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'The only way out of this is with the vaccine'

Online forum at St. Thomas University tackles myths and facts about COVID vaccines

English Spanish

MIAMI | With the arrival of vaccines against COVID-19, the hope of returning to a pre-2020 normal has turned into a reality, but one that may not be as imminent as many would wish.

A year out from the start of the pandemic, it is estimated that between 50 and 70% of the population will need to get vaccinated “to stop transmission of the virus and get us close to community or herd immunity, which would allow us to return to communal life,” said Father Alfred Cioffi, archdiocesan priest and director of St. Thomas University’s Bioethics Institute.

He was speaking during a Spanish-language forum entitled “COVID-19: Mitos y Realidades” (Myths and Facts) that was transmitted live via Zoom Feb. 4, 2021. The forum — the first of its kind in Spanish — was organized by St. Thomas University’s Center for Pandemic, Disaster and Quarantine Research, and featured other experts on medicine and public health.

A similar forum took place in English Dec. 30, 2020 (see above), and another one is being planned in Creole for the near future.

Studies done by the PDQ center show that Hispanic, African American and Native American populations have been the most affected by COVID-19. Yet during the vaccine rollout so far, “less than one third of the vaccines have reached these minorities,” said José Rocha, associate professor of business at St. Thomas, co-director of the PDQ center and moderator of the forum.

At the same time, myths and disinformation about the vaccines are spreading in these communities, leading many people to refuse vaccination. The forum was organized for that reason, to better inform the Spanish-speaking community in South Florida.

We know that “false information has been spread through social media. It’s worrisome because it was done to keep people from getting vaccinated,” said another forum participant, Dr. Olveen Carrasquillo. He is professor of medicine and public health sciences and chief of the division of general internal medicine at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine.

“First it was against COVID, now it’s against the vaccine,” Carrasquillo said. He mentioned some of the myths going around about the COVID-19 vaccine, such as: “They’re injecting chips, so the government can control the population. They’re injecting the 666, the mark of the devil. The 5G towers will detect the vaccine. Or Bill Gates at any time could press a button and kill that person.”

Carrasquillo, who has been involved in research on the vaccine being created by Johnson & Johnson pharmaceuticals, also has studied different treatments for the prevention of COVID-19.

“We have to educate the population that there are not too many dangers with the vaccine,” said Dr. Marcos Mestre, vice president and chief medical officer for Nicklaus Children's Hospital in Miami. He noted that the U.S. had vaccinated nearly 30 million people by that time “without any big complications.”


One of the fears most mentioned is regarding the swift development of the vaccines. While most people believe they were developed this year, scientists have been working on them since 2011, when the MERS epidemic first arose, Carrasquillo said.

He also pointed out that while studying the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is currently awaiting final approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, he and his team have been working 24 hours a day seven days a week. “It’s 100% focused effort. If we had not had the pandemic, it would have taken us three or four years,” he said.

All the data was measured carefully. “The level of cooperation and scientific integration is unprecedented. This is a pandemic. Everyone helped because we knew we had to do it as quickly as possible, because every day we were seeing the deaths,” Carrasquillo added.

Another fear is that the vaccine will cause people to catch the virus. “That’s another error, because the vaccine does not contain the virus,” said Marina Matute Obispo, who works in Baptist Hospital’s Office of Infection Prevention and is a graduate of St. Thomas University’s master’s program in bioethics.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna use messenger-RNA, which is a copy of a portion of the virus’ genetic code. The symptoms some vaccine recipients experience are related to the response of their immune system. “They resemble flu symptoms, which are not related to the disease,” Matute said.

According to specialists, studies of the vaccines’ effects show that 80% of recipients feel some pain at the vaccine site for two or three days. Half of them feel tired for a few days and experience muscle aches.

Other fears frequently mentioned are:

  • The vaccine will alter a person’s DNA. But m-RNA will never penetrate the cell nucleus where DNA is located.
  • If I get vaccinated today, will I become infertile? It’s been shown that no vaccines affect feminine fertility, but the vaccine has not been around long enough so there’s no way to be certain about possible secondary effects.
  • If I get vaccinated, will I test positive for COVID? That’s false. What probably happened is that the person was incubating the virus before getting vaccinated.
  • If I got COVID, should I get the vaccine? Scientists know that the infection provides protection for a time, but it’s not clear how long. It is recommended that those who have been infected get the vaccine three months later.
People with autism, immunodeficiency, chronic diseases or medical conditions in general are at the highest risk if they become ill with COVID-19. It is important for them to be vaccinated as soon as possible.

People with allergies should consult their physicians. “In general, the sicker people are, the more vital it is for them to get the vaccine,” said Carrasquillo.

In the case of children who get COVID, complications have been seen in those who are obese or suffer from chronic conditions. Studies are being done right now among children 12 and older. The results will probably be available at the end of the year.

Some also fear that the COVID vaccines were developed unethically, using cell lines from fetuses aborted decades ago. Father Cioffi noted that Pfizer and Moderna have stated that does not apply to their vaccines, so being vaccinated with them would not imply cooperation with the evil of abortion. But even a vaccine that was created using that tissue would not mean the recipient is cooperating formally or materially with the grave evil of that long-ago abortion.



Another factor, aside from the myths and fears that keep minority communities from being vaccinated, is the disparity in their social and economic conditions.

Having no health insurance and suffering from chronic illnesses are factors that combine to create complications which in turn result in higher mortality rates. Living in close quarters, reliance on public transportation and front-line occupations that expose workers to the public all lead to greater risk of contagion.

Those same circumstances affect access to the vaccines.

“Many people don’t have cars to go where the vaccines are being given. They get no time off from work, or get docked for missing work,” said Kimberly Cogdell Grainger, a specialist in minority public health and assistant vice president for Academic Administration at New College of Florida.

Grainger also pointed out the experiments that were done decades ago on African American and Hispanic communities under false pretenses and without participants’ consent. The medical community has yet to regain their trust.

The last year has been difficult for everyone, Carrasquillo said. “In August, no one knew what to tell people. Now we have vaccines. We are at a very different point in time, but we need more patience. The vaccines are coming and soon we will have enough for everyone. We can’t give up now. We need to continue using masks for a few more months and continue social distancing.”

The experts’ final recommendation, in the words of Carrasquillo: “If we all get vaccinated, we will be in a very different situation by Thanksgiving and Christmas; a little more patience is required; we have almost beaten this virus.”

Or, as Mestre put it: “The only way out of this is with the vaccine.” 


To learn more about the programs and activities of St. Thomas University’s Center for Pandemic, Disaster and Quarantine Research, visit

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Comments from readers

Donna Malchrist - 02/28/2021 01:00 PM
I got the two dose shots of Pfeizer and was lucky not to have any bad reactions.I believe that it is still a good idea for all to get the vaccines. We need to continue practicing the proper guidelines such as using hand sanitizer. keeping six feet apart from one another.and wearing masks. I hope that the curve will start to trend downward.It is very important to always keep up to date with the latest news from the CDC regarding whether to relax restrictions or to continue implementing them. It is still a precarious situation out there and now is not the time for everyone to let their guard down. With the variants out there. More research needs to be done to determine whether or not the current vaccines are compatible againet these new strains.I hope all will not be afraid to get vaccinated. It is much better for the general protect the most vulnerable in their own communities.I pray for the all the healthcare workers who tend to the sick in the hospitals.May God bless them with strength and wisdom to carry out their duties in the name of the Divine Physician Jesus Christ Our Lord.Amen

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