Covid-19 Vaccines And Conspiracy Theories—Myths, Facts And The Real Problem

Feature Article Covid-19 Vaccines And Conspiracy Theories—Myths, Facts And The Real Problem
MAY 16, 2020 LISTEN

There have been many conspiracy theories on Social Media that criminalize anything about Covid-19 vaccines that are in the pipelines. Some claim that they are manufactured by criminal minds to wipe certain race or people or intended to reduce world’s population or just a means by some companies to make money.

Politicians, who insist that such vaccines should be mandatory if they are successfully developed, are crucified as agents of Satan, the enemies of God. But do these concepts surrounding Covid-19 vaccines contain facts? Are Covid-19 vaccines going to be such an evil plot meant to cause human tragedy?

One main fear created by anti-Covid-19 advocates is the fear of using inactivated or weakened dangerous Covid-19 virus. The fear is that what would happen if the virus reawakens later in the human body or mutates in a later time while in the body of humans may be more harmful.

Currently, there are nine vaccine producing companies using inactivated or weakened Covid-19 virus to test vaccines. Other methods include Protein subunit, Nucleic acid, Viral vectors and Virus-like particle. Those who are using these other methods include 37 companies using protein subunit, 26 using nucleic acid, 29 using viral vectors and 7 employing virus-like particles in their researches.

A vaccine adverse event, sometimes referred to as a vaccine injury, is an adverse event caused by vaccination. Most vaccine adverse events are mild; serious injuries and deaths caused by vaccines are very rare, and the idea that severe events are common has been classed as a "common misconception about immunization" by the World Health Organization (WHO). Some claimed vaccine injuries are not, in fact, caused by vaccines; for example, there is a subculture of advocates who attribute their children’s autism, a developmental disorder characterized by difficulties with social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior, to vaccine injury, despite the fact that vaccines do not cause autism.

Two infants died on 6 July 2018 in Samoa shortly after receiving their Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) immunisations. The tragic event was investigated by the Samoan Ministry of Health and Samoan Police. On 4 June 2019, two nurses who administered the MMR vaccines pleaded guilty to negligence causing manslaughter. On 2 August, both nurses were sentenced to five years in prison.

During the sentencing hearing, it was confirmed that one of the nurses mixed the MMR vaccine powder with expired muscle relaxant anaesthetic instead of water for injection supplied in a vial with the vaccine. Eight Samoan speaking New Zealand nurses visited Samoa in June to provide training for vaccinating nurses at district hospitals.

There have also been media reports of two other deaths of Samoan siblings on separate occasions more than a week after MMR vaccination – these deaths occurred in 2017 and April 2018. A very rare genetic immune disorder is expected to have contributed to the death of the second sibling, who died in New Zealand. It is suspected that the first sibling had the same disorder. The family are undergoing genetic testing.

WHO report on the tragic incidence continued, “We would like to acknowledge the tragic losses experienced by the families of these infants, and concerns of the communities both in Samoa and in New Zealand.

“The following updates were given as more information on the events on 6 July 2018 came to hand. MMR is a vaccine given after one year of age to protect against three diseases; measles, mumps and rubella.

  • MMR vaccines have been used for decades all over the world including New Zealand and there is a long track record of safety.
  • The vaccine used in New Zealand and Samoa is extremely safe.
  • There has never been a death associated with the administration of this vaccine in New Zealand.

Rarely a tragic event such as the one on 6 July in Samoa occurs. There are two main reasons why something like this might happen:

  • Medical error, where the vaccine is prepared for injection incorrectly and the wrong substance is injected. This is what was found to have occurred, expired muscle relaxant anaesthetic was mixed with the MMR vaccine powder instead of water for injection supplied in a vial with the vaccine
  • Contamination of the vaccine due to leaving it at room temperature for a long period of time.

At the request of the Samoan Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization mobilised an immunisation expert from the Western Pacific Regional Office to assist with the investigation and a forensic pathology team from Melbourne, Australia, to support the Government in the forensic work that contributed to the evaluation of what caused these events.

