Vaccines: When the Experts Lie But Claim They Are Right

Adapted from Putting Floridians at Risk, a blog post by infectious disease physician and FDA advisor, Paul Offit, MD.

The lie: In October, the Surgeon General of Florida, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, issued a “Provider Alert”, which recommended that the new COVID booster only be given to everyone over 65. This was contrary to the CDC recommendation, which recommends boosting everyone over 6 months of age. Governor Ron DeSantis agreed with Ladapo, amazingly weighing in with this: “Once again, Florida is the first state in the nation to stand up and provide guidance based on “truth,” not Washington edicts.” I guess edicts from Washington automatically are not truth, but those from the Florida Surgeon General, for some reason are, because DeSantis says so. Why does he believe he knows more than the CDC?

Ladapo amazingly claimed that the COVID boosters don’t work. He too seems to know more than the CDC! To back up this spurious claim he cited a study of 2.2 million people from Qatar who got the booster.

Backstory: At first, the vaccines were hoped to prevent spread of the Cov-2 virus as many vaccines do. Early on they did that. But it soon became apparent that vaccine protection waned faster than expected and the virus mutated faster than expected. That combination meant that the vaccines became less effective at preventing virus spread. They still retard infection early after vaccination, but that protection is quickly lost. What they do well is prevent severe illness and death. That is well documented after  a few years of experience with the vaccines and the pandemic. Therefore, the goal of COVID vaccines is to prevent severe disease—to keep people out of the hospital, out of the intensive care unit, and out of the morgue. The Qatar study showed that the booster does exactly that. Protective efficacy against severe disease was about 75 percent. Pretty good.

Back to the lie: Ladapo unprofessionally ignored this main point of the Qatar study—that the vaccine was highly effective at preventing severe disease—and chose to focus on smaller, less significant, less clinically relevant data that minor infections were not affected by the booster. On this selective date editing, he claimed the booster was entirely ineffective. He either ignorantly interpreted the study or did so dishonestly.

Ladapo also falsely claimed that the COVID boosters are unsafe, stating that, “mRNA COVID-19 vaccines present a risk of subclinical and clinical myocarditis and other cardiovascular conditions among otherwise healthy individuals.” This is an oft cited, unsupportable falsehood. The truth is that very mild myocarditis occurs in about 1 in 100,000 mRNA vaccine recipients.  In contrast, myocarditis occurs in roughly 1 in 5,000 CoV-2 infected patients. Also, myocarditis following vaccination is short-lived and quickly resolves on its own, while myocarditis caused by the virus is more serious often requiring medical intervention. Therefore, regarding myocarditis, the benefits of mRNA vaccination far outweigh the risks. Ladapo is being disingenuous citing this is a vaccine danger. And if Ladapo believes that the COVID boosters are ineffective and unsafe, as he claimed, he is, therefore, irresponsible in recommending them for everyone over 65. That would be malpractice.

In the name of standing up to “Washington edicts” and recommending people not be boosted, DeSantis is following unethical medical advice and putting Floridians at unnecessary risk for preventable serious disease. And he wants to be president. If that were to happen, we would then have real complaints about Washington vaccine edicts.

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BioX Wins The Nobel!

“If you start to take Vienna, take Vienna”— Napoleon (reportedly)

What’s the fuss? BioX won the Nobel Prize….er rather it was the mRNA vaccine that won. Correction—it was the scientists, Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman of the University of Pennsylvania, who developed the RNA technology that went into the novel vaccine who won the prize. But their work directly led to the vaccine, a first fruit of BioX.

Readers of these blog pages might remember that about this time in 2020, that year’s Nobel award for Medicine or Physiology went to three scientists for their decades-long search to discover what caused hepatitis type non-A, non-B. It turned out to be a whole new virus, the hepatitis C virus (or HCV) that took four decades to identify. Even though it still remains a huge health problem, there still is no vaccine for it. I compared that four decade slog just to find the pathogen to how fast the novel viral cause of COVID-19 was found and a vaccine developed—all done in less than a year! I anointed the new biology that did that amazing feat, ‘BioX.’ That was rather prescient of me, since three years later, the co-founders of the COVID vaccine using BioX too were awarded the Nobel Prize.

