A poll published by Gallup in early August found that 35% of surveyed Americans would decline a Covid-19 shot offered to them at no cost. I have seen other studies that say 50% of Americans will not get the vaccine. And on social media sites I have seen discussion and comments about why folks are so reticent to get the vaccine. Let me address the concerns.
1) Problem: People will not take a vaccine pushed out by Trump. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are the more prominent members of this cadre. Answer: Well, Trump has had nothing to do with the vaccine development. The two leading vaccines now available are based on RNA vaccine technology that is a decade old. In other words, the technology was being developed way before Trump had presidential aspirations. Also, the Pfizer vaccine was developed in the UK using technology from a German biotech company and was developed without any US dollars. Trump did set up Operation Warp Speed to produce and disseminate a vaccine quickly, but the Pfizer vaccine’s share of that initiative is only a four star Army general, Gus Parna, who is overseeing the enormous logistics of getting a few hundred million people vaccinated. Trump’s fingerprint on all that is negligible.
2) Problem: The vaccine was rolled out too fast for comfort. Answer: As I wrote above, the RNA vaccines are based on technology platforms that are at least a decade old. All the companies needed to do was take a short CoV-2 genome sequence and add it to that well developed platform then test it. With a raging pandemic, the vax testing went quickly—when several thousands of people get infected every day, the results of a test vaccine come quickly. Similar vaccines were being developed for the earlier coronaviruses, SARS and MERS, but both of those pandemics fizzled out before enough data about the vaccines could be collected. Those platforms were repurposed to accommodate the SARS-CoV-2 virus. During the several months of testing, tens of thousands of people were given the vaccines and adequate efficacy and safety data were rapidly gathered. Since the vaccines were approved, a few million people around the world have been vaccinated and that larger sample simply confirms the data from the clinical trials. The vaccines are safe and effective.
Keep in mind, every year we roll out new flu vaccines in just a few months and they are safe. This vaccine has been adequately tested.
3) Problem: The RNA vaccines can alter your cellular DNA. Answer: Total bull scat. There is no way that the short stretch of the virus’ RNA genome that is used in the two leading vaccines can interfere with cell DNA. That is biologically impossible. Having said that, let me elaborate. There is a family of RNA viruses, called lentivirus, that can mess with your DNA. The lentivirus family includes HIV, human T cell leukemia virus, and several animal viruses that cause cancer. However, the unique thing about lentiviruses is that their genome carries a gene that encodes the enzyme, reverse transcriptase, which copies RNA into DNA allowing it to insert randomly into cellular genomes. Two of my science mentors and friends, David Baltimore and Howard Temin, shared the Nobel Prize for discovering reverse transcriptase. Most RNA viruses, like flu and coronaviruses do not express reverse transcriptase, so they do not affect cellular genomes. It is biologically impossible for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to alter your cells’ DNA.
4) Problem: The vaccines will infect you with the virus. Answer: Balderdash! The RNA vaccines are not produced using any living microorganism. A short stretch of DNA is tethered to insoluble beads and used to produce copies of a short RNA sequence that will produce the viral spike protein. The insoluble DNA templates are easily separated from the RNA that remains in solution, and the RNA is then encapsulated in lipid nanoparticles. That is what is injected. After injection, the lipid nanoparticles fuse with lipid cell membranes to empty the encapsulated RNA into the cells. Then normal cell machinery takes over producing the spike protein, which generates an immune response and immune memory that protects you from subsequent infection. The vaccine RNA is gone in about two days.
5) Problem: We need several years of data to be assured of the safety of the vaccine. And we do not know how the vaccine will interact with other drugs many people take. Answer: Wrong. Vaccines are not drugs and do not interact with drugs you might take. And since vaccines are just one or two shots, and not taken chronically like drugs, long term problems are not a concern. I challenge any naysayer to name one long term health problem caused by vaccines.
6) Problem: Vaccines cause allergic reactions. Answer: Some do, but that risk is nothing compared to the risk of serious consequences of getting the disease that the vaccine prevents. The FDA and other regulatory agencies weigh these risk factors and the vaccines that are approved come out way on top. Such reactions can occur with any vaccine, but are extremely rare—about one per 1 million doses.
There have been very few allergic problems with the CoV-2 vaccines and that problem has been linked to polyethylene glycol (PEG), a component of the lipid nanoparticles that carry the RNA sequence. PEGs are also used in everyday products such as toothpaste and shampoo as thickeners, solvents, softeners, and moisture carriers, and they have been used as a laxative for decades. So, most of us have been exposed to PEGs, but very few of has have a problem with them.
Endnote: As published in these pages in late October, there are several examples of vaccine production errors that led to tragic consequences. In 1955, the Salk polio vaccine was rushed into production just hours after it was approved. This was an inactivated virus, which means that live virus was grown, then killed, then injected. Some lots from one of the manufacturers, Cutter Laboratories, were not fully inactivated and some patients received injections of live virus leading to tragic results. Similar production errors have led to people being infected with live measles virus, and respiratory syncytial virus. In 1976, an H1N1 flu that was similar to the 1918 Spanish flu reached pandemic stage and we rushed out a vaccine that was associated with a spike in the very rare Guillaume Barre disease (GBD), which is a type of paralysis. It is thought that the rushed vaccine somehow caused the small, but significant spike in the disease in fewer than 500 patients across the country. It is not known how the vaccine was related to GBD.
Note: your humble blogger was a college student and working in a hospital physical therapy department at the time, and worked with two GBD patients.
Those problems using inactivated virus vaccines are very rare and have not arisen in over 40 years. Since the CoV-2 RNA vaccines do not use any live microorganisms, this will not be a problem with the vaccines.
I will willingly get mine as soon as it is offered. How about you?