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Updated Aug. 2, 2023
Chances are you've heard about a food, drug or other method that claims to prevent, treat or cure COVID-19. But while it might be tempting to use a questionable product or method to stay healthy, it's unlikely to work. And, in some cases, it might cause serious harm.
COVID-19 vaccine and prevention myths
Getting a COVID-19 vaccine reduces the risk of infection with the COVID-19 virus and slows the spread of COVID-19. Also, vaccination can prevent severe illness from COVID-19. But misinformation continues to circulate about COVID-19 vaccines and ways to prevent infection with the COVID-19 virus.
Here's what the science says about COVID-19 vaccine myths:
COVID-19 vaccines don't cause you to become sick with COVID-19. The COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. don't contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. Some people may have side effects from the vaccine, such as a fever or muscle pain. But these symptoms usually go away in a few days.
Currently, there is no evidence that any COVID-19 vaccine causes fertility problems. COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for people who are trying to become pregnant or might become pregnant in the future.
COVID-19 vaccines won't track your location or movements. COVID-19 vaccines were developed to help the body develop immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19. Also, COVID-19 vaccines don't contain preservatives, antibiotics, metals, or aborted fetal tissues or cells.
COVID-19 vaccines deliver instructions to teach the body how to build protection against the COVID-19 virus. The Pfizer BioNTech and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccines use genetically engineered messenger RNA (mRNA). The mRNA gives cells instructions for how to make a piece of protein found on the surface of the COVID-19 virus. The protein is then displayed on the surface of cells in the body. Once the immune system recognizes that the protein doesn't belong there, it makes antibodies to fight off what looks like an infection. After the mRNA delivers instructions, it's immediately broken down. It doesn't enter the nucleus of the cells, where the DNA is kept. COVID-19 vaccines don't change your DNA.
Other COVID-19 prevention myths include:
- Natural immunity
It's safer to build immunity from a COVID-19 vaccine than it is to develop immunity from getting sick with COVID-19. Vaccine side effects are often mild and predictable. But the severity of COVID-19 varies from person to person. And some people can get seriously ill. Also, vaccines give the highest level of protection against COVID-19, even for people who have already gotten sick with COVID-19.
- Pneumonia and flu vaccines
Vaccines against pneumonia, such as the pneumococcal vaccine, don't protect against the COVID-19 virus. The flu shot also won't protect you against the COVID-19 virus. However, annual flu vaccinations are recommended for everyone age six months and older.
- High temperatures
Exposure to the sun or to temperatures higher than 77 F (25 C) doesn't prevent infection with the COVID-19 virus or cure COVID-19 illness. You can get the COVID-19 virus in sunny, hot and humid weather. Taking a hot bath also can't prevent you from catching the COVID-19 virus. Your normal body temperature remains the same, regardless of the temperature of your bath or shower.
- Low temperatures
Cold weather and snow also can't kill the COVID-19 virus.
- Drinking alcohol
Consuming alcoholic beverages doesn't protect you from the COVID-19 virus.
There's no evidence that eating garlic protects against infection with the COVID-19 virus.
- Ultraviolet (UV) disinfection lamp
Ultraviolet light can be used as a disinfectant on surfaces. But don't use a UV lamp to sterilize your hands or other areas of your body. UV radiation can cause skin irritation.
- 5G mobile networks
Avoiding exposure to or use of 5G networks doesn't prevent infection with the COVID-19 virus. Viruses can't travel on radio waves and mobile networks. The COVID-19 virus has spread in many countries that lack 5G mobile networks.
When applied to surfaces, disinfectants can help kill germs such as the COVID-19 virus. However, don't use disinfectants on your body, inject them into your body or swallow them. Disinfectants can irritate the skin and be toxic if swallowed or injected into the body. Also, don't wash produce with disinfectants.
Many people take vitamin C, zinc, green tea or echinacea to boost their immune systems. But these supplements are unlikely to prevent you from getting sick. The supplement colloidal silver, which has been marketed as a COVID-19 treatment, isn't safe or effective for treating any disease. Oleandrin, an extract from the toxic oleander plant, is poisonous and shouldn't be taken as a supplement or home remedy.
COVID-19 treatment myths
Misinformation about COVID-19 treatments has led to serious harm and death.
These drugs, products and methods aren't recommended to treat COVID-19:
Antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses. However, people hospitalized due to COVID-19 might be given antibiotics because they also have developed a bacterial infection.
- Alcohol and chlorine spray
Spraying alcohol or chlorine on your body won't kill viruses that have entered your body. These substances also can harm your eyes, mouth and clothes.
This drug is often used in the U.S. to treat or prevent parasites in animals. In humans, specific doses of ivermectin tablets can be used to treat parasitic worms. Also, a topical version can be applied to the skin to treat head lice and skin conditions in humans. However, ivermectin isn't a drug for treating viruses. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn't approved the use of this drug to treat or prevent COVID-19. Taking large doses of this drug can cause serious harm. Don't use medications intended for animals on yourself.
Focus on facts
The FDA continues to remove misleading products from store shelves and online marketplaces. In the meantime, remember that testimonials aren't a substitute for scientific evidence. Also, few diseases can be treated quickly, so beware of quick fixes. A miracle cure that claims to contain a secret ingredient is likely a hoax.
If you have a question about a product, drug or method for treating or preventing infection with the COVID-19 virus, talk to your health care team. To ask a question about a COVID-19 medication, you can call your local pharmacist or the FDA's Division of Drug Information.
Effective COVID-19 prevention tips
There are steps you can take to reduce your risk of infection. When possible, get a COVID-19 vaccine. Also, stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines to prevent serious illness. You're considered up to date with your vaccines if you've gotten all recommended COVID-19 vaccines, including booster doses when you become eligible.
If you're up to date with your vaccines, you can more safely return to activities you might not have been able to do because of the pandemic. However, if you are in an area with a high number of people with COVID-19 in the hospital and new COVID-19 cases, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing a mask indoors in public.
You can take many steps to reduce your risk of infection from the COVID-19 virus and reduce the risk of spreading it to others.
The CDC recommends following these precautions:
- Avoid close contact with anyone who is sick or has symptoms.
- Keep distance between yourself and others when you're in indoor public spaces if you're not fully vaccinated. This is especially important if you have a higher risk of serious illness. Keep in mind that some people may have COVID-19 and spread it to others, even if they don't have symptoms or don't know they have COVID-19.
- Avoid crowds and indoor places that have poor airflow (ventilation).
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Wear a face mask in indoor public spaces if you're in an area with a high number of people with COVID-19 in the hospital, whether or not you're vaccinated. The CDC recommends wearing the most protective mask possible that you'll wear regularly, fits well and is comfortable.
- Cover your mouth and nose with your elbow or a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Throw away the used tissue. Wash your hands right away.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Avoid sharing dishes, glasses, bedding and other household items if you're sick.
- Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs, light switches, electronics and counters, regularly.
- Stay home from work, school and public areas and stay home in isolation if you're sick, unless you're going to get medical care. Avoid taking public transportation, taxis and ride-hailing services if you're sick.
If you have a chronic medical condition and may have a higher risk of serious illness, check with your health care provider about other ways to protect yourself.
By Mayo Clinic Health System staff
Information in this post was accurate at the time of its posting. Due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific understanding, along with guidelines and recommendations, may have changed since the original publication date.