments and extensions, and as recently as 2010 human remains have been found – these were carefully excavated and reinterred at Southern Cemetery.

So next time you’re getting a pre-train Greggs, do a double-take to make sure that pale looking child out of the corner of your eye is real…

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Feature

The Manchester Canal Pusher: a real serial killer or just an urban myth?

Since 2006, there have been over eighty ‘accidental’ deaths down Manchester’s canals with no suspect ever being apprehended…

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N Chadwick / Geograph & Diamond Geezer / Flickr

For over a decade, rumours of a serial killer lurking down the canals of Manchester have been rife – however, there’s yet to be any evidence of any such killer.

So why is the Manchester Canal Pusher such a famous phenomenon, and is this so-called killer even real?

Let’s start from the beginning…

Rumours of the ‘Canal Pusher’ were born on January 11th, 2015 when the Daily Star Sunday published a two-page article headlined ‘Manchester’s Killer Canals.’ The article cited sixty-one deaths in the canal way, which stretches for over ten miles through central Manchester, since 2006 – though since then, that number is estimated to have grown drastically to eighty-five, though an exact figure for more recent years is unknown.

The paper labeled the mysterious pusher as a ‘serial slayer’ while pointing out that it’s ‘extremely unlikely such an alarming number of bodies is the result of accidents or suicide.’

Daily Star

A number of the alleged victims have since been identified – in 2011, the body of trainee sports teacher Nathan Tomlinson was discovered in the River Irwell two months after he went missing following a Christmas night out. 

According to Nathan’s mum, he had texted her regularly throughout his evening, saying he had been pacing himself on shandies. And, when his body was found, his coat, wallet, phone and passport were all missing, leading his mum to believe there had been foul play and that his death was not an accident. However, thanks to the lack of evidence, the coroner recorded an open verdict in his case.

A year on from that incident, twenty-one year old student David Plunkett was found dead in Manchester Ship Canal in 2012 after attending a music event in Trafford Park. A coroner ruled his death as an accident, though his parents protested otherwise, saying they had heard ‘screaming and howling’ in their last phone call with him.

GMP insisted that they had ‘no evidence’ of foul play and, similarly, a pathologist said there was ‘absolutely no evidence’ that David had been assaulted and that the most likely cause of death was drowning.

Ian Roberts / Wikimedia Commons

Have there been any witnesses?

While any evidence of this so-called murderer is yet to be unearthed and the countless deaths remain either unaccounted for or labeled as tragic accidents or suicides, there is one man who claims to have escaped with his life from one of the infamous canal attacks.

Speaking anonymously to the BBC, a man known under an alias name as ‘Tom’ recalled the moment a mysterious man ‘swung at him’ as he was cycling home along the Bridgewater Canal one evening in April 2018.

He fell into the icy waters of the canal as a result of the push and, when he tried to pull himself out, the man allegedly kicked his hand away. Tom recalled: “I started to think, ‘This is quite serious. It’s pitch black down there. There’s no lights. You look up, someone catches your eye and then in four seconds you’re in dirty water.”

Eventually, Tom was able to haul himself out of the water. However, following the assault, the city’s police and coroner continued to deny that there was any evidence of a serial attacker. Greater Manchester Police said the ‘speculation’ surrounding the deaths has been made without ‘examination of all the facts and evidence.’ The force said it would reinvestigate if ‘new credible evidence comes to light.’

David Dixon / Geograph

And what have the police had to say on the matter?

To this day, the police have continued to insist that the canal pusher doesn’t exist – Pete Marsh, a Detective Superintendent of GMP, pointed to a review the force had conducted into eighty-five waterway deaths and insisted that ‘most have definitive explanations,’ adding that ‘there’s no evidence to support the theory that a serial killer is at large,’ The Mirror reported in 2018.

And, to support the myth theory further, former Detective Chief Superintendent Tony Blockley said in a Channel 4 documentary: “If a serial killer decided to cause their deaths by pushing them into the water, how could that person guarantee they would die?

“In which case survivors would have come forward. Also none of the individuals have marks [on their bodies] which are consistent with a violent attack which one would expect to see. In the three cases I have looked at I don’t feel there’s a serial killer involved.”

