|People wait to see whether they have any side effects after receiving coronavirus vaccine shots at COVID-19 vaccination center in Seodaemun District, Seoul, Friday. Yonhap|
By Bahk Eun-ji
Nearly 70 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but some people still believe and spread misinformation and conspiracy theories about the vaccines, refusing to get injections.
The misinformation and groundless claims are being fueled by isolated cases of severe side effects involving vaccinated people. Experts urge the government to take countermeasures against false information, which could prevent people from getting vaccinations or vaccinated people from getting booster shots.
There are hundreds of online communities populated by people refusing to get vaccinations due to their distrust of the coronavirus vaccines. Besides just fear, many people upload stories lacking any scientific grounding. One account claimed that a person experienced "vaccine shedding," a term referring to the discredited belief that vaccine components are being released or discharged from the bodies of vaccinated individuals.
They claim that people vaccinated against the coronavirus release viral particles, causing abnormal symptoms such as itchiness, headaches and menstrual irregularities on those around them.
"When I was around a vaccinated person, I felt symptoms such as a runny nose, phlegm, coughing and stinging around my heart and lungs," one person wrote on one such community which has around 15,000 members.
"Although I told my family members about such symptoms, they just treated me as if I was too anxious," the writer said.
Another also said when vaccinated people come close to him, they smell disgusting because of the vaccine shedding, while others wrote about getting rashes on their arms when standing near a person who got the Pfizer shot.
But these claims are groundless, as vaccine shedding cannot happen with COVID-19 vaccines, which are either viral vector or mRNA types.
"Vaccine shedding can occur when a vaccine contains a weakened version of the virus. None of the vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. contain a live virus," a Q&A posting on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website reads.
An even more serious problem is that those people are encouraging others around them not to get vaccinated.
One person wrote that people who get inoculated for fear of being stigmatized by society are like "dogs and pigs," using the animals as symbols of blind obedience to state control. "We should not do what the government says, but we must fight till death," the person said.
With more than 80 percent of adult patients being vaccinated or having received only one shot, experts warn that spreading such misinformation could create a hole in efforts by the health authorities to contain the spread of the virus.
"These claims have no scientific or medical basis," said Chon Eun-mi, a professor of respiratory medicine at Ewha Womans University Mokdong Hospital.
"Symptoms like rashes and headaches can be caused by psychological stress alone," Chon said.