I dubbed the new amazing post-molecular biology science that enabled such a quick identification of the novel coronavirus and development of a vaccine against it, ‘BioX’ after SpaceX. SpaceX, of course, is the name for the new way space travel is now being done. Shortly before the Nobel award for the discovery of HCV, Elon Musk’s SpaceX took astronauts in an unpiloted vehicle to the International Space Station. Then the launch vehicle, rather than being discarded as usual, was landed, upright, in the center of a bullseye on a barge off the coast of Ireland, to be reused on a future space flight--maybe to Mars? The whole thing was developed in a fraction of the time at a fraction of the cost of what NASA had historically been doing. NASA’s technology was rendered archaic by SpaceX, which introduced us to a new era of space travel.

The breathtaking speed with which a new biology discovered the SARS-CoV-2 virus and then developed a safe and effective vaccine against it ushered in a new post-molecular biology world I dubbed ‘BioX’.

Now the details. But as breathtaking as SpaceX is, it was not developed overnight in a vacuum. It arose on the back of decades of NASA engineering R&D, which included some spectacular failures and even a few tragic deaths. Similarly, as breathtaking as BioX was with the rapid identification of a novel virus and development of the new mRNA vaccines to a wholly new disease, that technology too was built on the back of decades of hard work, punctuated with many failures, but also flavored with impressive perseverance on the part of a few individuals.

There are two major components to the novel COVID vaccines—the mRNA which generates the viral protein to which the immune response is made, and the lipid nanoparticles that encapsulate and protects the fragile mRNA from a world that is hostile to mRNA. Both components took very separate, decades long, twisting, uphill roads to develop. Both nearly met with failure. And both came together with spectacular success. BioX!

  • The mRNA. Weissman, and especially Karikó, languished for years on the fringes of science with a, then, very weird idea of using mRNA to produce drugs or vaccines. Their collaboration began with a chance encounter at a UPenn copy machine in the 90s and went downhill from there as recently told in the Wall Street Jounal. Funding for their work was hard to come by. Karikó was banished to an office on the outskirts of the campus and languished in a non-faculty position for years. At one point, she had to take a demotion to simply keep a job at Penn.

They just could not get their idea to work. The mRNA was too fragile and too short-lived to work with and produce the desired proteins when they tried to express it in cells or animals. The fact is that there are ubiquitous enzymes all around us called RNases that have a ravenous appetite for mRNA. RNA molecules, especially mRNA disappear almost as fast as one can purify or make them, let alone then try to get them into cells in tissue culture or into bodies. On top of that, when naked mRNA is injected into a body, it elicits a powerful immune response that further quickly degrades it. Note that there are several different types of RNA, and mRNA is the most fragile and hardest to work with, but it is the type that provides the message that turns a genetic code into a protein molecule like a spike protein, which is why it is used in the vaccine.

The researchers had great difficulty getting grant funding for their research because no one believed it would go anywhere. When they could produce some data, they had a very hard time finding journals to publish it. No one was interested because no one believe that there was any utility in the whole premise of using mRNA as a therapeutic tool. In the publish-or-perish world of academia, such negative peer pressure usually is the kiss of death. They should have seen the writing on the wall and been teaching high school biology. But for some reason, Karikó continued to have faith in her idea even though no one else did. For some reason, she persevered.

After dogged determination and ignoring all the naysayers, she eventually had a major breakthrough after a doing a simple experiment. They found a simple way to protect the mRNA from the immune response and published this in 2005. It opened the field and colleagues minds about using mRNA as a possible therapeutic tool. But there still was the problem that mRNA was exquisitely sensitive to RNase enzymes that were everywhere—on your fingers, in your breath and blood, even on sterilized surfaces—the enzymes are incredibly stable molecules and very hard to destroy. Life intended mRNA to be short lived molecules, not to be used in vaccines.