Clive Varley / Flickr

If the notorious Pusher doesn’t exist, what on Earth is going on?

It’s probably worth mentioning that a large proportion of Manchester canal deaths are blamed on drugs and alcohol – hundreds of people make their way home along the narrow pathways of the canals after a heavy night out every year, making the likelihood of people tripping up and falling in all too high.

The risk of waterway deaths in Manchester has also risen dramatically over the last few decades during which the city centre has boomed, with more people living and working there than ever before.

And after all these years, the lack of any clear evidence – or even a suspect, for that matter – suggests that the notorious serial killer doesn’t exist at all. Serial killers are known for making mistakes, slipping up, and eventually giving themselves away. This simply hasn’t happened with the so-called Canal Pusher, suggesting that the myth could sadly be a product of grieving families searching for an explanation for their loved ones’ tragic deaths.

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Feature

FORGOTTEN MANCHESTER: The Blackpool Tower is actually from Manchester

I mean, all the best things come from Manchester…

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I hate to break it to you, Blackpudlians, but your iconic Blackpool Tower actually reigns from Manchester.

Well, Newton Heath, to be precise.

Now, this will hurt the feelings of many proud Blackpool residents because let’s face it, the Blackpool Tower – which stands at 518 feet tall, making it the 125th tallest free-standing tower in the world – is easily the most famous monument the town has to offer.

So, why exactly did it come from Manchester?

aboutmanchester.co.uk

Well, the Blackpool Tower Company was actually founded by (brace yourselves) London-based Standard Contract & Debenture Corporation in 1890; they bought an aquarium on Central Promenade with the intention of building a replica of the Eiffel Tower.

Two Lancashire architects, James Maxwell and Charles Tuke, were then put to the task of designing the tower and overseeing the laying of its foundation stone.

Newton Heath-based company Heenan & Froude were then put in charge of supplying the materials and actually putting the tower together – the company began its life as the Newton Heath Iron Works in 1884; a partnership between Mr Hammersley Heenan, an engineer with the East India Railway and the Public Works Department and Richard Hurrell Froude, English engineer, hydrodynamicist and naval architect famous for being the first man to formulate reliable laws for the resistance that water offers to ships.

theblackpooltower.com

Anyway, the company was truly put to the test when they were appointed as structural engineers for the Blackpool Tower construction in 1892, supplying and constructing the main tower, the electric lighting and the steel front pieces for the aquariums in Manchester before transporting it to Blackpool.

It was truly a sight to behold – never before had such an architectural challenge been attempted in the town – when it was built, over 10,000 lightbulbs were used to illuminate the tower (though these have been swapped today with 25,000 eco-friendly LED lights).  2,493 tons of steel and ninety-three tons of cast iron were also used, as were 985 tons of steel and 259 tons of cast iron for the base of the tower.

On the tower’s opening day in 1894, it was the tallest building in Britain at the time and the second tallest in the whole world. Over 3,000 guests were able to enjoy the the first of many lift rides to the top of the tower – an estimated 70,000 more people from not only Blackpool but the whole country swarmed the town to catch a glimpse of the seaside town’s new addition.

At the time of its opening, tourists paid sixpence for admission, sixpence more for a ride in the lifts to the top, and a further sixpence for the circus – ah, those were the days.

@Nathanemmison / Flickr

However, it wasn’t all plain sailing – the tower wasn’t painted properly during its first thirty years and became corroded, leading to council discussions about demolishing it. Thankfully, the tower was never brought down and, instead, the corroded steelwork was replaced and renewed between 1920 and 1924.

Following this new lease of life, Blackpool Tower enjoyed a number of monumental occasions – such as being painted silver in 1977 as part of Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee celebrations, having a giant model of King Kong placed on the side in 1984 and even hosting a cage-suspended wedding in 1985.

Yep, the Blackpool Tower truly has seen it all.

And as for Heenan and Froude? Well, by the end of the the First World War, they had been bought up by a Company in Worcester. Their name continued for some time but, by the mid 1930’s, they were no longer in Manchester.

Since the grand opening all those decades ago, the Blackpool Tower has become a staple part of the famous seaside town, and has enjoyed a rich and eventful history – though let’s always remember that it’s Manc born and Manc made – maybe we should rename it the Manchester Tower?

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