Pitkin County health officials: Don’t believe vaccine myths

Sally Maxwell, left, takes photos as her husband, Zach Maxwell, is given the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by Aspen Valley Hospital registered nurse Lauren Angelo at the vaccine tent in Aspen on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Myths and misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines are rampant and Pitkin County public health officials are trying to get out the truth in an effort to convince more people to be vaccinated and better protect the community.

“There’s no difference between getting vaccinated and wearing a helmet (while skiing or biking),” said Gabe Muething, one of the coordinators of the county’s mass vaccine clinics and the director of the Aspen Ambulance District. “I have not been able to find a downside to getting a vaccine.”

Muething said he and others who supervise newly vaccinated people at the clinics, now being held at the Benedict Music Tent parking lot but soon to move to the Buttermilk Ski Area parking lot, spend a lot of time shooting down rumors and myths about the vaccines.

With three COVID-19 vaccines now approved by the federal government, one of the most common questions is which one is better, he said.

“The answer, hands down, is each one is great,” Muething said. “There is not one that is better than the other. Get the one you can get.”

Carly Senst, Pitkin County’s vaccine coordinator, agreed.

“The best vaccine you can possibly get is the one you can get the soonest,” she said.

Another common question is about side effects, Muething said. People say they hear that one vaccine causes stronger side effects than the other, though he’s seen no evidence that the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines provoke universal responses.

“It seems to be very person-dependent,” he said. “Some people have side effects with one and others don’t. Because it seems so random, it’s hard to say.”

Many people who have already had COVID-19 think they don’t need the vaccine, Muething and Senst said. However, having the virus only provides antibodies for a limited amount of time, Senst said.

“The vaccines are designed for longevity,” she said. “A vaccine provides better protection than (the body’s) immune response to having the virus.”

Muething said not getting the vaccine is a risk, especially with the prevalence of variants on the rise.

“You’re gambling if you don’t get a vaccine,” he said, “although a lot of people are looking at it as an acceptable gamble.”

Dr. Kim Levin, Pitkin County’s medical officer and an emergency physician at Aspen Valley Hospital, said Thursday during a meeting of the Pitkin County Board of Health that younger people who have not been eligible for the vaccines until recently constitute a significant number of new cases. In fact, of the two people hospitalized with COVID-like symptoms at AVH as of Thursday, one was a 19-year-old, she said.

She and Josh Vance, the county’s epidemiologist, also pointed out that in a study of Roaring Fork Valley residents who have had the virus, 57% reported having at least one lingering symptom months later. In addition, a recent U.K. study found that 33% of more than 236,000 people who’d had the virus reported a lingering neurological or psychiatric disorder, with about 13% of those never having been diagnosed with such a disorder before, Vance said.

During Thursday’s meeting, Levin addressed several common myths about the vaccines, she said. They include:

• The vaccines are not safe because they were developed so rapidly. Answer: The vaccines were developed using the same protocols used to develop other vaccines, she said.

• The mRNA technology behind the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is too new and not safe. Answer: The technology has been around at least two decades, has been used to treat SARS and cancer and is safe, Levin said.

• The vaccines will make you test positive for COVID-19 or make you sick with the virus. Answer: The vaccines do not have COVID-19 in them but, instead, are designed to provoke an immune response to protect against it. People can test positive after receiving the vaccine, but the vaccine is not the cause of the infection, she said.

• Vaccines will change a person’s DNA and have long-term effects on the body. Answer: Again, this is not true as the vaccines don’t interact with DNA, Levin said.

• Vaccines contain preservatives, egg products, animal products, microchips, fetal cells and are linked to 5G networks. Answer: This is all false, she said.

• I’m young and not at risk from COVID-19, so I don’t need the vaccine. Answer: The virus affects each person’s body differently and anyone can have long-term effects, she said. Also, the severity of the illness is not an indicator of whether a person will have long-term effects, she said.

• I have allergies so I shouldn’t get the vaccine. Answer: The vaccines have been seen to show a very low rate of allergic reactions, Levin said. Muething said Friday that no one has been taken to the hospital because of an allergic reactions since the mass clinics began in Aspen.

• The vaccines are not safe for pregnant women or can cause infertility or miscarriages. Answer: There’s no indication this is true, and half of pregnant women in the Roaring Fork Valley have been vaccinated, Levin said. Vaccines also are safe for women who are breastfeeding, while antibodies have been shown to be able to be passed on to newborns, she said.

Pitkin County’s mass vaccine clinics will run through May 14. Clinics will be held at the Benedict Music Tent parking lot through April, after which they will move to the Buttermilk Ski Area parking lot.

Those interested in receiving the vaccine can sign up on the county’s COVID-19 webpage at


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