Vaccine Myth-Buster: Review cleans up with prejudices and dangerous misinformation

In this post, Paul Löffler, student in the MSc Ecotoxicology program at University of Koblenz-Landau, provides some background on the review paper on vaccine myths that he published in Frontiers in Immunology – Vaccines and Molecular Therapeutics.

Although vaccines have already saved and will continue to save millions of lives, they are under attack. Vaccine safety is the main target or criticism. The rapid distribution of false information, or even conspiracy theories on the internet has tremendously favoured vaccine hesitancy. The World Health Organization (WHO) has named vaccine hesitancy one of the top ten threats to global health in 2019, right before the COVID-19 pandemic changed the public discourse on the topic.

As COVID-19 was spreading around the world, so did conspiracy theories about the virus, the evidence of sickness and the vaccine, even before any vaccination had been registered, licensed, or administered. Suddenly, immunization has been on everyone’s lips and more and more people around me made critical remarks. In order to counteract the flood of information and discussions on a reliable background knowledge, I started reading literature on vaccines. In addition to my master’s thesis, I was reading vaccination articles late into the night in the lockdown period in Germany.

Photo of the author, Paul Löffler, student in the Master of Science in Ecotoxicology program at University of Koblenz-Landau (photo by J. A. Christ)

At some point I asked myself: “Why don’t do it scientifically?”. And thus, I started writing the notes in English, collected five major vaccination myths I personally deemed important (content of formaldehyde, aluminium and mercury in vaccines; the false correlation between autism spectrum disorder and vaccines; as well as possible misconceptions regarding genetic vaccines), reviewed the literature, wrote a manuscript including 230 references, which I submitted to the Open Access Journal Frontiers in Immunology – Vaccines and Molecular Therapeutics, where it got reviewed and finally published at the beginning of June 2021.

Due to this being a current and sensitive topic, it was important to me to publish the final review called Vaccine Myth-Buster publicly available, so that the broadest possible audience might be able to read it. So far over a thousand people read the article, and several newspapers have already reported about it or will in the near future.

In addition to the acquired knowledge about vaccines, the whole peer-review process was immensely rich in experience from a student’s point view, who had never published as first author before. Furthermore, I realized how alienated the scientific method is for many people. Accordingly, science communication took a completely new role in my eyes, in order to consolidate the trust of the people in the acquisition of scientific knowledge.

The review paper “Review: Vaccine Myth-Buster – Cleaning Up With Prejudices and Dangerous Misinformation” authored by Paul Löffler is available Open Access in Frontiers in Immunology – Vaccines and Molecular Therapeutics.