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10 COVID-19 Vaccine Myths Debunked By Experts
With Malaysia expected to receive the COVID-19 vaccine soon, it is important to rely on credible health information as the decision to vaccinate draws near. Originally published on January 13, 2021 on the Johns Hopkins Medicine website, this article debunks 10 COVID-19 vaccine myths (specifically the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna ones) by experts to distinguish fact from fallacy.
1. The COVID-19 vaccine can affect women’s fertility. This rumor started when a fake report cropped up on social media claiming that the spike protein on the coronavirus was the same as another spike protein called syncitin-1, which is involved in the growth and attachment of the placenta during pregnancy. This suggests that the vaccine would cause the body to fight this other protein and affect fertility. However, not only are these two proteins completely different, placental growth actually occurs weeks after pregnancy and would thus cause miscarriage if the rumors were true, not infertility.
This wouldn’t explain the 23 female volunteers who actually became pregnant during the Pfizer clinical trials.Therefore, the COVID-19 vaccine does not affect women’s fertility. Is not known to cause any miscarriage or have negative impact on breastfeeding either. Getting COVID-19 does impact pregnancy and although the clinical trials should have included pregnant women, it is now up to you to speak with your healthcare provider to decide what is best for you and your pregnancy.
2. If I’ve already had COVID-19, I don’t need a vaccine. We know that re-infection with COVID-19 is possible. It is advised for those who have gotten COVID-19 to get vaccinated anyway. Due to lack of information, it is unclear how long people are protected from COVID-19 after they’ve had it. Current evidence suggests it may not last very long. Some scientists believe the vaccine offers better protection than a natural infection.
3. The vaccine development was rushed, so its effectiveness & safety cannot be trusted. The two initial vaccines are about 95% effective with no serious or long lasting side effects. No steps were skipped, but some were done in tandem to be able to gather data faster. This feat was made possible because the new method used had been in development prior to its use, China shared the genetic information of COVID-19 quickly to scientists, governments invested in research which afforded the necessary resources, social media helped find volunteers, and it didn’t take long to see if the vaccine worked because COVID-19 is very contagious.
4. Getting vaccinated means I can stop wearing my mask and following safety protocol. All health and safety protocols are still mandated until further notice because the vaccines do not stop COVID-19 from entering your body, instead preventing a moderate or severe infection. People who get vaccinated should just assume they are asymptomatic carriers to be safe.
5. Getting the COVID-19 vaccine gives you COVID-19. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are the 2 mRNA vaccines authorised by the F.D.A. in the U.S. and they do not give you COVID-19. The vaccine does not contain the virus, but an instruction sheet for your cells to reproduce a protein which is a part of it. This will teach your immune system to recognize and fight the virus off in the event you get infected.
6. The side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine are dangerous. The vaccine can have side effects but they are experienced for a short time and not serious or dangerous. Some people experience pain at the injection site, body aches, headaches or fever which lasts a day or two. This means that the vaccine is getting your immune system to work but if it lasts more than two days, you should contact your doctor. Prior to getting vaccinated, make sure you talk out your concerns with your doctor, especially if you have serious allergies.
7. The COVID-19 vaccine enters your cells and changes your DNA. The two initial vaccines contain messenger RNA, an instruction sheet that makes the protein that will stimulate our immune system and breaks down after its job is done. It does enter our cells, but not the nucleus (where the DNA is) and makes no changes whatsoever to our DNA.
8. The messenger RNA technology used to make the COVID-19 vaccine is brand new. The technology responsible for these new vaccines have been in development for almost 20 years. It was created specifically to allow vaccine makers to respond to a new pandemic illness.
9. The COVID-19 vaccine was developed with or contains controversial substances. The first two vaccines authorised by the FDA contain mRNA and other standard ingredients like fats (to protect the mRNA), salts and sugar. It does not contain tracking devices or microchips.
10. Since we have a vaccine for COVID-19, we can make vaccines for other diseases too. There are thousands of viruses causing many diseases. Because viruses often mutate, it's hard to make one vaccine that works for a long time. Some viruses are also tricky like the HIV virus which hides in our immune system and becomes undetectable. The common cold could be caused by any of a thousand viruses, so making a vaccine for the flu wouldn’t be very effective.
Conclusion? Fake news circulating social media is dangerous as misinformation regarding the pandemic sets back public health measures that could save countless lives. So, go ahead and make an informed decision with the help of your healthcare provider to keep yourself safe.
COVID-19 Vaccine; Health Benefit or Safety Risk?
