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No, the COVID-19 vaccines can’t cause or create new variants

COVID-19 vaccines will slow the spread of the virus and do not cause or create the variants.
Credit: AP
FILE - In this Dec. 29, 2020, file photo a Chester County, Pa., Health Department worker fills a syringe with Moderna COVID-19 vaccine before administering it at the Chester County Government Services Center in West Chester, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

Omicron, a SARS-CoV-2 variant also known as the B.1.1.529 variant, was reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) from South Africa on Nov. 24. It was discovered amidst an increase in infections. 

In the days following the announcement of the new variant, screenshots of an article from Techniajz.com that purported to share the symptoms of the omicron variant began circulating online. Some social media users alleged the list of side effects for the new variant were the same side effects people experienced after receiving the Pfizer vaccine.

Other tweets claim the vaccine caused the variant (see example here). The Twitter account for @techni_ajz  has also retweeted links to the article suggesting more children will get the variants the more they are vaccinated.

THE QUESTION

Could receiving a COVID-19 vaccine create new variants of the virus?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is false.

No, the COVID-19 vaccine can’t create new variants. Doctors tell VERIFY getting vaccinated slows both the spread of COVID-19 and the development of new variants. 

WHAT WE FOUND

Dr. Daniel B. Fagbuyi, an emergency room physician and biodefense expert, said it’s “not possible” for a vaccine to create or cause the development of new variants because that’s not how virus mutations work.

A variant emerges when the original virus mutates. Variants that survive and spread contain some properties that make them “more successful in transmitting and replicating than the original virus”, according to an article from Tufts University.

“Viruses are not technically living things—they invade living cells and hijack their machinery to get energy and replicate, and find ways to infect other living organisms and start the process over again,” the article said. The vaccines work by stimulating your immune system to produce antibodies to fight the virus and would not cause it to mutate.

Dr. Saralyn Mark, former senior medical advisor to The White House under President Barack Obama, told VERIFY another reason why is because the live virus isn’t part of the vaccine. 

Mark told VERIFY viruses replicate quite well in populations that are not vaccinated, and that is why there is significant discussion about vaccine equity across the globe. Wealthier countries have ready access to vaccine supply while poorer countries struggle to get vaccine supplies.

“It's extremely important that we share vaccines, but we also maintain very strong public health measures. Unfortunately, it's been politicized. We know that vaccines work, certainly, but we also know that masks work. We know social distancing works, we know that hand hygiene works, you know, ventilation can work. And when we put it all together, we have a greater system to protect ourselves,” she said. 

Fagbuyi told VERIFY the safest thing for people to do to reduce the risk of future variants is to practice social distancing, wear masks and get vaccinated. Also, he said, scientists and researchers are only getting smarter and learning more about how the variants are created or spread.

The vaccine is a shield to protect against the virus, not a force field. He encourages individuals to get their booster shots to increase their protection from the virus and its variants.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a list of some possible side effects to the coronavirus and a list of vaccine side effects on their website

THE SOURCE OF THE MISINFORMATION

The screenshots in the viral tweets were shared from a blog post on Techniajz.com, a website registered in India. The blog post was created on Nov. 27 and updated on Nov. 30. 

The screenshots being widely shared show the list of side effects under the title: “Symptoms of New Omicron (B.1.1.529) Variant of Coronavirus” and an archive of the page captured on Nov. 28 also show the title.

Credit: Wayback Machine

On Nov. 29, when VERIFY identified and archived the page, the new title only said: “Symptoms of Coronavirus” with additional information about the symptoms and context around the omicron variant. This means the title was presumably updated sometime between Nov. 28 and Nov. 29.

Credit: Perma.cc

The website is registered out of Rajasthan, India, according to the registration and domain information

The author has since added a note to the top of the blog post that says: “It is based on news sources that are available in the public domain and we do not own any rights to it. We don't claim to be experts. We also update it with time as more information is coming on this matter.”

VERIFY reached out to the website for comment and has not heard back. 

More from VERIFY: No, you can’t ‘detox’ to remove a vaccine from your body

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