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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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

The Manchester charity pairing young people with the elderly to combat loneliness at Christmas

Manchester Cares is doubling down its efforts to prevent loneliness among communities over the festive period

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For most, Christmas is a time for family and friends, but for others it is instead a time of isolation and loneliness. 

According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, around 45% of adults in the UK experience some form of loneliness, a feeling that intensifies over the festive period.  

So this is why local charity Manchester Cares is doubling down on its efforts to combat the issue of loneliness among communities across Manchester this Christmas.

Founded five years ago, Manchester Cares brings younger and older generations together through group activities and one-on-one friendships, giving them the opportunity to build genuine and meaningful connections. 

Manchester Cares

Manchester Cares hosts and organises a whole variety of Social Clubs for its community members to enjoy together, including pub quizzes, wine tasting, documentary clubs and even trips to Manchester Art Gallery.

All free for those wanting to join them in their mission of bringing younger and older people together to build community and connection across our wonderful city. 

The charity relies heavily on the help of its members and volunteers to keep loneliness and isolation at bay. But as the cost-of-living crisis plunges the UK further into a loneliness epidemic, Manchester Cares needs your help more than ever before. 

Manchester Cares’ Head of Programmes Vicky Harrold says the charity will be organising and hosting a whole array of neighbour meet-ups and activity sessions for those struggling with both loneliness and financial pressures this Christmas.

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Vicky told Proper Manchester: This Christmas we will be continuing to do what we do best, curate spaces that bring younger and older people together to share time, stories, and laughter. We want to be the place that provides emotional respite to all the challenging things that are happening in the world right now.”

Vicky also said that the charity will also be extending the length of its clubs this winter in order for neighbours to have somewhere warm to spend their time at no extra cost.

She added: “We’ll be offering food and refreshments along with festive films, parties, wreath making and most importantly the opportunity to have a chat with someone you wouldn’t ordinarily meet.” 

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In addition to the Festive Clubs, Manchester Cares members will also be paying visits to anyone who they think will be spending the Christmas period alone in the week leading up to the big day.

Vicky explained: “Initially, we would give out little gifts, but we now recognise that it’s sharing time that means the most.

But Manchester Cares recognises that community and connection don’t just matter at Christmas; they matter all year round.

That’s why the charity is always welcoming new members to join its community network in its fight against loneliness in Manchester, regardless of the time of year.

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People are now being urged to sign up through the Manchester Cares website and come along to one of its general inductions. Vicky stressed that there’s no expectation for anyone to get involved, and that it’s simply an opportunity to hear a bit more about what Manchester Cares does and how people can get involved.

Offering a final bit of advice for anyone struggling with any of these issues, Vicky said: “Try stepping away from social media and investing that time into creating meaningful interactions every day.

“This can be anything from making that call to a friend you’ve been meaning to for a while, to saying hello to the bus driver on your way to work.

“And if you’re lucky enough to still have older family members, we really encourage you to go and chat to them, pick up the phone or have a brew – we hear the best stories every day just from starting that conversation.

Manchester Cares

“And finally, there are so many amazing charities like ours doing such great work- volunteering your time can be such a fun and rewarding way to meet new people.

“We’ve seen over our first five years, sharing time is the best gift you can ever give.”

From November 29th to December 6th 2022, Manchester Cares is taking part in The Big Give Christmas Challenge to help bring our neighbours together to stay warm, active and connected. Donations made during that week are doubled, meaning your gift will make twice the difference this winter. Find out how you can support here. 

Manchester Cares is always on the look out for new volunteers, community members and neighbours to join them in their fight against loneliness. 

People can join the community, or can alternatively make a referral for anyone over 65 they think will benefit from the clubs and programmes. 

All of this can be done via the Manchester Cares website.

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Feature

Chester Zoo has a paid apprenticeship scheme that doesn’t require qualifications

We spoke to Rachel McCann, who is helping Chester Zoo with its mission to save Eastern black rhinos from extinction

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When news first arose of Chester Zoo’s apprenticeship scheme earlier this year, many people couldn’t help but ponder the possibility of a swift career change.

For the first time, the UK’s leading conservation zoo was giving people the chance to embark upon a career in conservation without the need for any qualifications.

The scheme opened up opportunities in a variety of roles, including zookeepers, aquarists and horticulturalists, as well as positions in animal and plant logistics.

But a role at Chester Zoo isn’t for the faint of heart, which is something rhino keeper Rachel McCann can most certainly vouch for.

Rachel joined the zoo’s team three years ago as a giraffe keeper, but was later transferred to the rhino team thanks to her specific skill set and past experience.

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Yet while many might assume her day consists mainly of spending quality time with Chester Zoo’s eight Eastern black rhino inhabitants – Kitani, Malindi, Ema-elsa, Kasulu, Ike, Jumaane, Zuri and Gabe – Rachel actually plays a huge part in the conservation and repopulation of this critically endangered species.

Thanks to human conflict, poaching threats and habitat destruction, there are only 5,000 Eastern black rhinos left in the wild and a mere ninety in zoos around the world – something Chester Zoo is working tirelessly to change.

Rachel told Proper Manchester that her role as a keeper takes a predominant focus on reintroducing black rhinos back into the wild and boosting birth numbers among the animals not only at Chester, but at a variety of zoos across Europe and in the wild in Africa.

And this all starts in one place; the faeces.

Several times a week, Rachel is tasked with collecting faecal samples from the female rhinos, which are then sent off to the zoo’s on-site conservation lab for testing and analysis.

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Thanks to these samples, the zoo’s conservation team are able to track the rhino’s ovulation cycles and determine when to pair them with males to breed. 

Rachel explained: “Through this testing, we’re able to see which pairs work best for breeding going off their cycles, their weight and their personalities. The rhinos are now matched up going by the best genetic compatibility. 