Deaths associated with vaccine administration but attributed to inappropriate handling, contamination, production error, or error of medical care includes a wide range of contamination or handling problems; vaccines, like any other pharmaceutical agent, are subject to mishandling that might, in extreme cases, lead to death.

Claims of vaccine injuries appeared in litigation in the United States in the latter part of the 20th Century. Some families have won substantial awards from sympathetic juries, even though many public health officials have said that the claims of injuries are unfounded. In response, several vaccine makers stopped production, threatening public health, and laws were passed to shield makers from liabilities stemming from vaccine injury claims.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) followed up all reports of death following immunization submitted to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) during the time period July 1, 1990, to September 30, 1991.

VAERS was established by the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 (P.L. 99-660) to collect reports of adverse reactions following vaccination. The database is managed by a contractor under the aegises of both the passive surveillance systems of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] regarding deaths in association with immunization and the FDA.

There were no reports for which the committee thought the cause of death was plausibly related to vaccine or that did not clearly fall into one of the six categories that assessed such complains. The committee's assessment of data in VAERS is similar to those of both the FDA (R. P. Wise, FDA, presentation to ACCV, December 1992) and the CDC (R. T. Chen, presentation to ACCV, March 1993), both of which concluded that the vast majority of deaths reported to VAERS are temporally but not causally related to vaccination.

The number of reports in VAERS of death in temporal association with vaccination has been the topic of presentations to the Advisory Commission on Childhood Vaccines (ACCV), the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, an FDA-sponsored workshop on contraindications to vaccination, a public session regarding changes to the Vaccine Injury Table, and the Vaccine Safety Committee of the Institute of Medicine.

Anti-vaccination websites greatly exaggerated the risk of serious adverse effects from vaccines and falsely described conditions such as autism and shaken baby syndrome as vaccine injuries, leading to misconceptions about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. This has had the result of stigmatizing autistic people and the parents who had them immunized.

Have vaccines caused human tragedy in history? Elaine R. Miller, Pedro L. Moro, Tom Shimabukuro and colleagues from CDC, answering the question, “Deaths following vaccination: What does the evidence show?”, responded in a journal published in May 2015 that “vaccines are rigorously tested and monitored and are among the safest medical products we use”. But concluded that in rare cases, “vaccination caused or contributed to deaths”.

In their report, they stated that “millions of vaccinations are given to children and adults in the United States each year. Serious adverse reactions are rare. However, because of the high volume of use, coincidental adverse events including deaths, that are temporally associated with vaccination, do occur. When death occurs shortly following vaccination, loved ones and others might naturally question whether it was related to vaccination.

“A large body of evidence supports the safety of vaccines, and multiple studies and scientific reviews have found no association between vaccination and deaths except in rare cases. During the US multi-state measles outbreak of 2014–2015, unsubstantiated claims of deaths caused by measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine began circulating on the Internet, prompting responses by public health officials to address common misinterpretations and misuses of vaccine safety surveillance data, particularly around spontaneous reports submitted to the US Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).

“We summarize epidemiologic data on deaths following vaccination, including examples where reasonable scientific evidence exists to support that vaccination caused or contributed to deaths. Rare cases where a known or plausible theoretical risk of death following vaccination exists include anaphylaxis, vaccine-strain systemic infection after administration of live vaccines to severely immunocompromised persons, intussusception after rotavirus vaccine, Guillain-Barré syndrome after inactivated influenza vaccine, fall-related injuries associated with syncope after vaccination, yellow fever vaccine-associated viscerotropic disease or associated neurologic disease, serious complications from smallpox vaccine including eczema vaccinatum, progressive vaccinia, postvaccinal encephalitis, myocarditis, and dilated cardiomyopathy, and vaccine-associated paralytic poliomyelitis from oral poliovirus vaccine.

“However, making general assumptions and drawing conclusions about vaccinations causing deaths based on spontaneous reports to VAERS – some of which might be anecdotal or second-hand – or case reports in the media, is not a scientifically valid practice.

