Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Busting Vaccine Myths and What We Know

PLEASE register for your vaccine (Example: Google "vaccine registration near me"), and get it as soon as you are eligible.

 The following is from Dr. Tammy Tobin, Chair of the Biology Department of Susquehanna University.  It starts with clear language descriptions of the major vaccines being produced, and why they should or shouldn't be used.  It then ends with a series of important myth busters to counter the internet trolls who are sabotaging our nation's need to become vaccinated.

January 12, 2021.

What we know about the vaccines currently in use worldwide:

mRNA vaccines: The short answer is that the Moderna vaccine that you are getting is safe and effective (>90% after two doses with no serious COVID disease. Their clinical trials involved older (>65) individuals, younger individuals (18-55) with comorbidities, and paid attention to racial and gender diversity).  The Pfizer vaccine (the other mRNA vaccine) is similar in this regard.  I would prefer one of these vaccines, if I had a choice.


Live (recombinant adenovirus) vaccines. The current live (Oxford/AstraZenica) vaccine showed about 70% effectiveness, but the initial clinical trials had very few older or non-white participants.   It has been approved for use in Great Britain, but probably has a larger uphill slog in the US due to some anomalies in the clinical trials.  In short, they gave a reduced dose, by mistake, to some participants in their phase 3 clinical trials, and those individuals did better than the others.  I would take this vaccine if it was the only one I could get when my turn arrives.  I am sure it is safe, but don’t know if it will be as effective.


Inactive virus vaccines.  There are no complete phase 3 clinical trials yet, although several are underway.  There is no reason to believe that this approach will not be effective, but China’s approach of vaccinating without that data in hand reflects a different approach to healthcare than we have in the US.  I would not be comfortable taking an inactive virus vaccine until complete phase 3 clinical trial data have shown the vaccine to be safe and effective in large, diverse groups. 


What we don’t know:  

How long will the immunity last?  Which vaccine type is better for long-term immunity?

Can vaccinated people still transmit the virus?  Which vaccine type(s) might prevent this if it happens?

Is the vaccine safe and effective in children? No vaccines are, as yet, approved for individuals under the age of 16, although some clinical trials are underway for the 12-18 group.


How about those false rumors?

Ok, here are some very common rumors and their answers:


  1. Will the COVID mRNA vaccines cause you to make a whole virus in your own cells, and could that then give you COVID?  Can the mRNA vaccine give you COVID by itself?

NO.  The mRNA that is injected only contains the gene for the viral spike protein.  The entire virus consists of the protein products of many, many other genes that are not included in the vaccine.  By way of example, if you were to inject a healthy copy of the gene that is defective in cystic fibrosis into a person’s lungs, you would not expect that person to suddenly produce an entire new human in their lungs as a result. 

  1. Can the mRNA change the DNA in your cells?


No.  Our cells don’t have any enzymes that are capable to turning mRNA into DNA (our genetic material).  In fact, ‘loose’ mRNA is very quickly degraded by our cells, so the viral mRNA does not stick                around for very long after the injection, either.  Fortunately, it survives long enough to produce the spike protein to which our immune systems respond – thus conferring immunity.

  1. Are recombinant DNA vaccines (like the AstraZeneca one) inherently bad because they use genetic modification?
  • The words “Recombinant DNA” send some folks into paroxysms of fear (particularly in England), but it is just a tool.  Good versus evil is determined by how a tool is used.  Tools are not evil just because evil people can use them for bad things.  Recombinant DNA means scientists cut and paste together DNA in new ways that are not found in nature.  When the technology was first developed in the 1970s, scientists were very worried it might be used in the wrong way (and it can be!), and so put a moratorium on the technology until they could wrap their heads around it and make rules.  That resulted in the Asilomar conference (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asilomar_Conference_on_Recombinant_DNA ).  Very strict guidelines now regulate what scientists can and cannot do with recombinant DNA.  Good things that have been done include the human insulin gene that was cloned into bacteria so we would not have to keep killing horses to extract enough insulin from their pancreases to treat diabetics.  I personally like horses a lot.  I vote for recombinant human insulin.


  • So, is the use of recombinant DNA in the AstraZeneca vaccine good or evil?  I would argue good.  ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 is a chimpanzee adenovirus (ChAd -causes the common cold in chimpanzees) designed by Oxford that has been genetically altered so that it is ‘replication defective in normal cells’.  That means it has had its important replication genes cut out of it (another good use of recombinant DNA), and cannot cause disease, even in chimps.  It has also had the gene for the SARS-C0V-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) spike protein inserted into it.  This is the protein that our immune systems respond to.  The ultimate take home is that when we are injected with this virus, it does not cause disease, but does cause us to make a protective immune response against the spike protein.  The overall effectiveness of that approach is still under some debate, but it looks promising.


    1. Why chimpanzee adenovirus?  Well, there is also a human adenovirus-based vaccine in the works (I forget who is making that one).  The problem is, that we have all had the common cold at some point or another, so our existing immune responses to the common cold may impact our response to that vaccine.  None of us has ever gotten a chimpanzee cold.


  1. Were fetal stem cells used to develop these vaccines?  


            Yes.  Two cell lines were used to develop most of these vaccines (to show they could grow in human cells and produce the appropriate proteins).  The two cell lines are HEK-293 (an   immortalized human embryonic kidney epithelial cell line that was derived from a terminated fetus in 1972) and PER.C6 (an immortalized retinal cell line derived from a         terminated fetus in 1985). 


  1. Are fetal cells currently used to produce the vaccines?


            The Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines do NOT use fetal cells to grow or produce the vaccine.  As a result, most pro-life groups have found these two vaccines to be “ethically         uncontroversial” in this regard.


Most of the recombinant adenovirus vaccines do require growth in fetal cell lines.  This may be problematic to some.  However, the highly pro-life Vatican Pontifical Academy for Life  says the cell lines used in such vaccines "are very distant from the original abortions," and "We believe that all clinically recommended vaccinations can be used with a clear conscience and that the use of such vaccines does not signify some sort of cooperation with voluntary abortion."


  1. Are fetal stem cells part of the vaccines?  Are you being injected with fetal DNA?


            No.   Pfizer and Moderna do not use fetal stem cells, and the other vaccines use purified virus.



  1. Do the health officials expect high numbers of adverse effects that are caused by the vaccines? If not, why is there a call for proposals to develop artificial intelligence programs to track them?   

No.  This. rumor began because there is a contract in England to analyze the expected high numbers of “ADRs” due to the new vaccines.  However, ADRs are reported, potential adverse effects, not necessarily real ones.  So, for example, if somebody gets the flu shot and says they got a sore arm (real) or got herpes (false) because of the vaccine, those would both be reported as ADRs.  Since there will be literally tens of millions of new vaccines given all at once, epidemiologists need a way to sift out any real and rare side-effects from the bazillions of false ADRs, to make sure that real side-effects are not missed.  Computers (AI) could analyze that data really quickly.


  1. Do the vaccines contain artificial tracking devices?


            No.  I think this rumor also derives from #6.


Ok, hope this helps!  Let me know if you have heard any other rumors that I can help you respond to.

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