“This research is also applied to how we can help rhinos out in the wild – any of our research, for that matter, can be applied for helping wild animals too.”

And a higher number of births at the zoo equates for a better chance of the black rhinos’ population being increased out in the wild, which is part of Chester Zoo’s mission to prevent extinction.

However, the process of reintroducing rhinos back into the wild is a lengthy one. Rachel explained: “The main bulk of the reintroduction process is reducing human contact, because we don’t want them approaching people once they’re back in the wild.

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“Keeper contact is gradually fazed out, so they don’t see us hardly ever, whether it be putting food out or tidying up the paddock. Once they’re ready, they’ll be released into a secured area with zero human contact.

“They are then released into protected areas with rangers on duty for their safety. Without all of that, we wouldn’t be able to save the species.”

And Chester Zoo’s conservation work isn’t just restricted to breeding; the zoo has a dedicated team out in Kenya that educates local communities about the animals in a bid to allow them to co-exist peacefully, ultimately reducing conflict.

Rachel said: “We fund rangers out in Africa to protect wild black rhinos and also work with local communities and schools to reduce wildlife conflict.

“Poaching is their biggest threat alongside habitat loss, so it’s important when working with communities to reduce this conflict. Local people struggle because rhinos destroy their crops, so it’s about finding solutions for them to coexist and live alongside each other.”

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Though Rachel’s responsibilities don’t end there, as the role of zoo keeper certainly isn’t without its graft – and many cups of tea, something she says is ‘definitely the most important part of the day’.

Her day typically begins at 8am, where she begins the laborious jobs of cleaning up the paddocks, tidying up any left over food and droppings from the previous day and replenishing the rhino’s food and water.

Keepers also use this time in the mornings to give the animals a quick once-over to ensure they’re of good health. This can involve checking their eyes, ears and even the insides of their mouths for any sign of infection or decay.

A zoo keeper’s afternoon tends to consist of a lot of prep for the following day. Rachel explained: “We have really busy days, so prepping the day before helps a lot so we can make the most of our time.

“We’ve got a lot of mouths to feed! We sometimes switch up the feeding times to reduce the rhinos anticipating us coming. Switching up the routine keeps them on their toes.

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“They’re very smart and switched on, so it’s good to give them a challenge and ensure their days are different. We don’t want their days to be too repetitive. 

“We give out our last feeds during the afternoons and carry out the final checks. And then, we go home, go to bed and start it all again the next day.”

Yet while the role may be laborious, challenging, and even testing at times, Rachel wouldn’t change any of it.

She said: “I love working with the rhinos, they’re magnificent but have a soft and sensitive side too. That makes working with them every day very different, no day is the same.

“They’re always getting up to mischief.

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“My favourite part of the job though is getting to work with such a rare species every single day. While it is sad to see how endangered their species are, for me it’s actually a motivation each day to get out of bed and come to work to help get them back into the wild. 

“The rhinos at Chester Zoo are ambassadors for their species, they show the public and visitors how amazing they are and why we should be saving them.”

For more information on Chester Zoo’s family of black rhinos and what they’re doing to save the species, visit the official website here.

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Feature

Here’s what happened to the infamous Kersal Massive after their early viral fame

The ringleader of the notorious rap trio was tracked down a few years ago…

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Back in the early days of the internet, before the birth of TikTok and when YouTube reigned supreme, an unassuming rapping trio from Manchester were catapulted to viral stardom.

C-Mac, Little F*****g Kevin and Ginger Joe, all from Salford, made up the Kersal Massive, a rap trio that would go on to become instant internet stars thanks to their rap song about day-to-day life in Manchester.

Instead of using their music to address social inequality or political issues, the Kersal Massive instead opted to rap about life in Manchester, grand theft auto and using their day saver bus passes. 

Their rap song was actually an entry for a contest to win a Kano-themed BMX, hosted by former record label 679 Recordings. Shockingly, the Kersal Massive didn’t win, but the video wound up on the internet, where they found online fame instead.

The video was one of the first viral sensations to ever grace the internet, and today has over 1.8m views on YouTube alone. 

For years people have been trying to decipher the meaning behind the song, with one YouTuber optimistically commenting: “By referring to a ‘day saver’, Little Kev highlights the struggle of the working class, while at the same time bringing up questions about religion and culture with the following ‘laid low, did a grand theft auto’ line, and how the incarceration of the young in today’s western world is affecting our society.

“Such a lyrical genius. A poet in his own right.”

Another commented: “It has been said Ginger Joe now travels the globe giving lectures on philosophy and ethics… and is also a UN spokesman answering questions on the [meaning of] being human.” 

Someone even went to the bother of creating a lyric page to search for any hidden meanings or political agendas behind the track – unsurprisingly, none were found. 

Despite their initial success and claims of having ‘all the money ’cause we know how to rap’, however, the Kersal Massive only ever released the one song, and were as quick to slip out of the spotlight as they were to enter it. 

This has caused many people to wonder what exactly happened to the Kersal Massive over the years, and what the rapping trio are up to these days. 

Well, The Tab claimed to have tracked down the infamous ringleader of the Kersal Massive, C-Mac, back in 2016.

They said at the time that C-Mac – real name Callum – still lived in Salford and was working for a law firm in Manchester.

He told the publication of the video: “It was uploaded to the internet over ten years ago. It was done as a joke and then it just went viral. I don’t actually know who uploaded it to YouTube, it wasn’t me.”

Then, Callum went on to break the hearts of Kersal Massive fans far and wide by adding: “I am not in touch with the other two lads anymore.”

While the beloved Ginger Joe is yet to be identified or tracked down, many social media users believed a man on the run from GMP for a series of gun-related offences was in fact a grown-up Little F*****g Kev… though this was never proven. 

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