The Vaccine Alliance, GAVI, a Switzerland-based Vaccine Advocates, claims that nearly 2.3 million children continue to die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases, even while the overall mortality rate of children continues to drop.

Following United Nations Children (originally International Children’s Emergency) Fund (UNICEF)‘s announcement in September 2009 that the number of children dying before their fifth birthday each year has fallen below nine million for the first time on record, GAVI’s President Dr. Julian Lob-Levyt, said that 25% of the remaining deaths could still be prevented through proper vaccination. UNICEF is an agency of the United Nations established in 1946 to help governments (especially in developing countries) improve the health and education of children and their mothers.

Dr. Lob-Levyt of GAVI said, “The demand by low-income countries for new, life-saving vaccines has never been higher. We must answer their call.”

The WHO is of the vier that the best bridge to a new normal is a successful vaccine against Covid-19. Scientists are racing to develop one on an unprecedented timeline, but it could still take a year to 18 months—possibly longer. As at May 2020, a number of vaccines are in various stages of development in various laboratories across the world.

Vaccines are harder to make than ordinary pharmaceuticals. Typical drugs carry out a specific process in the body, and they only have to work only until the kidneys and liver filter them out. Vaccines, though, have to do a bit of biological catfishing: They dupe certain cells in our blood, called B-cells, into responding to a pathogenic threat that doesn’t actually exist.

Tricking those cells into producing antibodies against a disease it hasn’t yet faced is a difficult process. Scientists need help from benign viruses and bacteria, gene editing tools, and even copies of the infectious pathogen itself—and sometimes combinations of all three. And right now, scientists are throwing all of these strategies at Covid-19 to see what sticks.

At the time of writing, there are 123 vaccine candidates in various stages in the research pipeline. In a best-case scenario, multiple kinds of vaccines would be found safe and effective, so there would be several options for drug manufacturers and distributers to make and ship across the globe. Here’s your guide to understanding the different approaches.

Covid-19 vaccines in the pipeline
The first three are discrete platforms; the second two are hybrid platforms.

  1. Inactivated or weakened virus- 9
  2. Protein subunit -37
  3. Nucleic acid -26
  4. Viral vectors-29
  5. Virus-like particle -7
  6. Unknown -15

*Inactivated or weakened viruses*
The most effective way (pdf) to generate antibodies against an infection is to actually get sick. The next best option? Show your B-cells a copy of the same pathogen—but genetically modified or kneecapped with a chemical like formaldehyde so it can’t cause an infection. These vaccines can cause a minor infection if the virus is merely weakened and still capable of replicating, but it’s not nearly as dangerous as if it were at full-strength.

Scientists have developed inactivated or weakened vaccines for illnesses like measles, chicken pox, and polio. These vaccines are tried and true, but finding a new one requires a delicate balance: It has to be as close to the actual virus as possible, but not capable of replicating like it normally would.

If for some reason, the virus does start replicating, a perfectly healthy person would become sick. This is why safety testing is so critical for these vaccines. Currently, only two vaccine candidates in this category are in early clinical trials: one being developed by the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, and one by Sinovac Biotech, which is also based in China.

*Protein subunit vaccines*
Instead of showing B-cells the entire pathogen, protein subunit vaccines only show the body parts of the virus. For Covid-19, most developers are going after the spike protein that SARS-CoV-2 uses to enter our cells. The hope is that by showing B-cells that characteristic protein, they’ll be able to recognize it on the pathogen itself, too. It’d be like showing your B-cells a novelty bedazzled bowling hat, and telling them to watch out for any invader wearing it in the future.

Protein subunits aren’t able to turn into a full-blown infection. But the immune responses they produce get weaker over time, which means that a person may require boosters throughout their life. Some annual flu vaccines take the form of protein subunits, as does the HPV vaccine. So far, none of the protein subunit vaccines have made it to testing in humans.