The global pandemic brought a whole new meaning to our 2020s, but with the new year upon us, will vaccines bring us the new beginning we’ve all been hoping for? Amidst the confusion and misinformation, let’s allay some concerns and inject some hope as we walk into 2021.
Understanding how vaccines work requires some basic knowledge of how our bodies fight illnesses. When germs like bacteria or viruses invade our bodies, we acquire an infection and fall sick. Our immune system employs white cells found in our blood to fight the germs off.
Germs have a unique structure called antigens that our immune systems recognize and respond to by producing antibodies. These antibodies cooperate with other parts of our immune system to fight off the infection. After some days, our immune system eventually wins the battle.
Our immune system has memory cells which remember particular germs so it can fight it off faster and more effectively should we get infected by it again. A vaccine is a cheat sheet for our immune system as they contain dead/ weakened forms of germs. This allows us to produce antibodies without being exposed to more deadly forms of germs which cause diseases like polio, tetanus etc.(1).
Vaccine development undergoes a series of extensive testing to ensure it is safe, and monitored to measure its impact and effectiveness over a large population sample and long period of time. This data will then be used in implementing and enforcing vaccination policies throughout its use(2).
As with any drug, vaccines do have potential side effects. After getting the shot, you might experience pain, redness, swelling, and aches throughout your body. They normally go away after a few days. Serious side effects or allergic reactions are very rare and require immediate attention(3).
Not everyone is a good candidate for vaccination i.e. those with weakened immune systems. Herd immunity occurs when enough of the population is vaccinated and deters the germs from spreading as most people are immune. This means diseases can eventually be eradicated, but that doesn’t mean we should stop vaccinating. In fact, stopping vaccination practices will allow these deadly diseases to make a comeback(4).
The “anti-vax” movement opposes vaccinations believing that it infringes on human rights, religious beliefs or are simply unsafe(5). However, as history confirms, vaccines do prevent serious diseases that would otherwise harm healthy populations with minimal side effects(6).
With over 150 COVID-19 vaccines in clinical trials and several already deemed safe and effective to begin administration, Malaysia has secured enough vaccines to cover 80% of the population, free of charge(7). As to which vaccine to choose from, choices may be too limited now to address this.
It can be daunting to decide whether or not to vaccinate, but remember that vaccines not only provide protection for you, but those that are unable to do so thanks to herd immunity. So be sure to research all areas of available information from trusted sources before you call the shots.
Say Goodbye to High Blood Pressure with Natural Remedies
Did you know that the leading cause of death and disability in the world is something we can prevent? While high blood pressure (or hypertension, for the medically versed) itself will not take you out, it’s the chronic diseases arising from leaving it untreated that potentially could.
The biological process that causes hypertension is called atherosclerosis, where fatty deposits build up inside your blood vessels (the highways carrying blood all around your body). If these highways are congested, your blood will have to move faster in a smaller space to carry oxygen to your organs. The more congested the vessel becomes, the higher the pressure until it is completely blocked (bad).
This begins as early as when you’re 20 years old, way before signs of high blood pressure start to manifest. This is why a vast majority of hypertension remains undiagnosed and people only find out when their heart starts to give out (chest pain on exertion, or worse, a heart attack). If you haven’t already, you should go to your nearest clinic and measure your blood pressure (BP).
If your BP is high (≥140/90 mmHg) on 2 separate occasions, you might have hypertension. After your doctor rules out any potential causes, they will evaluate your lifestyle. Several factors are known to contribute to heart disease which we will look at in this article. It is entirely possible to lower your high blood pressure with natural remedies, so early detection is key to start taking control of your health.
If you are overweight, a weight reduction of 4kg has been shown to reduce BP by 4.5/3.2 mmHg. This can be achieved by a combination of dietary interventions and physical exercise (tips ahead). High sodium intake is associated with increased risk for heart disease. Reduce your daily salt intake to less than 1 teaspoon/day to significantly reduce your BP (by as much as 7.8/2/7 mmHg).
Alcohol has been shown to raise BP and reducing alcohol intake can decrease your BP by 3.3/2 mmHg. But how much is too much? It is recommended to limit yourself to less than 2 drinks per day. By far the most notorious risk factor for heart disease is smoking and complete cessation is ideal. Perhaps joining a local community group or having an accountability partner can help you along. There are also ‘Quit Smoking’ Clinics in government hospitals all over Malaysia.