It wasn’t until folks paired the immune-stable mRNA of Karikó and Weissman with a way to protect the molecules from RNase enzymes that mRNA vaccines became possible so they could win the Nobel Prize. Lipid nanoparticles did the trick.

  • The lipid nanoparticles. The story behind the development of the lipid nanoparticles used to deliver the CoV-2 viral spike mRNA sequence to cells so they could use their normal gene expression machinery to put the spike protein on their surface and generate an immune response is a long one. In that regard it is quite similar to the long, arduous story behind the development of the therapeutic mRNA. Early on, neither technology was believed possible or useful by the scientists’ peers. Both groups had very hard times getting their scientific feet on the ground. Both nearly failed. I described Karikó’s struggle above and in March 2021 I wrote in these pages about the professional plight of Bob Langer who, in the 70s, had a vision for using liposomes (short for lipid nanoparticles) for delivering fragile bio-molecules and drugs to cells (you can read that post here). Briefly, his idea was to create mini-cells in which to package and protect fragile therapeutic molecules and then deliver them to cells and tissues in the body. The liposomes containing the fragile therapeutic molecules would fuse with the lipid membranes of cells and disgorge their contents into the cells. Many people told him it was not possible and he had his first nine grant applications rejected—and this was a time when medical science research grants were easy to get (when I was in graduate school in the early 80s, NIH grant applications had a 50% success rate. By the time I became a faculty member in the late 80s that dropped to 10%). Langer, like Karikó, also could not get a faculty position because people did not believe in his research. Also like Karikó, for some reason Langer persevered.

Also like Karikó, Langer too succeeded—eventually. It took a long time. The technology he successfully developed was first used to package a drug used to treat a rare genetic disease that causes nerve and heart damage. It also was used to package mRNA for an Ebola vaccine. From an ignominious beginning, Bob Langer became a professor at MIT where there now is a bioengineering lab named after him. That is not quite as nice as winning a Nobel prize, but high recognition still.

Along the way, he also co-founded a small biotech company named Moderna that was focused on developing mRNA vaccines for infectious diseases, cancer and other diseases. Then COVID came calling and Moderna immediately pivoted, and along with BioNTech, NIH, and Pfizer, quickly gave us mRNA vaccines delivered in liposomes that saved millions of lives from COVID.

That is how BioX technology led to the Nobel prize this year.

The bottom line. BioX, like SpaceX, was built on decades of hard research that was punctuated by painful failures, but highlighted by dogged determination. Both technologies, BioX and SpaceX, are here to stay at least until the next amazing thing replaces them. You can bet that that next amazing thing will have been developed on the back of determined researchers who very possibly will be working at the fringe of their professions and may flirt with professional failure early on. You can also bet that the next amazing things will be built on the backbone of SpaceX and BioX. That is how science and engineering painfully progresses.

So, when you hear someone say that the mRNA vaccines are experimental like I very often do, tell them the truth. They were built on decades of hard research going back to the 70s.

Stay tuned for a coming post on the future of BioX, which is here to stay for a while. New mRNA vaccines are being developed for previously vaccine-impossible diseases including HIV, cancer, and various animal diseases. Work also is underway for a universal flu vaccine.

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Politics: A Risk Factor For Death From COVID?

What are you gonna believe, medical science or dubious talking heads?

In 2021 former Green Bay Packers quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, said he was “immunized” against COVID. He wasn’t. He claimed to have done “research” and learned how to get an infusion of antibodies and take some unproven ‘medicine.’ His ‘research’ was talking to radio pundit and hot-air purveyor, Joe Rogan. How many more people like Rodgers listen to the wisdom of the likes of Rogan or Tucker Carlson and think they know more than medical professionals and then rationalize their avoidance of COVID vaccines? And to what effect?

The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that from June 2021 through March 2022 about 234,000 COVID deaths could have been prevented had the decedents been vaccinated against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. That protection was especially important during the more deadly Delta virus wave during the earlier stage of the pandemic, but it still extends into the Omicron era, which fortunately is not as deadly as Delta was, but still is not to be taken lightly. People are still dying from the virus.