*Nucleic acid vaccines*
Protein subunit vaccines require manufacturers to genetically modify a microbe, like the bacteria E. coli, to produce the desired protein. Then these proteins have to be purified and mixed with adjuvants, which signal to B-cells to pay attention to them. So to speed up the process, scientists have worked out a way to get the body to produce these desired subunit proteins themselves.

Nucleic acid vaccines use either double-stranded DNA (the same genetic material stored in each of our cells’ nuclei), or messenger RNA (mRNA). These forms of genetic material contain the recipe for the desired proteins, just like our DNA does (mRNA is genetic material that is just a little farther along in the process). Cells within the body translate this foreign genetic material into target proteins, which B-cells then create antibodies against.

The advantage of this approach is that it’s relatively fast; once scientists have genetically sequenced a novel pathogen, they can isolate target proteins for the body to recreate. The challenge, though, is getting the body to actually respond to them.

Nucleic acid vaccines made with DNA have to get through the cell membrane and the cell’s nucleic membrane, which protects your DNA. Those with mRNA only have to get through the cell membrane, but there’s still an additional hurdle: Even if the cells make the desired protein, they have to fold it into a shape that resembles the actual viral protein. It’s like the difference between using a boxed cake mix to make 12 cupcakes versus two round cakes.

A nucleic acid vaccine has never been approved for use. But one of the leading vaccine candidates for Covid-19 uses this approach. It’s an mRNA vaccine created by the Cambridge-based company Moderna, and the US government has already invested millions in it, even though it’s still in early clinical testing.

*Viral vector vaccines*
Another way to get around B-cells’ failure to respond to subunit vaccines or nucleic acid vaccines is to try a hybrid approach: using other weakened or inoculated viruses to transport genetic material that codes for bits of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. The carrier virus can make its way into our cells like other infectious diseases would—but once it gets there, it produces SARS-CoV-2 proteins that generate the correct antibody response.

Some of these carrier viruses, called viral vectors, are capable of reproducing to a small degree, while others don’t at all. Either way, they shouldn’t cause an actual illness. The only reason these vaccines would be ineffective is if the recipient already has some form of immunity against the knocked-out vector—making it impossible for the virus to enter our cells. One virus that scientists like to use is an adenovirus, for example, which often causes the common cold.

The newly-minted Ebola vaccine, which the US Food and Drug Administration approved in December 2019, is a viral vector vaccine. There are two promising vaccine approaches for Covid-19 using this platform, one by researchers at Oxford University, and one from the drug company Johnson and Johnson.

*Virus-like particle vaccines*
The last main tactic that developers are exploring is another variation of subunit vaccines. Instead of getting B-cells to recognize only certain viral proteins, virus-like particle vaccines introduce all the proteins on the outer shell of SARS-CoV-2. It’s like showing B-cells only the menacing trench coat of a potential pathogen. Underneath the trench coat, though, there’s nothing—no genetic machinery to reproduce and destroy cells.

Currently, there are no virus-like particle vaccines in human trials—but Medicago Inc., a company based in Quebec City in Canada, is hoping to start theirs in July.

Can there be drug treatment, other than vaccines, for Covid-19? Can virus generally be treated using drugs?

Nevan Krogan, a research biologist from University of California, San Francisco published in a scientific journal on March 20, 2020 that “COVID-19 treatment might already exist in old drugs – we're using pieces of the coronavirus itself to find them. Already FDA has 20,000 approved drugs, one of them might fight COVID-19, if we can find it.”

He continued, “SARS-CoV-2 – the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19 – is completely new and attacks cells in a novel way. Every virus is different and so are the drugs used to treat them. That’s why there wasn’t a drug ready to tackle the new coronavirus that only emerged a few months ago.

“As a systems biologist who studies how cells are affected by viruses during infections, I’m especially interested in the second question. Finding points of vulnerability and developing a drug to treat a disease typically takes years. But the new coronavirus isn’t giving the world that kind of time. With most of the world on lockdown and the looming threat of millions of deaths, researchers need to find an effective drug much faster.