Stress gets a bad rep in relation to cardiovascular disease, and rightly so. Although the evidence that suggesting yoga could reduce BP by 4.2/3.6 mmHg is poor, there is no harm in stretching anyway. Other factors include limiting potassium and caffeine intake, supplementing with fish oil, calcium, garlic, magnesium, and fibre. But without sufficient evidence, no one is giving up their morning coffee anytime soon.
This may seem like a lot, but remember, this is not a contest. Adopting even a few of these tips can make a difference to naturally lower your high blood pressure and keep your heart happy.
3.Malaysian Society of Hypertension. (2018). Clinical Practice Guidelines on Management of Hypertension.
Ergonomics Tips for a Better WFH Experience
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. “Ergonomics” is the scientific discipline behind designing workspaces, products and systems to fit the needs of the user. If you’re constantly complaining about a stiff lower back from sitting for too long or are squinty eyed at the end of a workday from a staring contest with your computer screen, read on.
Ergonomics are applicable to everything around us from how highways are built to ATM interfaces; but this article will focus on workspaces now that we have a second lockdown to WFH again. Knowing how to set up your workspace could benefit your productivity and your health as work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMD) is one of the most frequent reasons we see a doctor.
Starting out as sprains, strains, tears, and back pain, over time these complaints if left untreated could develop into more serious diseases like carpal tunnel syndrome, back injury, and arthritis. Ergonomics could help alleviate discomforts (localised pressure, postural malalignment etc.) which prevent acute pain and especially chronic conditions that could cause lifelong disability.
Normally affecting blue collar workers, these disorders now also affect the common office worker. Contemporary office structures don’t help. You know, the sedentary workstations that require sitting in a chair for over 8 hours whilst engaging in a staring competition with your computer screen and craning your neck to a phone wedged between your ear and shoulder.
Paying attention to ergonomics in the workplace is important as it can improve productivity by enhancing safety and comfort. The typical workspace is not designed for you, it’s designed for everyone, and each individual has different needs, capabilities and limitations. Here are 5 tips to ensure that your desk setup will result in a more productive WFH.
Adjust your chair height so your elbows are bent to 90° and make sure your feet touch the ground. Seat yourself at the very back of your chair and position your back straight. Keep your monitor close enough (about arm's length, and at or slightly lower than eye level) so you don’t strain your eyes or bend forward to read. Mind your mouse and keyboard to avoid reaching for anything by moving from your elbows, not your shoulders. Place your phone on your non-writing side to avoid cradling it and consider using headphones if you’re always on the phone anyway.
No matter how ergonomically sound both you and your workspace setup is, eventually you will begin to droop into your chair and hunch your back. Perk yourself up with these exercises! Extend your neck forward and then tuck your chin. Bend your head to one side and gently press down gently. Repeat on the other side. Squeeze your shoulders backwards and forwards. Tilt your hips forwards and back. Do each of these 3 times when you’re starting to feel weary.
Finally, set an hourly timer on your PC or phone and get up every time it goes off. Walk around a little, grab a drink or snack, take a toilet break, but the point is: just move! MCO can be a challenging period for everyone. However, adopting a positive mindset to boost your WFH productivity can be rewarding, especially if you use ergonomics to be mindful of your body too.
This Could Be Why You Can't Sleep At Night
“When you have insomnia, you’re never really asleep and you’re never really awake.” This quote from Fight Club accurately describes the struggles of an insomniac. With the pandemic extending into 2021, let’s address new pandemic jargon: “coronosomnia” and “covid-somnia”. Many people can’t seem to sleep at night, but why is this happening and how can we fight it?
Sleep neurologists observed an increase in sleep disturbances and misuse of sleep medications linked to the pandemic. Even before the peak of the pandemic in the U.S., a prescription site saw a 15% increase in sleeping pills being prescribed. In 2020, “insomnia” was Googled more than it ever had before, so there is no denying that the pandemic is keeping us up at night.
Lockdowns worldwide have been responsible for derailing our daily routines. For most of us, life is within four walls parked in front of a computer screen. Working, studying, creating, parenting, and being indoors for prolonged periods of time can affect our sleep. This affects our front liners even more as they can barely catch a break from being ‘essential’ in the midst of a pandemic.
Sure, being sleep deprived causes irritability and the words on your computer screen to dance, but it has far more insidious long term effects i.e. increasing your risk for diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Without 8 hours of quality sleep every night, we’re shortening our life expectancy!
