A COVID-19 booster is dispensed in the Mount Sinai South Nassau Vaxmobile...

A COVID-19 booster is dispensed in the Mount Sinai South Nassau Vaxmobile at the Wantagh Fire Department on Wednesday. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Misinformation, mistakes in messaging and social media's ability to amplify all of it — three factors that medical experts point to as fueling suspicion about COVID-19 vaccines and refusal by many to get the shots.

The resulting myths — including that the vaccine is useless, causes infertility and can be fatal — have collectively hurt efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus, according to the experts.

Newsday spoke with top Long Island infectious disease specialists with years of training in the field in an effort to dispel the myths.

Myth: COVID-19 vaccines don’t work

"These vaccines work better than we had ever hoped they would work," said Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of public health and epidemiology for Northwell Health, the largest health care system in New York State.

COVID-19 vaccines are not magical solutions that prevent people from getting infected with the disease, he said. But in the vast majority of cases, according to Farber, getting a shot clearly prevents the worst outcome — hospitalization or even death.

"They’re certainly not perfect," Farber said. "They don’t work forever. They do lose efficacy with time. Boosters are needed and may well be needed and likely needed down the line. But they work. They keep people out of the hospital. They keep people out of ICUs and from dying."

"The overwhelming majority of people who get COVID after having been vaccinated are fine and don’t have serious problems," he added.

COVID-19 vaccines are the most studied vaccines ever, Farber said. After at least 4 billion doses administered worldwide, he said, there is enough data to state definitively the vaccines work and are safe.

Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Medicine, agreed.

The vast majority of people who are hospitalized or die due to COVID-19 are unvaccinated, she noted.

"The vaccine was not developed to stop any COVID infection," Nachman said. "It was developed to save lives, and that’s what it’s doing."

Myth: The COVID-19 vaccine causes infertility

This is one of the most damaging and persistent myths, according to the experts, because it affects pregnant women and their babies.

No documented evidence shows the vaccine causes infertility, experts said, and not getting one is dangerous for pregnant women or those who want to get pregnant because it leaves them vulnerable to COVID-19.

"It’s a destructive myth," Nachman said. "We are hurting pregnant women and their children. We’re not protecting them."

Getting the vaccine "does not change your fertility," she said. "It will not lead to increased pregnancy losses or miscarriages, and it will protect the mom."

Said Dr. Alan M. Bulbin, director of infectious disease at Catholic Health St. Francis Hospital & Heart Center in Flower Hill: "There’s been no increased risk of fetal demise or loss of pregnancy or early delivery" among women who get vaccinated.

"The opposite is clearly the case," he said. "We do know that unvaccinated pregnant women who get COVID are at very high risk for all kinds of complications including pregnancy loss, early delivery, and other complications."

Studies show, he said, that there is no difference in sperm counts among men who get vaccinated and those who don't.

Farber says the infertility myth is one "that has been particularly harmful" but also particularly hard to knock down.

"That is a dragon we have not been able to totally slay," he said.

Myth: The COVID-19 vaccine can harm or even kill you

There are few if any documented deaths in New York State directly caused by the vaccine alone, the experts said.

But more than 69,000 documented deaths in the state are directly linked to COVID-19, with more than 900,000 fatalities in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"There will be one million deaths before all is said and done — the worst pandemic in the history of our country," Bulbin said. "Even if there is one death somewhere" from the vaccine, "you’re hard pressed to find it and prove it compared to almost a million deaths from COVID."

Farber said: "People who really believe that the vaccine is going to kill them, I urge them to talk to their friends, neighbors, family members, co-workers, and ask them if the 75% of New Yorkers that have been fully vaccinated, if anyone knows anyone who has been severely hurt by that vaccine or killed."

The doctors say the vaccine often does provoke temporary side effects: pain and soreness at the injection site, body ache, fever, fatigue. But those effects typically go away within a few days.

In comparison, COVID-19 can cause serious or even fatal impacts in unvaccinated people, as well as long-haul COVID-19, in which symptoms linger for months after the initial infection, they said.

"Severe side effects are so extremely small and they pale in comparison with any complication from COVID directly," Bulbin said.

Some cases of myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart, usually in vaccinated teenage boys or young men, have occurred but the vast majority of those cases resolve themselves, Bulbin said.

He says the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risk.

"Who is hospitalized? Who is at higher risk to die from COVID? Who requires more care from COVID?" he said. "Clearly the unvaccinated group. There is no doubt about that."

Meanwhile, in the latest COVID-19 indicators, the seven-day average for positivity on Long Island dropped to 2.0% on Wednesday. The region registered 234 new cases.

Statewide, 31 people, including three in Nassau and two in Suffolk, died Wednesday of causes linked to COVID-19.

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