Woman wearing surgical face mask

University virologist debunks some of biggest COVID-19 myths and conspiracies

Dr Cheryl Walter is a University of Hull virologist with more than 15 years of experience working on a variety of viruses and virus-host systems.

She graduated with a PhD in Microbiology from Rhodes University in South Africa in 2008, and continued her research at the University of Leeds where she first worked on bunyavirus gene regulation and later on hepatitis C virus-host interactions.

Dr Walter has continued her research at the University of Hull with a continued interest in virus-host interactions, using both model bunyaviruses and emerging flaviviruses systems.

She has extensive teaching experience both at undergraduate and postgraduate levels of study.

Here, Dr Walter responds to some of the latest myths and conspiracies surrounding COVID-19, in an interview with Hull Daily Mail.

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Dr Cheryl Walter, University of Hull virologist

Hospitals are not empty or quiet – NHS staff are working in incredibly difficult environments to treat COVID patients

“There are many hospitals around the country that have had to declare critical incidents because their ambulance service and ability to look after people in ITU (ICU) units are close to maximum capacity.

“Hospitals are under severe pressure and some areas in a hospital might appear quieter than expected because so many non-urgent clinics and procedures have had to be postponed or, where possible, held online.”

While the vaccine has been developed quickly, it has been approved and is safe

“The vaccines that have been approved had a bit of a head start building on vaccine technology that was developed for SARS-CoV-1, the first very dangerous coronavirus that appeared almost 18 years ago.

“This head start, the monumental and multinational effort by scientists as well the huge investment to find a vaccine have expedited that process.

“Clinical trials involving thousands of people still had to take place and that data is publicly available. Although the vaccine was produced faster than expected, the vaccines that have been approved for use in the UK all still had to undergo rigorous clinically trials and of course the consortiums working on these vaccines had be completely transparent with the technology used, components of the vaccine, any severe reactions in clinical trial patients and of course, how efficacious the vaccines are.

“This means, what percentage of people were protected from COVID-19.”

Even if you have already had COVID-19, you may be able to catch it again and pass it on to others – you still need the vaccine

“Lasting immunity can vary from individual to individual following infection. This is especially so with this coronavirus and we now have good evidence that natural infection doesn’t offer long lasting immunity.

“This means you could catch coronavirus again within a few months if you were unlucky. The vaccine not only gives you most likely much longer protection but also a clinically proven better, more targeted antibody response to this coronavirus.”

The AstraZeneca vaccine does not contain pork products

"The Astra Zeneca vaccine does not contain any pork products but contains a very small percentage of ethanol (alcohol) which acts a preserving agent.

“This is not nearly enough alcohol to increase your blood alcohol levels and I would always encourage all individuals to take the vaccine, if offered it.”

The vaccine cannot give you COVID-19

“Most definitely not! All of the coronavirus vaccines currently licensed for use in the UK do not use a technology that could ever lead to even a tiny number of people contracting the virus from the vaccination.

“All modern vaccines these days are designed and administered appropriately so that this cannot happen.

“There are some instances where people with weakened immune systems cannot take certain vaccines e.g. the chicken pox vaccine but the clinical considerations for these people when giving the coronavirus vaccines actually revolve more around considering if they will actually produce enough antibodies, rather than any other risk.”

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