As states and cities around the world debate the implementation of restrictions for the unvaccinated, conflict has erupted in many of these places around moves to restrict access to public places for the unvaccinated. As some governments push to legally mandate the vaccine or indirectly pressure those who have refused them, even the scientific community is now acknowledging risks from some of the technologies, particularly those used in both the mRNA and genetically modified adenovirus vaccines such as those developed by Pfizer, Moderna, Janssen (Johnson and Johnson), Novavax, and AstraZeneca.
To briefly describe the technologies involved:
Novavax, Moderna, and Pfizer’s vaccine technology use mRNA fragments, which enveloped in a lipid nanoparticle are injected into muscle tissue and then taken into the cell. They are meant to utilize the cell’s internal machinery, the rough endoplasmatic reticulum (ER), to produce virus proteins within the body and elicit an immune response.
AstraZeneca and Janssen genetically modified an adenovirus and inserted genes for the Wuhan Coronavirus’ spike protein. The virus injects its modified DNA into the nucleus, and then is meant to be exported as mRNA out of the cell to similarly produce the spike proteins within the ER, and to elicit a similar immune response.
The Chinese vaccines use inactivated viral material, a much older form of technology with a longer track record, and is used in the Polio and annual flu shots, but the two Chinese vaccines also demonstrate markedly less efficacy in preventing symptomatic disease.
Taiwan’s vaccines, including Medigen 高端, use protein sub-unit technology, and directly contain the assembled protein itself. This technology has a much longer history, and is used in current HPV and Hepatitis B vaccines, but the efficacy data has yet to be made publicly available and Medigen’s vaccine is still going through Phase 3 testing.
While historically, most vaccines took the better part of a decade to develop through careful experimentation, mRNA vaccines like Moderna, which rely on software interfacing with genetic material, producing what is essentially direct DNA manipulation, have become famous for being “programmed” in just two days.
Because of the lack of track record for some of these vaccine technologies, and open questions as to the long term effects, as conspiracy theories abound, there has been little effort by the scientific community to openly acknowledge or address the inherent risks involved as most have dismissed such concerns out of hand. In many countries, this has led to a cycle of reduced trust between the public, the scientific community, and politicians who straddle the line but always act in their own short term interests, rather than consistently advocating for their constituents.
Some scientists have recently acknowledged that types of coronaviruses, perhaps with the presence of certain enzymes such as reverse transcriptase, can themselves integrate parts of their genetic material into the genome of their hosts. This has led some in the public to fear that mRNA vaccines carrying similar material could do the same. While scientists argue that there is no evidence of this taking place, and dismiss such concerns as unlikely to cause issues, in one paper they themselves admit that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” including regarding long-term effects of mRNA vaccines which they minimize relative to the risk from COVID.
This includes strange complications from the mRNA vaccines which include still unexplained myocarditis and pericarditis, rare heart inflammation issues. Thrombosis with low platelet counts leading to death have also been occuring after dosing with the AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines.
There has been a recent paper by Kowarz et al. which suggests that the technology involved in the adenovirus vaccine has its major flaw in that the genetic material, as DNA, spliced into the adenovirus is not optimized to be exported out of the nucleus as mRNA, and the number of steps increases the chances for complications. It consequently can produce mutant variants of the spike protein, which once out of the cells can elicit clotting issues similar to those seen caused by the spike protein in serious cases of COVID itself.
The side effects have so far primarily affected young people, with mostly young men affected by the mRNA vaccines’ issues, and mostly young women affected by the adenovirus vaccines’.
Around the United States, the politicization of both vaccines and masks has meant that some politicians are deluded into believing that the former will replace the need for the latter, despite ample scientific evidence showing that vaccines are not a panacea, as well as clear evidence that the vaccinated can still contract and spread the disease.
While parties themselves within the US seem to have initially cleaved on both the masks and vaccine, there are breaks in recent weeks with several high profile congressional Republicans embracing calls encouraging vaccination, and democrats including Boston Mayor Kim Janey making parallels between the vaccine passport as an undesirable form of mandatory papers and with African Americans being forced to show proof of freedom during the slavery period, as well as with the birtherism surrounding Obama’s birth certificate. The critique centered around being forced to forgo privacy to eliminate the presumption of being somehow illegitimate.
Places like New York, rather than choosing to re-implement mask requirements indoors, have instead opted to remain mask-free in exchange for the comparatively invasive requirement to demonstrate vaccination status to access most public venues, despite the fact that being vaccinated does not necessarily confer immunity.
France, in which an identical 66% are fully vaccinated, is also facing continued protests over its vaccine passport, with the leader Emmanuel Macron exclaiming, “I won’t give in to their radical violence at all… their attitude is a threat to democracy.”
Germany, whose full vaccination rate is significantly lower at 49%, so far has opted not to mandate vaccination, but leaders from Angela Merkel’s CDU are publicly toying with the idea of restrictions down the line.
Hong Kong is still facing deep vaccine hesitancy, in part driven by the reluctance of local Hong Kong doctors to administer the mostly Chinese-made Sinovac after a spate of post-innoculation deaths. Just 28% of Hong Kong’s seniors have been willing to get even a single dose.
Public leaders in these countries have often made reference to new strains developing in claiming that their own countries need to reach high vaccine penetration. They rhetorically damage their arguments when they neglect to mention that not only are these mutations primarily occurring in high spread developing countries that are mostly unvaccinated, including Latin America and South Asia, but that the new strains would make the existing vaccines less effective anyways, mitigating any benefits from wider vaccination in their own developed states should those new strains continue to form abroad.
Some countries, like Israel whose Netanyahu, even after losing power, used his residual political power to pressure the state to allow third Pfizer doses for the elderly, have even begun booster programs.
Meanwhile the WHO, pleading through their disgraced official Bruce Aylward, suggested that Western states instead provide doses to those developing states to try to prevent further mutant strains. While the threat is valid, it is not clear whether the WHO has any credibility or leverage left after their constant misinformation, and deliberate deception campaigns. This also follows their collusion with the Chinese government to cover up the source and severity of the initial outbreak to the detriment of millions dead globally.
There are evidently no clear answers to the issues surrounding the politicization of the available vaccines. However, it is worth remembering that the virus is airborne, and that there is incontrovertible proof that using masks, especially indoors, can help prevent the spread of all strains in all people, including the vaccinated.
Staff writer: Ari B