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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.”

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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.

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

Artist creates incredible micro sculpture of Tyson Fury on top of a nail

Dr. Willard Wigan used a nylon cable tie, gold with a broken tip of diamond and his own eyelash as a paintbrush to create the sculpture

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@gypsyking101 / Instagram & Paul Ward Photography

A talented micro artist has created a minuscule sculpture of Tyson Fury in a ‘smallest biggest tribute’ to the boxer following his historic heavyweight championship victory over the weekend.

Dr. Willard Wigan MBE, sixty-four, has produced an impressive catalogue of miniature sculptures throughout his life – we’re talking fourteen camels fitting inside the eye of a needle, kind of miniature –  and considers himself to be ‘officially the greatest micro artist of all time’.

Willard prides himself on making the ‘most wondrous’ microscopic art in history and holds down an impressive fan base which includes Her Majesty the Queen, who invited him to Buckingham Palace after he sculpted her her very own miniature crown. 

But where did this unusual passion for miniature sculpting come from? 

Fundação Dionísio Pinheiro e Alice Cardoso Pinheiro / Facebook


Paul Ward Photography

Willard, who was diagnosed with autism later in life, was excluded from his classes as a result of his learning differences and, after constant humiliation from both his teachers and his peers, closed himself off, fully immersing himself in the world of sculpting.

His first sculpting masterpiece came after an experience with an ants nest in his back garden; using just his dad’s razor blade, a five-year-old Willard sculpted, built and constructed a whole miniature village – complete with tables, chairs and a fully-functioning playground – for ants using only twigs.

Recalling the moment his talent was discovered, Willard told Proper Manchester: “When my mum saw what I’d created, she brought it all into the house and said to me ‘If you make them smaller, your name is going to get bigger.’

“From there, my journey to create the smallest sculptures in the world began and I became possessed with it. My mum kept telling me I was the best, and that encouragement made me truly believe it.”

Paul Ward Photography


Paul Ward Photography

And fast forwarding nearly six decades, Willard has dedicated his entire life to the art of micro sculpting, creating an array of sculptures such as a tiny Mona Lisa and a minuscule London Bridge, some of which have sold for up to £200K.

And most recently, the artist decided to use his talent to pay tribute to a very new victory; Tyson Fury’s Heavyweight Championship victory last weekend. 

A huge boxing fan himself, Willard has long regarded the Wythenshawe-born Tyson to not only be the greatest boxer of all time, but a mental health advocate, an inspiration and a philosopher in his own right. He said: “He’s an example at what can be achieved when you’re going through a dark tunnel. He inspires people to believe in themselves. He’s not just a boxer, he’s a philosopher as well.”

He also sees similarities between himself and the boxer, noting that he and Tyson are both the best at what they do, and both have inspiring stories to tell.

Paul Ward Photography

Using a nylon cable tie, gold with a broken tip of diamond and his own eyelash as a paintbrush, Willard worked on the sculpture – which features a set of green boxing gloves and black shorts emblazoned with ‘Gypsy King’ – for four weeks in his Birmingham workshop.

He eventually titled the piece ‘Hard as Nails’, noting that not only is Tyson hard as nails, but he has ‘nailed mental health, he nailed Deontay Wilder, and he’s also nailing the World Heavyweight Championship, and he will keep that nailed down’.

‘Hard as Nails’ is now on display at the Birmingham Contemporary Art Gallery, though you can view more of Willard’s pieces over on his website.

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HEROES OF MANCHESTER: Meet the firefighter who ran Manchester Marathon in full kit to raise money for Alzheimer’s UK

A video of Andy crossing the finish line seven hours after the marathon began went viral over the weekend

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Andy Ball / Facebook & JustGiving

A Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service firefighter managed to raise thousands of pounds for Alzheimer’s UK after running a marathon in his full fire fighting kit.

The annual Manchester Marathon took place over the weekend and, as is the case every year, thousands of people used the 26.2 mile run as an opportunity to raise money for a charity close to their hearts.

But one ambitious marathon-runner decided to take the challenge to the next level; Andy Ball, a fire fighter for Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS), and his friend and colleague Ryan Jones ran the marathon in full fire kit – complete with a breathing apparatus cylinder – all in order to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK and Dementia UK.

The organisation is the UK’s leading dementia research charity and funds world-class pioneering scientists to find preventions, treatments and a cure for both dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Andy Ball / Facebook

Andy, a dad of two from St. Helens, has run two marathons in fire kit in the past, both to raise money for charity and other good causes. But this year, his motivation was a little closer to the heart; his grandad Derek suffers from dementia and having experienced first-hand the impact the disease can have upon both the individual and their families, Andy wanted to make a difference.

He told Proper Manchester: “I’ve had a lot of personal experience with dementia in my own family – my Grandad Derek suffers from the disease, so I’ve seen first-hand not only the awful effects it has upon the sufferer, but the impact it has on loved ones and relatives, too.”

