Fr. William Holtzinger, pastor of St. Anne Parish in Grants Pass, gives a thumbs up after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. (Courtesy Fr. Holtzinger)
Fr. William Holtzinger, pastor of St. Anne Parish in Grants Pass, gives a thumbs up after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. (Courtesy Fr. Holtzinger)
Casey Shillam, dean of the School of Nursing at the University of Portland, has heard more COVID-19 vaccine myths than she wants to list.

“A lot of them are fear-based rumors,” she said.

The misinformation mill is so overwhelming online, in fact, that she has mostly removed herself from social media.

That’s not true for her father, George Woods — who is now her source for the latest myths. He’s also her not-so-secret weapon in countering them.

That’s because Shillam’s dad takes the time to correct what comes up on his Facebook feed. He’s not an expert but rather part of a group of friends who agree on most other things. That means his vaccine rebuttal is more likely to get through the noise.

Woods wasn’t always part of refuting the misinformation.

Shillam remembers last September when he posted something she knew was false. Woods was simply passing along a fabrication from one of his Facebook friends.

“You are contributing to the problem,” Shillam told her dad.

She was grateful that he listened. “He really heard me,” she said.

Now Woods sends her information he sees on his social media feeds, asking her about its veracity.

He also got vaccinated and put that news on his Facebook page so friends could see.

Shillam says it’s important for each of us to do the same, to take responsibility to not pass along but rather correct misinformation — some of which can even come from eyewitnesses.

She recalls a friend who was admitted to the hospital for a procedure late last autumn. Afterward, the friend reported that the pandemic was a hoax, that she had seen with her own eyes the fact that there were no COVID-19 patients at the hospital.

Shillam sighs.

Hospitals scrupulously separate COVID-19 wards from floors with patients who don’t have the virus.

“Our brains are wired to make sense of the world in alignment with what we already believe,” she says.

That means we all need to be especially scrupulous with information that feels exciting, affirming or pleasing. “We have a duty to follow the science for the common good,” Shillam says.

Father Tad Pacholczyk, director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, has been saying much the same thing for months now. He wrote a column in September 2020 devoted to debunking the vaccine myths. That column has been one of the most popular articles at the Catholic Sentinel’s website ever since.

He wrote that there were still questions about what were then proposed COVID-19 vaccines still being tested. “But,” he added, “we shouldn’t argue against vaccines in ways that make neither ethical nor sci-entific sense.”

A sampling of myths

MYTH: The vaccine implants a microchip or “nano transducer” that tracks and/or controls recipients.

FACT: This myth has no relationship with reality. There is no vaccine microchip. Transducers are im-planted to monitor physiological pressures and deliver drugs. It’s possible that their name, “piezoelec-tric transducer,” sounds enough like “Pfizer,” one of the vaccine manufacturers, to launch this rumor. It may also have begun when Bill Gates commented on digital health records — not in any way associated with a microchip inside a vaccine.

MYTH: The COVID-19 vaccine was developed too quickly to be safe. How could they have developed this vaccine so quickly when there isn’t even a vaccine for malaria or dengue fever?

FACT: Enormous amounts of money were invested in creating the COVID-19 vaccine quickly. There has never been anything close to the same kind of investment toward vector-borne diseases like malaria and dengue fever. In addition, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were developed using a new technology that had been in development for years. Several additional factors contributed to the “warp speed.”

MYTH: The COVID-19 vaccines contain human embryonic fetal cells.

FACT: They don’t. It is true that Pfizer and Moderna used fetal cell lines from the 1970s and ’80s in testing the vaccine during development. Johnson & Johnson used fetal cell lines in development, testing and production. In responding to this concern, the Vatican assures Catholics they can receive vaccines in good conscience, even ones using those fetal cell lines, because “there is a grave danger, such as the otherwise uncontainable spread of a serious pathological agent.” A group of U.S. bishops, including Archbishop Alexander Sample, voiced a preference for Pfizer and Moderna shots and urged Catholics to advocate for vaccine development that makes no use of fetal cells.

MYTH: The COVID-19 vaccine can affect a woman’s fertility.

FACT: According to the Johns Hopkins’ COVID-19 myths page, women involved in the Pfizer vaccine tests included some who became pregnant during the study. The only woman to suffer a miscarriage had received a placebo, not the vaccine. On the other hand, the Mayo Clinic reports that pregnancy in-creases the risk for severe illness and death for those women who contract COVID-19. A study also found that male sperm count and quality may be affected in men who have contracted COVID-19. Oth-er researchers have found testicular damage following COVID-19 infection.

MYTH: You don’t need to get the COVID-19 vaccine if you’ve already had COVID-19.

FACT: Using the precautionary principle, scientists and doctors are recommending that even those who tested positive for the virus in the past get the vaccine. It’s not known how long a past infection will keep a person safe — and it’s not known how long the vaccine will keep us safe. However, there should be a 90-day waiting period between being diagnosed with COVID-19 and getting a vaccine.