How does politics come into this?

A 2022 study published in the journal, Lancet Regional Health-Americas, found higher COVID mortality rates in more conservative congressional districts across the US. And in another 2022 study using 2020 presidential election returns, researchers at the University of Maryland and the University of California at Irvine found that, through October 2021, Republican-majority counties across the US experienced nearly 73 additional COVID deaths per 100,000 people relative to majority Democratic counties.

These are correlations looking for a cause. A good causal candidate could be differences in vaccination rates between people who tend toward conservatism vs liberalism. The former are much less likely to get vaccinated than their left leaning neighbors. But, that connection needs to be made.

Sure enough, a July 2023 report by Yale researchers in the journal, JAMA Internal Medicine, compared COVID death rates in counties in Florida and Ohio that voted for Trump vs Biden before and after the vaccines came out. The bottom line was that after the vaccines rolled out, Trump voting counties saw 40% higher fatality rates per million residents. Before the vaccines, the COVID death rates were the same for all counties. Viral infection rates were similar for both types of counties throughout the period of analysis. Importantly, counties and individuals that went for Trump had lower vax rates than those that went for Biden.

That pretty much closes the circle on the causation. The greater reluctance of more conservative people to get vaccinated and boosted likely killed them at a greater rate.


Now, don’t get me started on the conservative vs liberal attitudes on face masks and social distancing. Conservatives are wrong on these matters. I say this as a conservative myself. But, I also am a data driven scientist who believes data trumps partisanship.

How do you think SARS and MERS were stopped without a vaccine or anti-viral drugs? How do you think society stopped any epidemic such as small pox, influenza, bubonic plague, etc. throughout its history before modern medicine and effective vaccines? How do you think today we are handling Ebola for which there is no vaccine or drug? Non-pharmaceutical physical measures, like masks, gloves, sanitation, social distancing, etc. are effective ways to halt infectious diseases in lieu of vaccine and drug preventive measures.

Conservative resistance to these non-pharmaceutical physical protective measures also probably contributed to their higher death rates observed in the studies mentioned above.


Part 3: Gain-Of-Function Research At The Wuhan Lab—Are The Chinese Hiding Something About The Lab?

This is a re-post of a blog, but with additional material. I added new information about the Chinese government response to the first SARS epidemic. You can find that section two-thirds of the way through the post under the headline in bold "The Chinese have done this before:"

“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
― George Orwell

Yeah, I know, I said this would be a two-blog series about the research at the Wuhan Labs. But a comment a reader made on my second blog post made me think that I should make a third post to briefly address the apparent secrecy and lack of cooperation from the Chinese government regarding the research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).

The Chinese have failed to cooperate to help us find the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that caused COVID. They have denied access to WIV lab records or research personnel beyond what was posted on their coronavirus database as I mentioned in my prior blog post. This secrecy and lack of cooperation began in early January 2020 immediately after Chinese officials realized that they had a coronavirus superspreader event at the Wuhan wet market as I described almost three years ago in these pages.

This apparent secrecy on the part of the Chinese has led many people to jump to the conclusion that the Chinese are hiding something sinister—sinister like they secretly created SARS-CoV-2 and accidentally released it and don’t want the world to find out. But, as I have posted several times in these pages, most recently here, there is precious little evidence that supports the notion that the virus came out of a lab. On the other hand, there are several pieces of consistent, but still circumstantial evidence for its natural origin. However, that conclusion is not definitive and could change with new evidence. Hence, we cannot say with certainty that we know where the virus came from. But, remember, it took 14 years and a LOT of work to learn the origin of the virus that caused the first SARS outbreak; it took much longer to discover the source of HIV, and we still do not know where the Ebola virus came from. These things are very hard to learn and take time to figure out.