“This situation has presented my colleagues and me with the challenge and opportunity of a lifetime: to help solve this huge public health and economic crisis posed by the global pandemic of SARS-CoV-2.

“Facing this crisis, we assembled a team here at the Quantitative Biosciences Institute (QBI) at the University of California, San Francisco, to discover how the virus attacks cells. But instead of trying to create a new drug based on this information, we are first looking to see if there are any drugs available today that can disrupt these pathways and fight the coronavirus. So far, we’ve identified 27 FDA-approved drugs that we hope will narrow and speed up the search.”

Dr. Krogan, however, did not exclude vaccines. He concluded that “viruses mutate and change over time”, and that is why there is a need of “new flu shot every year. “

He explained further that “compared with human cells, viruses are small and can’t reproduce on their own. The coronavirus has about 30 proteins, whereas a human cell has more than 20,000.

“To get around this limited set of tools, the virus cleverly turns the human body against itself. The pathways into a human cell are normally locked to outside invaders, but the coronavirus uses its own proteins like keys to open these “locks” and enter a person’s cells.

“Once inside, the virus binds to proteins the cell normally uses for its own functions, essentially hijacking the cell and turning it into a coronavirus factory. As the resources and mechanics of infected cells get retooled to produce thousands and thousands of viruses, the cells start dying. Lung cells are particularly vulnerable to this because they express high amounts of the “lock” protein SARS-CoV-2 uses for entry. A large number of a person’s lung cells dying causes the respiratory symptoms associated with COVID-19.

“There are two ways to fight back. First, drugs could attack the virus’s own proteins, preventing them from doing jobs like entering the cell or copying their genetic material once they are inside. This is how remdesivir – a drug currently in clinical trials for COVID-19 – works.

“A problem with this approach is that viruses mutate and change over time. In the future, the coronavirus could evolve in ways that render a drug like remdesivir useless. This arms race between drugs and viruses is why you need a new flu shot every year.

“Alternatively, a drug can work by blocking a viral protein from interacting with a human protein it needs. This approach – essentially protecting the host machinery – has a big advantage over disabling the virus itself, because the human cell doesn’t change as fast. Once you find a good drug, it should keep working. This is the approach that our team is taking. And it may also work against other emergent viruses.”

The race to arm human beings against Covid-19 virus may really be a long battle. This battle may include drugs, but vaccines cannot be taken out of the race. Drugs may be of great help, but for the long term protection, prevention and treatment, especially against cross-border and folks transmissions, vaccines are more appropriate.

However, the development of drugs as well as vaccines against Coronavirus must be modified from time to time as the virus keeps on mutating. This development would leave the period of the battle against the virus endless. As the virus mutates, so must the drugs and vaccines be modified.

This situation is not uncommon, it is a common phenomenon among certain epidemics such the flu, a viral infection that attacks respiratory system as the Coronavirus, the yellow fever, an acute viral haemorrhagic disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes. and malaria, which is caused by Plasmodium parasites which are transmitted by the female Anopheles mosquitoes.

Until today, there has not been a vaccine against malaria, the effective control and treatment are by prevention of mosquito bites by the use of mosquito nets, insect repellent and controlling the mosquitoes in the vicinity and treatment with malaria medications when one is infected.

People living in malaria-pruned areas develop a form of immunity against the parasite. But this immunity is found to be short-lived. People who recover from malaria infection have no permanent immunity against malaria, they get sick of malaria again after a short period of time between a month and a year.

This same phenomenon is believed to be associated with the Coronavirus. People who recovered from Covid-19 were found to be reinfected and needed to be retreated. Studies done on these patients found that there was no immunity developed by their systems against the virus.

The fear created by this findings has fueled the argument against the development of vaccines as preventive remedy against the Covid-19 virus. It is feared that the vaccines may not stimulate the body to produce the needed immunity expected. This is the real problem facing the anticipated vaccines and long term prevention of Covid-19.

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