Skip to content

When you choose to publish with PLOS, your research makes an impact. Make your work accessible to all, without restrictions, and accelerate scientific discovery with options like preprints and published peer review that make your work more Open.


Getting a COVID Vaccine is More Transparent Than Eating a Hot Dog: Countering Vaccine Hesitancy

“So, you’ve been eatin’ hot dogs and chicken nuggets all your life and you don’t want the vaccine ‘cuz you don’t know what’s in it??” asks a befuddled chicken in a meme.

Actually, plenty of information is out there about “what’s in it.”

Upon entering a vaccination center, you’re handed a multi-page fact sheet that, among many other things, lists the chemicals about to be plunged into your arm.

The first two COVID vaccines are roughly the same recipe, adjusted for proportions and tiny details: mRNA, 4 fats (including cholesterol), a pinch of sugar, and a few salts. No eggs, preservatives, ricin, or leechee nut extract. (See The First COVID-19 Vaccines: What’s mRNA Got to do With it?) Ingredient lists for hot dogs and chicken nuggets are far longer and complex.

Yet the comparative transparency of vaccine ingredient lists isn’t enough to dispel the fear of something new and unfamiliar being jabbed into your body. For many people that fear arises against a backdrop of the history of dishonesty in medicine that has misled and mistreated marginalized groups, as well as the record of unethical clinical trials for some vaccines, notably influenza.

Peppered throughout the vaccine fact sheet, at least for the Pfizer-BioNTech one that I received, are statements that the product has not been FDA approved, which may surprise some people. Both mRNA vaccines were released under Emergency Use Authorization, which is a stop on the regulatory road to full approval. Along with overlapping clinical trial stages, the EUAs catalyzed the trajectory of the vaccines reaching arms.

Right now, a paradox is unfolding. While many people are frantic to sign up for vaccines, ready to hurl their laptops and phones out the window as appointment slots fill and websites crash, others are hesitant.

Even some healthcare workers, who’d probably know what the chemspeak on the vaccine labels mean, aren’t all in for rolling up their sleeves, just yet.

Hesitancy Among Healthcare Workers

A survey of 5,287 healthcare personnel at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, from November 23 through December 5, probed attitudes, beliefs, and willingness to get vaccinated. The survey went out a week before the first vaccine EUA. Results appear in Clinical Infectious Diseases.

About a third of registered nurses, allied health professionals, and master’s level clinicians reported being unsure about taking the vaccine, while researchers and physicians were more accepting. Concerns included questioning safety and/or efficacy, potential adverse effects, and uneasiness about the speed of vaccine development.

Unexpectedly, clinicians who reported having cared for COVID patients were slightly less likely to want to be vaccinated compared to those who hadn’t. But lead author Jana Shaw, MD, MPH, pointed out that the survey didn’t address severity of sickness in patients, and therefore may have been skewed towards clinicians treating mild COVID cases. The findings propelled the researchers to better educate their staffs as well as the public about the importance and safety of COVID vaccines.

Other studies echo the hesitancy among healthcare staff. A report from the CDC revealed that only 37.5% of workers at 11,460 nursing homes were vaccinated, covering mid-December to mid-January.


Worse than hesitancy that affects a single person is spreading misinformation or otherwise discouraging others from being vaccinated. On January 30 at Dodger stadium, 50+ anti-vaccine protesters temporarily shut down a mass vaccination site for about an hour.

The protesters’ signs blared “TURN BACK NOW,” “My rights don’t end where your fear begins,” and “COVID=SCAM,” while they shouted that the virus isn’t real and vaccines are dangerous, according to a dentist waiting on line who spoke with reporters. The dentist wanted the vaccine to protect his patients.

Despite the interruption, injections proceeded, and California Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted that night, “we will not be deterred or threatened.”

Countering Herd Immunity

The consequences of a decision to receive a vaccine or not transcend the personal to the societal.

Last week’s post explained the herd immunity threshold; the percent of a population that must be vaccinated to halt the spread of the infection. The threshold depends on the number of people an infected person infects, which is specific to an infectious disease. The more transmissible the disease, the greater the percentage of the population that must be vaccinated to stop the spread. It’s common sense as well as math.

Herd immunity threshold is a moving target, creeping ever up as new variants barrel into new turf and ease the journeys of viruses propelled in breaths from person to person. The threshold right now is hovering around 80%. And a reigniting of the embers of the anti-vaccine movement could make the astonishingly fast development of vaccines against the novel coronavirus for naught.

We may never reach herd immunity because of vaccine hesitancy. But it is too soon to give up.

What Can We Do To Counter Vaccine Hesitancy?

If you agree that people who discourage others from getting vaccines will ultimately hold us all back from returning to normalcy, speak up.

• Post your experiences with the vaccine to social media.

• Learn about old vaccines. They’re why we no longer have smallpox, and why kids don’t miss school for measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, and lots of other infectious ills. (See Vaccine Memories: From Polio to Autism). But the new vaccines are nothing like those of years past, so …

• Google “central dogma” to learn about or revisit the connections among DNA, RNA, and proteins – this basis of molecular biology explains most of the COVID vaccines. The central dogma is part of ninth grade biology these days, but those of us a bit older might need a reminder. It is central in the 36 textbook editions I’ve cranked out. I’m thrilled that people now care about mRNA!

• Assure fretting friends that mRNA vaccines aren’t viruses, and they can’t enter human cell nuclei and sabotage our DNA. They’re just templates that our cells use to mass-produce the spike proteins that alert and mobilize our immune systems to immediately attack viruses in our noses.