However, I don’t believe that the best explanation for the Chinese lack of cooperation is that they are hiding something sinister from the world because it seems very unlikely that the virus was man-made. After all, we have several examples of novel coronaviruses popping up in animals and humans, and all have had natural origins. And as I described in my prior post in this series, it is next to impossible that the virus was accidentally released from the Wuhan labs since they really did not work live viruses at all. I think one of two other explanations for Chinese intransigence is more plausible.

The least likely alternative explanation is that WIV lab safety protocols for handling dangerous pathogens were substandard and for the Chinese to allow access to lab records would reveal to the world how careless they were. Perhaps they were concerned about their world image and did not want to be embarrassed. It could deleteriously affect their R&D collaborations with other countries. But, we already had an idea that their safety protocols were not up to Western standards so this would not have been a terribly shocking revelation. That is why I don’t think this is the most likely explanation for the lack of cooperation and transparency.

More likely, however, I think the lack of cooperation probably reflects the general and significant deterioration in science and technology collaboration between China and the US that has been going on for five years. This was the topic of a long article in the Wall Street Journal just a few days ago. In fact, US-China science and tech cooperation has gotten so bad in recent years that US lawmakers are pushing to let a long-standing agreement between the two counties to cooperate broadly on science and technology lapse. It was originally signed in 1979 and renewed every five years since, but will expire this month if not renewed as several lawmakers are pushing.

A once highly productive cooperative science and technology agreement between the US and China seems to have begun falling apart in 2018, before COVID, according to the WSJ article. That is when the US DoJ launched its China Initiative to ferret out Chinese economic espionage. Over time the program increasingly focused on interactions between US universities and Chinese institutions. NIH also launched hundreds of investigations into ties between US science and China. While all these investigations largely failed to turn up criminal conduct, they understandably put a major damper on further cooperation between China and the US. They also led to an exodus of Chinese scientists from American labs. Given all that, it is not surprising that Chinese officials are not opening the doors and books of the Wuhan labs to us.

Thus, this lack of cooperation regarding access to the Wuhan labs is happening as cooperation is seriously deteriorating across the scientific spectrum, not just at the Wuhan labs.

The Chinese have done this before: The Communist Chinese government also has a long history of invoking repressive secrecy in order to prevent itself from looking bad. For example, they also clammed up during the first SARS outbreak back in November 2002 and it threw the country into its worst political crisis since the 1989 Tienanmen Square uprising. The government’s first response to the emerging epidemic was to hide the outbreak from its people, and even from its own public health officers. Despite the cloak of a news blackout, SARS spread throughout the country, reaching Beijing that March (viruses don’t read the newspapers!). But doctors do, and the cloak worked on them. Because of all the secrecy, they were caught by surprise by the sudden and prolific appearance of a new disease, and only learned what was going on via surreptitious text messaging.

In April, WHO officials finally were allowed into the country to inspect Beijing hospitals in order to assess what was going on, but sick patients were shuttled out of the hospitals in ambulances to different hospitals or checked into hotels to hide them from inspectors. Because Beijing tried to hide all this from the world, the epidemic, which might have been limited to that city, found its way into 32 countries around the world (viruses are very slippery). Fortunately, those other countries were not as furtive and were able to nip their infections in the bud with public health measures such as quarantines, contact tracings and isolation, and public closings.

SARS allowed the world to see and compare how repressive and self-sensitive China vs other world countries handle a deadly contagion. China was afraid of losing face and tried to hide its problem from public exposure. However, this backfired and showed China to be a repressive country that was willing to risk the safety of its people and the world in order to avoid accountability for the first SARS outbreak.

Therefore, it is not terribly surprising that the Chinese government again is using repressive means to avoid being put into a position of accountability for the second SARS outbreak.

The bottom line is that to think the Chinese are hiding something nefarious and conspiratorial at the WIV is pure speculation and is backed by no evidence at all. So far. There are alternative explanations for the lack of cooperation by the Chinese that are more feasible and reasonable to believe at this point. New information could change this assessment of course, but evidence that the Chinese are hiding something is lacking. Too bad they won't let us confirm that.