But do you have insomnia? Maybe, if you have trouble falling asleep at night despite adequate opportunity and suitable conditions for at least 3 days a week for 3 months, alongside nighttime awakenings, difficulty returning to sleep, early awakenings and suffering daytime dysfunction. Abnormal dreams and disruptive, recurrent nightmares also points to having a sleep disorder.
It’s okay, your feelings are totally valid! What started out as an initial isolation to hunker down and binge Netflix has now become a new existence which feels like it’s here to stay. We’re all worried about our finances, families, friends, and futures. It’s hard, but we should be proactive in protecting our sleep as we’re better equipped to handle life's curveballs when we’re well-rested.
The pandemic has affected our sleep by causing insufficient exposure to sunlight, blurring of boundaries between work and play, excessive daytime napping, inadequate exercise, and increased usage of electronic devices (especially nearing bedtime). Sadly, most people seek professional help only when their trouble sleeping has progressed into a full blown sleep disorder, but this held true before the pandemic exacerbated the prevalence of insomnia.
If you’re starting to notice a disturbance in your sleep, you can try improving your sleep hygiene. These are positive habits you can incorporate into your life to better the quality of your sleep; Sleep and wake up at the same time, daily. Avoid daytime naps. Don’t watch TV or use your phone in bed. Blue light emitted by your gadgets delays sleep onset. Avoid reading in bed as it associates the bed with wakefulness. Be wary of late caffeine consumption and exercise times. Avoid alcohol, smoking and over-the-counter medication. Keep your bedroom quiet, cool, and dark so it’s conducive for sleep. Try to relax before bedtime with a warm bath or meditation.
If your troubleshooting yields no success, you can try consulting a sleep specialist to help you understand what you could do better. Fortunately, sleep disorders are well-adapted to utilising virtual medicine as we advance towards improved access and quality of healthcare delivery. With a bit of education and experimentation, we could have your sleeping like a log in no time.
"Superfoods": Must or Bust?
If you think sprinkling chia seeds and a bunch of overpriced berries over your morning oats is going to grant you long life and Wolverine healing powers, chances are that you’ve fallen prey to the overzealous addition to the health and wellness food industry that is “superfoods”.
Sure, the promise of bizarre, brightly coloured food that claims to cure chronic disease is hard to resist. But what does science have to say? Well, there is no scientifically agreed upon definition but “superfood” refers to a nutritionally dense food beneficial to one’s health. It's unclear why they tend to be from exotic faraway lands and difficult to pronounce (açaí, quinoa etc.) though.
In fact, traditional medicine has tapped into the super qualities of food long before modern medicine even knew why. Jamu is a herbal medicine from Indonesia which uses roots, flowers, seeds, leaves, and bark to make drinks regularly consumed by locals. Some ingredients include turmeric (anti-inflammatory), cinnamon (lowers blood sugar), and ginger (relieves nausea). Common herbs and spices hold little appeal for markets where little profit can be made though.
The ever-changing “superfood” trend usually starts with a shiny new research touting that a previously unexciting food contains impossibly high amounts of certain nutrients which are clearly linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. Once some popular (but questionable) media companies take notice, they regurgitate the abstract of the study, and unassuming masses go wild incorporating this new food into their Buddha bowls.
However, the nutrient content in foods is measured in 100g portions and it’s unlikely that we actually eat that much for a few grams of fibre. Most nutritional research tends to be funded by the very company selling the food. Finally, what reduces risk for disease is adopting a healthy lifestyle, not just eating “superfoods''. Clickbait headlines take advantage of the scientifically illiterate and profit from affiliate links by directing consumers to the products they help sell.
Despite even academics debunking the fad of “superfoods”, why do we still reach for this misnomer of the millennia in the supermarket? Perhaps it is the combination of attractive packaging littered with pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo, our desire for easy answers to “fix” our health concerns and heavy reliance on social media and WhatsApp for credible information.
Many “superfoods” do impress. Chia seeds have an awful lot of omega-3 fats, kale has more nutrients than makes sense, and quinoa is indeed gluten-free and protein-packed. But all seeds, leafy greens and whole grains are healthy, even if they don’t make it on your Instagram feed.
Opting for wide varieties of healthy food, super or not, will be more affordable, kinder to the environment and still serve your nutritional needs. Combined with a good management of stress levels, quality sleep and adequate exercise, who knows you might actually end up feeling super.
Vitamin and Mineral Supplements- Are They Really Necessary
Short answer: It depends. Long answer: Continue reading.
Besides, multivitamins are in fact a type of supplement and all supplements are a manufactured product containing a plethora of substances. This includes vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, botanicals or any combination of them but really, what are they and why do we need them?
Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients essential for our bodies to function(1). Unlike bacteria, we cannot make them ourselves so we need to get it from our diet. In the past, improper diets caused nutritional deficiencies like scurvy (vitamin C) and pellagra (vitamin B3)(2).
Nowadays, there are still some conditions that genuinely warrant health supplementation(3). I.e. symptoms a physician and lab tests confirm as a vitamin or mineral deficiency, chronic medical conditions (malabsorption syndrome, osteoporosis etc.), if you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, have restrictive diets (we see you, vegans) or don’t get enough sunshine.
Over the last few decades, dietary supplements have gained popularity purporting health claims that promise consumers better health and disease prevention. Some of the catchy slogans you might have seen on late night TV or Google Ads are “boost your immune system”, “lose weight without diet or exercise”, “cure cancer”, and more recently “prevent COVID-19 infection”.
Not only are they readily available in pharmacies, supermarkets and even online stores, consumers do not need a doctor's prescription to obtain them. Furthermore, lack of regulations make it a far more likely last minute addition to your shopping cart without much thought.
For instance, in the U.S., manufacturers and distributors do not require FDA approval to sell health supplements. However, they are obligated to report any adverse side effects which heavily relies on consumer and healthcare practitioners reporting(4).
In Malaysia, all health supplements must be registered and approved by the Ministry of Health (MOH)(5) and relevant guidelines can easily be found online(6). However, unregistered products are still widely found due to poor enforcement and surveillance(7). Consumers can check to see if the product is registered via the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA).
Too much of a good thing is bad and rightly so, overconsumption of vitamins can cause hypervitaminosis which could be toxic to our bodies. Some supplements can also negatively interact with medications consumers might already be taking.
Before you invest in magic pills that advertise potentially unsubstantiated health claims, there is no get-health-quick alternative to making necessary lifestyle modifications to attain good health. Let health supplements complement your health journey, not become a foundation for it.
Keeping Your Diabetes Under Control With Lifestyle Modification
The word pandemic has certainly been on everyone’s mind this year, but let’s not forget about the epidemic(1) in the room; type-2 diabetes. With the global diabetes epidemic on the rise, it will definitely take more than just medication to kick this preventable disease back into remission.
Research(2) over the last few decades has demonstrated that lifestyle changes can improve your diabetes. Some even claim that it can be reversed, but only those patients who are compliant with their prescriptions and persistent in their efforts of lifestyle modification are likely to see noticeable changes.
The most important lifestyle modifications to keep your diabetes under control is to revamp your diet(3) and develop a good exercise(4) routine. That being said, here are some practical tips to implement those modifications and monitor your progress from the convenience of your home.
The diet recommended for diabetes control aims to monitor total carbohydrate intake. That doesn’t mean you need to be one of those calorie counting nuts, unless you enjoy it of course. The simplest means to doing this is by implementing the plate method(5).
Simply fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables (leafy greens, cauliflowers, bell peppers etc.), a quarter with lean protein (fish, poultry, eggs etc.) or plant protein (legumes, peas, beans etc.) and the remaining quarter with starchy vegetables (tubers, squash, corn etc.) or whole grains (brown rice, millet, buckwheat etc.).
Considering your food based on their glycemic index(6) is the next step in determining whether or not you should be eating them. A glycemic index gives each food a score from 0 to 100 based on how much they affect your blood sugar. Smaller numbers indicate a slower digestive process as it takes your body longer to break them down and keeps you full longer.
Low-GI foods score under 55, medium-GI foods score 55-70, and high-GI foods score above 70. Examples of low-GI foods include rolled or steel-cut oats, barley, bulgur, butter beans and peas, non-starchy vegetables, milk, sweet potatoes and most fruit.
When it comes to physical activity, clock in 150 minutes per week and choose an activity you enjoy. It’s okay to take breaks but make sure to have no more than two days of inactivity to avoid losing momentum. Pay attention to how you feel when you have low blood sugar if you don’t want to end up in the ER.
If you want to know whether or not your lifestyle modifications are making a difference, don’t forget that self monitoring of blood glucose is highly recommended. You can also measure your waist circumference and body mass index (BMI) every four weeks.
Keep in mind, diabetes is acquired over your entire lifetime so be kind to yourself when you begin making these changes. Take your time and adjust according to what you feel comfortable with. Consult your doctor, nutritionist or physical trainer should you have doubts, and have a good support system who will motivate and keep you on track.