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The *real* side effects of Covid-19 vaccines

By Cece Siago| July 20, 2021

Editor’s Note:

They used to say that ‘the camera never lies’. But fake videos have been a huge source of misinformation during the pandemic. Some hoaxers cut genuine news reports with their own footage, whilst others simply change the voice-over, so that the footage of a genuinely poorly patient becomes a ‘victim’ of the vaccine. One widely-shared video which is hard to explain involves magnets: the idea is that a microchip has somehow been injected inside a mystery liquid, via a syringe.

Needless to say, it defies the laws of physics and is totally fake. But the impact of such videos on vaccine hesitancy is real…

As Kenya begins to administer the second dose of COVID-19 in June 2021, videos of people claiming to have side effects of the virus have resurfaced, creating vaccine hesitancy among locals. 

Despite these videos being available and mostly shared on WhatsApp, it has become difficult to confirm if they really are from trusted sources. 

Jane Wanjiru*, was sitting at her office desk in Mombasa County when she received a notification on her phone. Upon opening it, she quickly called her colleague, who was seated right next to her to show her the video.

“Here is what happens when you get vaccinated,” she says to her colleague as they watch a video.

It is a video of a man who states he is a physician and scientist and claims that the vaccine is meant to create clots in someone’s body.

They start discussing what the ‘physician’ is saying before she forwards the message to the colleague who might probably spread the information in the video to her friends and relatives.

This is how misinformation, the acquisition of false or unverified information spreads among Kenyans.

Over the next few hours, Jane spreads the same information to any other person she knows that is on her contact list.

Vaccine hesitancy is threatening the uptake of COVID-19 vaccine among Kenyans, with many fearing that they may have side effects after receiving the jab.

This has been propelled by misinformation, through sharing of videos on social media purported to be either of experts or victims of the said effects, the most common one being blood clotting.

This has resulted in innocent Kenyans falling victim to such misinforming videos, hence avoiding the vaccine, a major step in fighting the current global Coronavirus pandemic.

However, first-hand experiences of some Kenyans who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine proves otherwise.

A deep check by the Nation using fact-checking online tools showed that despite the number of misinforming videos believed to have reduced, such videos are still in circulation.

For instance, in a video that has started circulating in WhatsApp groups, a man, Dr Sucharit Bhakdi in a two  minute clip, is advising people and children not to take the vaccine as it would lead to blood clotting in their bodies.

An investigation, though searching his name on Twitter Advanced Search, an online intelligent tool that helps track flow of information, revealed that the said Dr Bhakdi’s video first surfaced in May 28. From his speech, he discourages anyone from taking the vaccine, including children.

The Covid-19 pandemic in Kenya has shown how easy it is for misinformation to be spread.

For Jane, this has stuck in her mind as she has not been vaccinated despite campaigns that have been ongoing, especially those targeting frontline workers to be vaccinated.

“I cannot take the vaccine. If such things are said about the risks of taking the jab then that is so scary.I cannot tell what effect it will have on me,” she said.

Many Kenyans, just like her, have since avoided being vaccinated, in the exercise that has been made voluntary. Kenya is largely administering the AstraZeneca vaccine, produced in India.

So what are the true side effects of COVID-19 vaccines?

Nation caught up with Edith Makungu, a 58 year old high school teacher in the Western Part of Kenya. She has received the first jab of AstraZeneca, awaiting the second and final.

“I got vaccinated. I was scared at first from what I had seen on the internet about vaccine trials and blood clotting,” she said.

She said a number of her fears were she would die following a blood clot. However, she still went for the jab as other teachers, who have been listed among highly exposed people who should be vaccinated to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among school children.

For Ms Makungu, she felt headaches, body weakness and nausea for about three days before she felt ‘normal’ again.

“I did not feel anything at first, I was alright until hours later when I suddenly felt tired, my arm was getting heavy and my body just needed a rest,” she said, explaining that she had the feeling for about two days. She later felt better.

This comes even as experts have said there is really less chances of someone developing a blood clot after the vaccine exercise, blaming misinformation for vaccine hesitancy.

“Misinformation that we have in the social media saying that the vaccines have not been tested in animals hence we are not sure about them have largely contributed to vaccine hesitancy, but there is no fact about that,” said Prof Walter Jakob, a professor of Medical Biology and Tropical Medicine.

According to him, there are more than 200 vaccines that have been tested in animals that could not progress to human safety because of safety concerns.

He blamed vaccine hesitancy on anti-vaccine campaigners from foreign countries, saying that there is a danger in forwarding misinforming videos and photos against the vaccine to people in developing countries like Kenya.

The government however has continued with its campaigns to encourage people, especially the elderly to take the jab that will reduce them being at risk of contracting COVID-19.

This is an edited version of a story by Cece Siago which originally appeared here.