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Part 2: Gain-Of-Function Research At The Wuhan Lab—What Exactly Was The Wuhan Lab Doing With Coronaviruses?

“I’m just a soul whose intentions are good; Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.”  —The Animals

In the first part of this two-part blog series, I described what gain-of-function research entails in order to set the stage for this blog post which describes the coronavirus research that went on in the Wuhan labs. So, was it dangerous and risky? Did it likely lead to the release of SARS-CoV-2 that caused COVID? Let me try to clarify all that now.

Coronavirus research at the Wuhan lab: After the first SARS epidemic in China in 2002, the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) had established itself as a world class coronavirus research lab. It was from their diligent work that the world learned that the first SARS virus came from a horseshoe bat via other animals such as civets and raccoon dogs. That was the result of years of arduous research trudging through bat guano muck in hundreds of caves throughout China to collect samples from thousands of bats. They reported their finding 14 years after SARS appeared and shortly after another strange, lethal flu popped up in the Middle East that was soon attributed to yet another bat-borne coronavirus that came via camel intermediate hosts—MERS.

Before these two coronaviruses that jumped from animals to cause significant disease in humans, the viruses were only known to cause mild human maladies; basically, the common cold. Therefore, when it was learned that the deadly SARS and MERS diseases were caused by coronaviruses, it rattled the cages of health experts around the world. This was brand new!

Hence, even before COVID struck, bat-born coronaviruses were hot on the radars of infectious disease nerds and public health worrywarts. The WIV, as one of the world’s preeminent labs for identifying novel coronaviruses was given international funds to continue their efforts to identify and catalog bat coronaviruses. As they did years earlier when they identified the origin of the SARS virus in horseshoe bats, WIV scientists traveled to far-flung Chinese caves to collect bat guano and biological samples (blood, saliva, fecal) from captured bats. The samples were brought back to the lab in Wuhan for analysis.

Since it is exceedingly difficult and potentially very dangerous to grow wild viruses from such samples (failure is the norm even when many viruses are present in the samples) the lab resorted to their previous tried and true methods of searching the samples for viral genome sequences. They found a LOT of new ones!

Their first and primary order of business in this research was the very mundane task to sequence and catalog all the different coronaviruses they found. They then colligated these genomes into trees of different virus families and posted all the data in a vast database for world scientists to use. They were coronavirus genealogists.

The database is an enormously useful research tool for scientists around the world studying the origins and evolution of coronaviruses in animals and humans. (Coronaviruses also cause significant animal disease, so they also are of great agricultural interest around the world.)

The Wuhan lab also was charged with predicting which of the new virus sequences they found might pose future health threats to humans.

This is where all the controversy begins.

Remember that the Wuhan scientists actually did not have these viruses on hand, just their genome sequences. So, without the actual virus, how could they evaluate the ability of new coronaviruses to infect humans? To do this WIV scientist, Zhengli Shi, used a genetic engineering technique first published in 2015 by Univ. of North Carolina Scientist Ralph Baric to study coronaviruses from their genome sequences (she was a collaborator on Baric’s 2015 paper, so was quite familiar with the approach). It was a technique that also was in use at the time by several labs around the world. It is notable that NIH funded this coronavirus research conducted by Baric at UNC well before COVID appeared and didn’t consider it to be GoF research then.

Using Baric’s genetic engineering technique, Shi’s lab at the WIV used as a tool, a benign coronavirus that they could grow in the lab that was only distantly related to the first SARS virus, but was not known to cause human disease. Its genome sequence was not at all related to SARS-CoV-2 that caused COVID, and which had not yet appeared.

Shi’s lab removed the spike protein gene sequence from the genome of this benign lab virus tool and methodically replaced it with spike protein sequences from each new virus they sequenced. They then grew the lab virus tool carrying the new spike protein and tested its ability to infect human cells in tissue culture.

