The current hysteria regarding the COVID-19 vaccine is as unfortunate as it is understandable. As mentioned previously, vaccination has been with us for more than a 100 years, and has been vital to our triumph over viral diseases.
Ever evolving strategies in vaccination and their successful uptake by eligible populations, is therefore a befitting opus to the millions of people who have died, and are still dying, from this terrible contagion.
An issue here now is that the new vaccine, an mRNA vaccine, is itself a novel design, albeit one, developed from preexisting technological theories and trials that have allowed us to develop a vaccine to COVID-19 very quickly. This speed of itself, again understandably, has become a target of suspicion from those to the left of the vaccine debate.
An illustration, important to understanding the mechanics of vaccines, is warranted here: that of the basic cell, the unit target of every viral infection. A crude analogy for the cell is to imagine the cell as a simple, one-bedroom bungalow.
The master bedroom (the nucleus) is always under lock and key, and the living room / kitchen areas and their furnishings (constituting the cytoplasm with its various organelles) is accessible to viral burgers.
Viruses, in stealing into the parlor, would settle into the living room and kitchen areas, make themselves comfortable, then set about using the tools they bring with them to forge those items that they need but cannot find already present in the house (outside of the locked bedroom), to make more of itself, like advanced Terminator robots.
It is, again, critical to note that neither the viruses nor their tools gain access into the locked up bedroom. Once it has finished making more copies of itself, just like Terminators, they do not back out the door they came in through but demolish the walls of the living room into the streets (the extracellular space) – a process known as cell wall disruption, and eventually, cell death.
The bedroom (nucleus) then of course, loses its essential protection, and would itself become vulnerable to the cellular death process or if the damage is not too severe, it is patched up – cellular and tissue repair. Now one of the tools viruses use when in the living room space of the host cell are messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules, exactly akin to those of the COVID-19 vaccine.
These genetic code-strings are therefore clearly not new to human biology, and definitely never enter into the nucleus, where the DNA is fortified and hidden, under fortress-like conditions. The virus simply does its business in the parlour, packs up its tools into even more viruses, and breaks out of the house.
Now to the vaccine itself. mRNA vaccines are different from traditional vaccines. With traditional vaccination, a refined part or killed/weakened whole of the infecting virus is injected into the patient, and while being too weakened to cause a full scale illness, the viral particles still retain enough of the relevant, unique ID features, for the body’s sensor systems to recognize them as foreign, and immediately give the signal to start producing antibodies against it.
These antibodies are like a corp of robocop sentinels, programmed to search and destroy target foreign proteins on sight. After vaccination, the body then produces these enemy-specific soldiers, then stores them in circulation awaiting the actual viral infection.
If and when this occurs, they destroy the infective agents in circulation before they are able to infect (penetrate into) the cells. Effectively checkmating the infection.
The mRNA variety of vaccines have critical differences in design from the traditional ones, and while the outcome is the same, they go about immunizing the patient differently. An mRNA vaccine, is like an Autobox version of the virus’ own toolbox, wrapped up nicely in its lipoprotein coat.
When this is injected into the patient it is not recognizable in circulation, to the patient’s immune sensor system, as a threat, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the ID properties of the virus which it will eventually immunize the host against.
What happens instead is that, like the virus itself, it enters into the cell and, then in the cellular parlor, quickly begins what it was born to do: manufacture an exact type of protein: in this case the type found on the the actual virus: the spike protein or s-protein.
It then proceeds to stick this protein out of the wall of the cell into the extracellular space where the immune sensors can now ‘see’ it, recognize it as a foreign protein and signal for antibodies to be manufactured against it.
Happily, by the time the antibodies are ready, the cell’s sanitation services have cleaned up both mRNA autobot and the spike protein sticking out through the cell wall.
You now then have antibodies in circulation, awaiting the natural infection. When this occurs the viral spike protein is immediately recognized and attacked, eliminating the virus.
This variety of vaccines is extremely effective and very safe. The only legitimate concern, derivable from their novel design, is potentially this: antibodies are robocops. They do not distinquish between secondary structures attached to their primary, target proteins.
Like robot snipers they simply shoot and destroy. Anything bearing the s-protein is therefore marked for destruction, even the host’s own healthy cells and tissues, leading to such clinical outcomes as immediate allergic reactions and the potential of less dramatic delayed future cell/tissue damage/death related complications.
It may be extremely risky therefore to give the vaccine to someone who already has antibodies from a natural exposure, since when the vaccine acts to poke the spike proteins through the (healthy) cell walls, preformed antibodies in the circulation would simply recognize the cells as enemies and blow them up, leading to a variety of medical illnesses.
The medical literature is already replete with examples of these autoimmune disorders: e.g. post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.
This more than likely is responsible for the preponderance of COVID-19 vaccine related serious reactions in health care worker, a population especially likely to experience serial, non-symptomatic exposures to the virus and to equally, serially building up their naturally acquired antibody levels to critical points, before being vaccinated.
Further studies are needed to measure and quantify this very serious theoretical permutations. Granted this, the dilemma can only be prevented by measures to determine antibody levels before patients are vaccinated.
Nonetheless, the COVID-19 vaccine, at the present time, uniquely, significantly increases our A.E.M., and represents our best chance yet for bringing R/X x K closest to zero.
These leaves another important but less discussed aspect of the virus, one that has been very helpful in increasing the AEM of tropical polulations and protecting them from the worst projections made at the start of the pandemic: the ambient temperature.
Fortunately, the coronavirus is a coated virus, a group more vulnerable to high temperatures and disinfectants, than uncoated ones. This simple biologic fact provides a viral Achille’s heel, and a crucial, cheap enhancer of the A.E.M.
Numerous Studies, such as in the 2011 article by K. H. Chen et al, from Hong Kong have, faithfully demonstrated the expected degrading effect on corona viruses of high heat and frying, when exposed to these in the environment.
This, by reducing the duration of viable viral particles on contact-prone surfaces and objects, would expectedly, significantly mitigate viral transmission rates. It is this fact, when combined with social distancing, and not some mysterious superman factor, as some have loudly but wrongly claimed, that has been the saving grace in sub-Saharan Africa.
Misconceptions like the one in the paragraph above have been especially rife in the heat of a pandemic everyone is struggling to understand – and are extremely dangerous.
That such claims (for example, such as, that there really is no medical pandemic and it’s all a government control plan, or that the vaccine would go into your DNA and change you to a chimera – blatant lies) are often heard from self-declared, qualified medical practitioners, whose videotaped sermonizatios are then propagated at light speed via social media fora to an captive lay audience, is a very troubling cause for concern, and a direct desecration of the Hippocratic Oath that such physicians swore to regarding not putting their patients in harm’s way.
The COVID-19 vaccine, along with the other public health behaviour modification measures, represent our best R/X for baiting this beast, and for beginning the restitution of this: our fast derailing global train.
Phillip Ugenyi is a Family Medicine consultant practising In Brampton, Canada