By Faozat Aragbaiye
A vaccine is a way to stimulate one’s immune system to start to mount a response to something that one might encounter in the future. In other words, it’s a way for us to develop immunity to a pathogen before we actually get infected by that pathogen and so we can develop immunity without getting sick.
There are 4 types of vaccines; each have slightly different modes of action.
1. Live-attenuated vaccines: This form of vaccine contains weakened strains of the pathogen so it is capable of replicating in our bodies. It will generally produce a very robust and long-lasting immune response, stimulating both the humoral arm of the immune system to produce antibodies and the cell mediated arm of the immune system to produce specific T cells. These vaccines also must be kept cool to remain viable. The MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine is one of these, for example.
2. Inactivated vaccines: As this name implies, this type of vaccine contains “killed” versions of the pathogen. The immune responses to these vaccines are not as strong or long-lasting as the response to live vaccines. Rabies, polio and flu are examples of this type of vaccine.
3.Subunit, recombinant, polysaccharide, and conjugate vaccines: This type of vaccine relies on a small piece of the pathogen to stimulate an immune response. In the case of some of the COVID vaccines under development, the S or spike protein of the viral shell is the vaccine target. The idea is to have the immune system recognize the virus shell, and produce antibodies against it without coming in contact with the virus itself. Some examples of this type of vaccine are the shingles vaccine, the HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine, and the Hepatitis B vaccine. An emerging problem with this strategy may be that people who are recovering from COVID-19 infections do not seem to retain their immune memories for very long—just a few months. So even if these vaccines work, we may need to be revaccinated frequently.
4. Toxoid vaccines: Some pathogens, especially bacteria, produce toxins which are actually the disease causing agents. Vaccines can help protect against these toxins. Examples of this type of vaccine are the tetanus and diphtheria vaccines. These, as you know, require booster shots over your lifetime.
Adding to these possibilities are the use of molecular biological tools to enhance our abilities to create vaccines without relying on the pathogens at all. Recombinant DNA technology exploits the DNA or RNA sequences that encode for the proteins to be expressed once they have been administered. One of the promising COVID vaccines under development is an engineered RNA vector which codes for the spike protein mentioned above.
Scientists and researchers managed to produce vaccines to protect against COVID-19. Vaccine candidates have recently been approved in some countries and are in the approval process in others, yet misinformation about the safety and effects of any future vaccine is already threatening its rollout. As distribution of COVID-19 vaccines begins worldwide, there has been much discussion about the vaccines and the development process. Following is an analysis of some of the myths and facts about the COVID-19 vaccine.
MYTH: The vaccine could be dangerous because it was rushed through approvals.
FACT: Although the vaccine process went quickly, safety protocols were followed.
The development of vaccines for COVID-19 occurred more quickly compared to previous vaccines in history. However, all vaccines must go through extensive clinical trials. Developers must show that their vaccines are both safe for use and effective against the disease.
Data show that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are safe for use in humans after going through the usual scientific rigor.
MYTH: The vaccines haven’t been tested rigorously enough on humans.
FACTS: The vaccines have followed safety protocols, including human testing. Again, while COVID-19 vaccine development has operated on a faster timeline, manufacturers still must follow the usual process. That includes rigorous testing that measures safety and efficacy.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are reported to be at least 94% effective in preventing COVID-19 in humans, with no significant side effects.
What we’re really asking for is the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine and not much data that will further delay the benefits of the vaccine.
MYTH: There must be one vaccine that’s better than the others.
FACTS: Having more than one safe, effective vaccine is a good thing. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists and pharmaceutical companies have invested significant time and money in trying to find treatments and cures. Multiple vaccines have been developed or are now in development, which means that more safe, effective vaccines could be available more quickly.
The benefit of having multiple vaccines is that one vaccine potentially could be better for a particular group of people, while another vaccine could be better for different group.
MYTH: The mRNA vaccines being developed for COVID-19 will alter human DNA.
FACTS: Several COVID-19 vaccine candidates rely on messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA), which carries genetic information needed to make proteins, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute. These vaccines would instruct cells to produce a protein that resembles part of the COVID-19 virus, triggering the body’s immune system to respond and produce antibodies.
MRNA vaccines are a new technology, but it is not possible for those vaccines to alter the DNA. This cannot change human’s genetic makeup. The time that this mRNA survives in the cells is relatively brief in the span of hours. The process is sticking a recipe card into the cell making protein for a few hours.
MYTH: COVID-19 vaccines are not being tested against a placebo in clinical trials.
THE FACTS: The final phase of clinical testing for COVID-19 vaccine candidates are Phase 3 trials, in which the vaccine is given to tens of thousands of patients. Researchers then compare how many patients become infected with COVID-19 compared to a separate group of patients who received a placebo, to determine the vaccine’s efficacy and safety. All 10 vaccine candidates that have begun Phase 3 trials as of Nov. 3, 2020, are being tested against a placebo, according to the World Health Organization.
MYTH: The COVID-19 vaccine has been proven to cause infertility in 97 percent of its recipients.
THE FACTS: This claim appears to have originated with British YouTuber Zed Phoenix, who claimed that an unnamed source at pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline told him that 61 of the 63 women tested with a COVID-19 vaccine became infertile and that a separate, male-specific vaccine resulted in decreased testicular size, drop of testosterone levels, and marked atrophy of the prostate.
A research examined the use of anti-fertility vaccines on baboons in discussing future treatment options for human cancer patients whose tumors are affected by fertility hormones. None of the COVID-19 vaccine candidates are gender-specific or are in any way related to fertility.
.MYTH: The COVID-19 vaccine will use microchip surveillance technology created by Bill Gates-funded research.
THE FACTS: There is no vaccine — for COVID-19 or otherwise — with a microchip or other surveillance feature.
In December 2019, researchers at MIT, who had received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, published a paper about technology that they developed that can keep a vaccination record on a patient’s skin with an ink-like injection that could be read by smartphone. The technology does not have the capacity to track patients’ movements.
MYTH: COVID-19 vaccines will contain aborted human fetal tissue.
FACTS: Existing vaccines for diseases such as chickenpox and rubella are produced using cell lines descended from fetuses aborted decades ago. According to a June 2020 article in Science magazine, at least five COVID-19 vaccine candidates are using fetal cell lines: one descended from a fetus aborted in 1972 and another from an abortion performed in 1985.
However, no additional fetal cells are required for the production of any of these vaccines, including those being developed for COVID-19, and no actual fetal tissue is present in these vaccines.
MYTH: A document on the FDA website shows that two participants died as a result of “serious adverse events” from an experimental COVID-19 vaccine.
THE FACTS: There were two deaths among the 21,000 people in the trial who received Pfizer and BioNtech’s COVID-19 vaccine, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration did not attribute those deaths to the vaccine.
According to a December 2020 FDA document describing the circumstances of the deaths, “one experienced a cardiac arrest 62 days after vaccination #2 and died 3 days later, and the other died from arteriosclerosis 3 days after vaccination #1.” The document also said in the case of the second death, the participant had “baseline obesity and pre-existing atherosclerosis,” or a narrowing of the arteries.
There were also four deaths reported among the 21,000 trial participants who received a placebo. The deaths represent events that occur in the general population of the age groups where they occurred, at a similar rate, according to the FDA document.