It is the spike protein that determines whether a coronavirus can infect human cells. Therefore, if the chimeric lab virus carrying the new spike gene infected human cells, it would indicate that the virus the spike protein sequence came from was a likely human pathogen and that virus sequence was then listed on the database as a potential human risk. However, if the chimeric test virus failed to infect the human tissue culture cells, that meant that the spike protein from the new virus genome would not support infection of human cells and the new virus sequence was not categorized as a concern for human infection.

This is how newly identified coronavirus sequences were categorized as potential human health threats without ever having to grow or isolate each virus itself.

In other words, this test simply expressed the spike protein of each novel coronavirus on the backbone of the safe lab virus genome in order to see if it could infect human cells. This completely negated the need to grow and handle the potentially much more dangerous wild-type virus.

It is important to notice that this strategy eliminated all risk of a lab leak of any dangerous virus since it was not necessary to grow or handle potentially dangerous wild-type viruses using this technique.

Is this gain-of-function-research? Strictly speaking, no. Remember, this sort of coronavirus engineering research had been done years earlier in Baric’s UNC lab, and was being done in other labs around the world, and it was never regarded as GoF research then by NIH.

NIH considers GoF research on pathogens to be research that either: 1) increases the pathogenicity of a microbe (that is, makes its disease worse), 2) improves its transmissibility or its ability to infect hosts, or 3) alters the host range of a pathogen. Therefore, in the WIV experiments to assess the ability of novel virus genome sequences to infect human cells, the chimeric test viruses that simply expressed new spike proteins on a laboratory virus backbone either retained the ability of the original lab virus to infect human cells, or they lost the ability to infect human cells.

Therefore, the chimeric viruses gained no new function that was tested. They either retained or lost the ability to infect human cells. The experiments were not at all designed to give the test virus any new functions. Furthermore, these experiments could not have led to the development of SARS-CoV-2 that caused the COVID pandemic, even by accident, since the laboratory test virus used to create the chimeric viruses in the experiments was not at all related to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

There is a devil in the details: But. Notice that one of the the NIH definitions of GoF research is research that alters a pathogen’s host range. For example, take a flu virus that only passes between birds; avian flu. If you make changes in its genome so that the birds can also pass it to humans that mutation alters its host range and is a GoF change.

In the WIV lab, viruses with new spike protein gene sequences were only tested for their ability to infect human cells in a petri dish. The ability of these chimeric viruses with new spike proteins to also infect other animals was not tested. Theoretically, the chimeric test viruses could feasibly also infect, say a water buffalo, or a wart hog, or some other animal that the original lab virus might not have been able to. That would be a technical gain-of-function. But, that begs the question; in such an experiment, how would you know whether or not the host range of the chimeric virus had changed until you possibly had tested its ability to infect every known animal? A logistical impossibility.

Therefore, based on this theoretical point, it cannot be definitely stated that the experiments were not GoF experiments. In fact, chances are pretty good that some of the novel spike protein sequences attached to the lab test virus in fact altered its host range and, thus, the experiments would technically be GoF research.

Bottom line: Technically speaking, therefore, these experiments carried out at the WIV probably could be called GoF experiments. By a lawyer. Not by a scientist. That picks the proverbial nit and splits a very fine frog hair, to mix metaphors. The same research had been done ten years earlier in Ralph Baric’s UNC lab and was not considered GoF then. What is important is that the research at the UNC or the WIV never set out to create viruses with enhanced virulence, transmissibility, or altered host range. That was never the intent. The aim of the WIV research was solely to predict the human risk posed by novel coronaviruses without actually having to directly work with the potentially dangerous pathogens. Actually working with the dangerous viruses would have posed a very real risk.

Bottom, bottom line: The research conducted at the WIV was the most safe and responsible way to identify new coronaviruses that could potentially pose future human health risks. It is to the detriment of human health that this research has come under heavy criticism and that such future research has been hampered by criticism from people who fail to understand what the research is about and have, therefore, demonized it and want to prevent it.

