The novel Covid19 pandemic has created a medical maelstrom, along with great political and societal unrest. Now that the long anticipated Covid19 vaccine has arrived I’m being asked numerous times daily about it… Is it safe? Will it work? Should I get it? The short answer is, “If you consider your risk of significant illness or death from Covid high enough to justify the risk of the vaccine”. Otherwise, it’s debatable. For the longer answer, read on.
How are vaccines made and what makes the Covid vaccine new?
Vaccines work by putting something into the body that tricks it into mounting an immune response without the host getting sick. Then when the real infection comes along the immune system is primed and ready to attack. In order to appreciate what the “new” part of the current Covid vaccines represent it’s necessary to review how vaccines are made.
The “old school” way of making vaccines is to introduce a weakened or dead pathogen to stimulate an immune reaction, such as with MMR or flu vaccines. A similar method used in subunit vaccines is to take only select markers from the pathogen’s cell wall, as with Hepatitis B or shingles vaccines, or toxins from the pathogen, as with tetanus vaccine, to use as a signal to the immune system. Subunit and toxoid vaccines don’t work well without an adjuvant like aluminum, which causes a more robust immune response. The third traditional method is to use a different, harmless pathogen as a “Trojan horse” or vector to carry genetic material from the harmful pathogen into the body and present it to the immune system.
The new Covid vaccines represent an amazing leap in technology by using man made genetic material called messenger RNA (mRNA) to instruct the host cells to actually make the subunits normally found on the outside of the pathogen. The mRNA gets into the host cells and instructs a little protein producing factory called a ribosome to crank out the subunits.
The genetic code vaccines are not supposed to get into the host DNA and “change our DNA” as some interpret, rather only give instructions to the ribosomes outside of the cell nucleus which holds the host DNA chain. Again, the mRNA isn’t supposed to get into the nucleus of the cell where the host DNA resides. And, mRNA isn’t supposed to get into the energy producing mitochondria where mitochondrial DNA resides.
However, a December 2020 release of research from Harvard and MIT has shown that Covid19 does have the ability to insert it’s mRNA into human DNA via a process called reverse transcription. This has alarming implications in regards to the course of natural infection, post infection testing and vaccine risks.
The end result of any of these methods is the immune system recognizing and remembering the pathogen thus being prepped to jump into action should the real pathogen show up. Most vaccines require subsequent, repeat administration, called boosters, in order to refresh the memory of the immune system and impart a long acting immunity.
One of the genetic code vaccines, from BioNTech/Pfizer, has an interesting backstory in that the idea for a mRNA vaccine comes out of prior technology using mRNA to fight cancer. BioNTech scientists Ozlem Tureci and Ugur Sahi have been working on mRNA to fight cancer for over a quarter century, and when Covid presented such a threat they leapt into action diverting attention from cancer to creating a covid vaccine. Go here for more on their amazing story.
As I understand, there are currently at least 48 vaccines being tested in human volunteers and another 164 being studied in the laboratory, with each of the above noted vaccine manufacturing methods being tried. I would presume numerous types of Covid vaccines will eventually be available.
The Pros of a genetic code vaccine
Genetic code vaccines probably represent a whole new era of vaccinations. They are faster to make than traditional methods. They are also cleaner by not using eggs or other animal materials, thus not needing the disinfectants, preservatives, and antimicrobial ingredients typically found in other vaccines. They may also turn out to be more successful by being able to more precisely choose and create the specific protein markers that generate the most immune recognition with the least amount of side effects.
Does it work? Pfizer’s phase III vaccine trial included 43,548 participants randomized to get either the vaccine or a saline placebo. 8 confirmed Covid19 cases developed in the vaccinated cohort, while 162 cases were detected in the placebo cohort. All told, preliminary evidence suggests efficacy against Covid19 from the Pfizer vaccine is around 95%. This number reflects participants developing symptoms of infection and testing positive for Covid.