Andy explained that his decision wasn’t a spur of the moment thing, however; preparation for the marathon was gruelling, with him training for months in advance. After he cut down on beer – arguably the most difficult task of them all – he started going on regular runs with his dogs, adding more weight to his clothing each time to prepare his body for the weight and the heat of his fire kit.

Andy explained: “The oxygen tank is approximately 15kg, and the rest of the kit comes in at around 10kg, so we had a good 30kg of extra weight.”

And in the rare Mancunian sunshine experienced over the weekend, this extra weight proved to be quite the challenge, with Andy recalling how difficult the marathon became as a result of the layers and weight.

He said: “It took us over seven hours to complete the marathon. But the intention for me was to get over that finish line on that same day… It was the hardest marathon I’ve run so far. It was very hard, very challenging. It didn’t help that the sun was out, either.”

Andy also challenged himself to complete the last mile of the marathon using the oxygen from his oxygen tank, known as being ‘on air’ in firefighter speak, something that only made the task all the more gruelling.

However, he noted that the atmosphere throughout the run was ‘brilliant’, saying that the people of Manchester were the ones to get him through. He said: “The atmosphere throughout the whole marathon was brilliant – the people of Manchester were just amazing and that’s what got me through to the very end.”

And, speaking of the moment he was greeted by his wife and children at the finish line – a moment captured on video and viewed by thousands of people across the country – Andy said: “If there had been no one at the finish line, there’d be nothing for me to carry on for. That was everything to me, having my wife and kids waiting for me there. It was just fantastic.”

And perhaps in even more miraculous news, Andy isn’t in any pain from his marathon today and is instead spending his day off ‘having a couple of beers with the dogs’ – I’d say that’s well deserved. 

Across two different GoFundMe pages, Andy and Ryan set a goal of £6,000 – but they have completely smashed that today with a combined sum of £10,372 at the time of writing.

To donate to their cause, visit the Dementia UK GoFundMe and the Alzheimer’s Research UK GoFundMe.

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Feature

FORGOTTEN MANCHESTER: Hitler’s ‘obsession’ with the Midland Hotel and his mysterious plan for our city

Did Hitler really love the Midland?

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Rumour has it that Hitler was so enamoured with the beauty of Manchester’s Midland Hotel he sent out orders to avoid damaging the building during World War II.

In fact, claims suggest Hitler planned to set up a base of operations in the city, right in the Midland – the Luftwaffe was ordered to avoid bombing the building in the Blitz because of this.

This legend has been quoted in many pieces of literature about the hotel since, but is there any truth to it?

Credit: Mike Serigrapher / Flickr

To understand where the Midland Hotel comes into the story, we’ve got to take a little trip into Hitler’s plan for Britain in 1940, Operation Sea Lion.

As Hitler had successfully defeated most of Western Europe, his thoughts turned to conquering Britain. Operation Sea Lion was created, with which he essentially hoped to press the British Government into a peace agreement.

He planned to use the force of odds against them, as well as sea and air superiority over the Channel.

Credit: Charles Cundall / Wikipedia

Obviously, neither of these things happened. But what is important about the plan was the sheer efficiency and detail in its creation.

What is missed out in the detail though, is the invasion of the North of the country, as the plan only described how to occupy the South leaving the North in a limbo situation.

Now we’ve got that bit of high school history out of the way, let’s get back to The Midland Hotel.

Credit: Michael Holdsworth / Flickr

The story follows that once the South had been invaded, German forces would rapidly push North across land, air and sea.

They wanted Manchester as a key administrative centre, the Town Hall would be commandeered and The Midland would become a key location for high-ranking Nazi elite – including the Fuhrer himself.

Or so the story goes…

Credit: Imperial War Museums

When you delve into the finer details it becomes apparent the truth behind the rumours are a lot murkier.

Manchester did come pretty high up on the list of places to bomb in the Blitz. This was most probably due to high munitions and war-effort industries around Salford and Trafford.

The Luftwaffe bombings smashed most of Manchester’s famous buildings including the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester Cathedral, Piccadilly Gardens and Free Trade Hall.

What just so happened to be missed out from this list of landmarks is the Town Hall, Central Library and the Midland. This part is probably where the story comes from.

Credit: Julius / Wikimedia

In fact, an anonymous American Intelligence Officer claimed to have uncovered papers indicating Hitler wished to set up his headquarters in the Midland and thus ordered Luftwaffe to avoid the area at all costs.

But how possible was it back then to accurately avoid very specific areas within a bombing process?

To refute the claim even more, those alleged papers have never been seen by anyone but that ‘anonymous tip’.

Credit: United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs Division

These kinds of myths don’t stop there, Hitler was apparently after the Blackpool tower and very specifically Rochdale Town Hall. 

With hindsight we can see that none of this happened. After the Battle of Britain, Hitler turned his attention to the Russians with Operation Barbarossa – and the rest, as they say, is history. 

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