From the frenzy to sign up for vaccines, I’m hopeful that the anti-vaccination crowd will shrink enough not to compromise progress towards herd immunity – to protect all of us. I hope that their resistance will be futile.

  1. My husband and I have issues we were told by our Dr. No rush. Wait. You don’t know what the shot can do to you yet…
    We in Florida got it first. We walked away. Still r walking away. Sharon SIMOULES ur half sister have been friends since college. I was in her wedding party.

    1. That’s not terrible advice – there’s still much we don’t know. I think the third approval, coming soon, will be the game changer because more people will be able to get vaccines. Here in New York it seems to be largely a matter of luck, jumping online at the exact instant when a new slate of appointments open up. My husband and I got lucky. For the state website you have to fill in tons of info each time you log on – it isn’t saved. I hope the efforts can be coordinated soon. Sharon is great!

  2. “Hot Dog ingredients”

    We don’t inject hot dogs into our deltoid muscle. We have evolved to eat from the ground (no plates). We have evolved processes to deal with contaminants that arrive with the food. If it tastes/smells bad, you spit it out. Vomit/diarrhea clear out undesirable intake. Stomach acid destroys some undesirable intake. When some stuff bypasses that, the liver and kidneys step in. We have not evolved to handle lipid nanoparticle (LNP) encapsulated mRNA, specifically engineered to defeat bodily processes, being injected into our muscles.

    So as predicted here,

    The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is unnecessary, unsafe and should not be authorized.

    there are numerous reports of autoimmune diseases (immune thrombocytopenia, ITP) being reported following COVID-19 vaccines.

    “The dentist wanted the vaccine to protect his patients.”

    “The consequences of a decision to receive a vaccine or not transcend the personal to the societal.”

    “may never reach herd immunity because of vaccine hesitancy”

    All misinformation. Even Fauci has now admitted that ALL injected vaccines are incapable of producing mucosal immunity and therefore DO NOT STOP INFECTION OR TRANSMISSION. Injected vaccines are for INDIVIDUAL PROTECTION ONLY.

    “Administration of parenterally administered vaccines alone typically does not result in potent mucosal immunity that might interrupt infection or transmission”

    SARS-CoV-2 Vaccines: Much Accomplished, Much to Learn

    So, vaccine hesitancy/herd immunity, dentist protecting his patients, “transcend personal/societal”, all go out the window.

    In fact, the vaccinated are going to be the super-spreaders as is the case with the influenza/pertussis vaccines.

    “Self-reported vaccination for the current season was associated with a trend (P < 0.10) toward higher viral shedding in fine-aerosol samples; vaccination with both the current and previous year’s seasonal vaccines, however, was significantly associated with greater fine-aerosol shedding in unadjusted and adjusted models (P < 0.01). In adjusted models, we observed 6.3 (95% CI 1.9–21.5) times more aerosol shedding among cases with vaccination in the current and previous season compared with having no vaccination in those two seasons.”

    Yan J, Grantham M, Pantelic J, de Mesquita PJ, Albert B, Liu F, et al. Infectious virus in exhaled breath of symptomatic seasonal influenza cases from a college community. Adamson W, Beato-Arribas B, Bischoff W, Booth W, Cauchemez S, Ehrman S, et al., editors. Proc Natl Acad Sci. National Academy of Sciences; 2018;

    Vaccinated, pertussis colonized children, kill their teachers by causing multiple sclerosis.

    "they can’t enter human cell nuclei and sabotage our DNA"

    How can you be sure about that given this below?

    SARS-CoV-2 RNA reverse-transcribed and integrated into the human genome

    Murphy's law is immutable!

    1. Firstly, the article is about transparency. Hot dogs are linked to type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and don’t need to be injected into your muscle to be bad for you. Are you saying your body will automatically vomit everything that is bad? I’d like to see the source on that one. These sources and blanket statements are all crap. Either old or preliminary. Where is the Fauci source you mentioned? Completely incorrect on the SARS article related to COVID mRNA. Also, no animal proteins.

      There is no evidence that the covid vaccine causes autoimmune disease. Why would you say that?

      Vaccinated, pertussis colonized children, kill their teachers by causing multiple sclerosis. COMPLETELY FALSE and UNRELATED article from 2016.

      A reminder: these are preliminary reports that have not been peer-reviewed. They should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or be reported in news media as established information

    2. This is directly stated from one of your sources.

      ‘If there is a cause-and-effect relationship, it is likely to be a very uncommon occurrence. In clinical trials of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which involved roughly 30,000 and 44,000 people, respectively, serious adverse events were rare and occurred at similar rates among trial participants whether they received the vaccine or a placebo’

  3. What are your thoughts on all the deaths related to the Covid vaccines reported on the VAERS website? And according to the CDC, those numbers are actually only about 5-10% of the true numbers.

    1. When so many people are receiving vaccines, there are going to be deaths, many of which I suspect would have happened anyway. It will take some time to investigate them all. But I cannot imagine how mRNA could cause death. It is broken down fairly quickly once it does its job.

  4. The difference with hot dogd is that we KNOW they have ingredients that cause harm, same with cigarettes and alcohol. It seems absurd to worry about a vaccine that has been successfully given to millions of people against a disease that has a high mortality rate, when we knowingly take in those other substances and let our children take them in too. Please take a step back and really think about it. Think how many lives will be saved if we reach 80% vaccination rate. The death toll in the U S has surpassed that of all the wars since 1914! Don’t believe me? Do the math. Look it up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Add your ORCID here. (e.g. 0000-0002-7299-680X)

Related Posts
Back to top