Is it safe? The same trial found the vaccine “was safe and well-tolerated in participants ≥16 years of age” and that the adverse-events profile of the vaccine group “did not suggest any serious safety concerns.” The number of people who experienced severe adverse reactions or quit the trial due to adverse events was low and similar between the vaccinated and the placebo cohorts.
The most common negative effects of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine in people over the age of 16 have been pain at the injection site”( over 80%), fatigue (over 60%), headache (over 50%), sore muscles (over 30%), chills (over 30%), joint pain (over 20%), and fever (over 10%). These side-effects “were usually mild or moderate in intensity” and went away after a few days. The vaccine is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, and women should avoid pregnancy for 2 months after vaccination. Long term effects on fertility have not been studied.
The Cons of a genetic code vaccine
We don’t yet know exactly how effective the vaccines will be or for how long. Will they prevent contracting the virus, mild illness, severe illness or death? Will they prevent transmission?
Part of the genetic code in the Covid vaccines resembles similar code in the human DNA, and as a result several autoimmune phenomena are possible. First is pathogenic priming, in which the immune system is primed to attack the pathogen but also the host tissue, making the infection worse. Or, triggering long term immune attack on self tissue, aka autoimmune disease.
Another concern is possible antibody dependent enhancement in which vaccines may cause unrecognized antibodies that act like a Trojan horse for other pathogens, allowing them to enter cells and replicate. Instead of protecting someone from an infection, this causes the vaccinated person to be more susceptible to other diseases.
Multiple adverse reactions are reported in the Covid vaccine studies, beyond the scope of this article. For a deeper dive I recommend reading this link from the Children’s Health Defense.
What is an ideal vaccine?
The ideal vaccine should be tested against a saline placebo. Many trials use a different vaccine as a placebo thus the adverse reactions may be bad, but “not worse than placebo”.
Adverse events should be tracked for years or even decades. Known adverse events such as autoimmune, neuro-developmental, and chronic conditions can take months or years to be detected.
Vaccines should be free of toxic metals such as mercury, as well as adjuvants proven to be dangerous, such as squalene, aluminum, and PEG (polyethylene glycol). They should also be free of bird, cow, pig, monkey or mouse viruses, and free of human DNA or aborted human fetal cell lines.
Lastly, it is questionable if vaccine manufacturers should have full liability protection. One could argue that the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act created a profit incentive to rush vaccines to market without adequate concerns for long term risks. While kudos are deserved for Operation Warp Speed achieving its goal by lifting government regulations to allow rapid Covid vaccine development, and promising billions to support the effort, one has to step back and question the wisdom of mass vaccination after only very short term safety studies.
Should I get the vaccine?
Covid19 infection can vary from no symptoms to severe symptoms or death depending upon age and co-morbidities. It is clear from CDC data that the risk of death from Covid19 is low for those under 55, and very low for those under 25. By contrast, it is relatively high for those over 75. Between the age of 55 and 75 co-morbidities such as obesity, heart or lung disease and diabetes increase the risk of death.
Not mentioned in the Covid19 reporting is the fact there are proven treatments available for Covid19. Check out the following Covid19 management protocol developed by Paul Marik, MD, Professor of Medicine and Chief of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School.
Also not talked about is the fact that the healthier you are more likely you will overcome any disease, including Covid19. Diet, exercise, sleep, reducing stress, avoiding unnecessary social contacts, good hand hygiene and masking when appropriate are the best ways of protecting yourself against respiratory illness.
Special groups such as front line health care workers might consider the vaccine more so than non medical personnel. Or if someone is around high risk people such as elderly family. Others may get the vaccine in hopes of contributing to “herd immunity”. Although, we don’t yet know if or how well the vaccine will prevent transmission or contribute to herd immunity.
As with any medication or vaccine, when considering whether or not to get the Covid19 vaccine, one should carefully weigh the risk-benefit ratio. So the long answer to the question of getting the Covid19 vaccine is the same, “If you consider your risk of significant illness or death from Covid high enough to justify the risk of the vaccine”.
Scott Rollins, MD, is Board Certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement for men and women, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzalaser.com). Call (970) 245-6911 for an appointment or more information.