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Gain-Of-Function Research At The Wuhan Lab: Part 1

“Mater artium necessitas"

 A lot of news print, band width, and fevered comment has been bandied about regarding “Gain-of-Function” (GoF) coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). It usually has been done so with an unspoken insinuation that something was very wrong or careless with that research. People are left with visions that GoF research involves mad scientists creating Franken-viruses and that that perhaps caused the pandemic. Certainly when scientists begin fiddling around with the genomes of nasty pathogens bad things can possibly happen. In fact, bad things can occur simply by growing and culturing dangerous microbes—accidents can happen.

Did we in fact get the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which caused COVID, from scientists in Wuhan playing Russian (or Chinese) roulette with coronaviruses and their genes? Did irresponsible or careless research lead to an intentional, or, more likely, an accidental event that unleashed a virus that devastated the world for two-plus years?

These questions and rumors have floated around long enough that people now believe the premise--say it often enough and people will believe. But, hardly anyone knows what research was being done in the WIV labs. Few people even know what GoF research entails because no one has taken the time to describe it.

Let me give a shot at clarifying all this. I will do this in a two-part blog. The first blog post, which you are now reading, will explain what gain-of-function research is. It will surprise readers to learn that humans have been doing it for thousands of years and that it is going on all around us all the time. In the second blog that I will post in a few days, I will delve into what exactly was going on in the Wuhan labs and try to explain the research so non-scientists can grasp what they were doing.

My aim in these two blog posts is to give readers the ability to parse through the rhetoric and understand the reality. Here we go.

GoF research backstory: Basically, gain-of-function simply is when a mutation in an organism--animal, plant, or microbe--changes some function in it. That is what drives evolution, That is how bacteria acquire resistance to antibiotics, as an example. Microbes and cells do it all on their own via happenstance mutation followed by natural selection in an environment that favors the mutation.

Humans have been purposefully doing GoF research ever since we began farming and raising animals. We just never called it gain-of-function research. The minute we began selectively breeding animals and crops to produce better products, we were doing GoF research. Selective breeding first identifies animals or crops with desired traits that arose by chance genetic mutation and then selectively chooses the animals with those traits to breed. That fixes the genetic mutation and its desired trait into the genome of the plant or animal. Gain-of-function.

Then came recombinant DNA technology in the 1970s. We began cloning and mutating genes in the lab, and  inserting the lab-altered genes into animals and plants, thereby speeding up the long, arduous process of selective breeding. We do this all the time now in making genetically engineered crops and animals. It also is how we are now beginning to genetically treat certain diseases in plants, animals and humans. This is all gain-of-function technology. It is happening all around us all the time.

GoF technology also is a very common research tool used in almost every cell biology and microbiology lab in the world. For example, at one point in my own research lab, we studied how a change in a normal human gene might cause what was an untreatable leukemia. We took a cloned version of the normal human gene, mutated it, then put it in a virus to shuttle the mutated gene into bone marrow cells growing in tissue culture. The gene we altered caused normal bone marrow cells to become leukemia. That is how we proved the alteration in the normal human gene was sufficient to cause leukemia. From all the research that followed in many labs using that GoF leukemia model, the leukemia is now mostly curable. That illustrates the value of GoF lab research. It is done all the time in countless labs around the world to understand how genes and cells work.

What about GoF research on dangerous pathogens? Just like in the cell biology experiments above, GoF experiments on pathogens can tell us how certain viruses and bacteria become dangerous. As just one example, in the early 2000s, flu researchers at the University of Wisconsin did experiments to learn what made the 1918 Spanish flu so much more devastating than other seasonal flus. They systematically replaced genes from a mundane cloned laboratory flu strain with genes from the 1918 strain that had been cloned from stored patient samples dating from 1918. The goal was to learn which of the 1918 flu genes increased the transmission and/or virulence of the lab strain. Gain-of-function.

Bottom line: Similar GoF studies are undertaken all the time in many labs around the world that work with many other dangerous pathogens. Information from such studies has been enormously valuable for understanding how dangerous pathogens become dangerous and cause disease, and how to protect us from them. These studies have been conducted without causing major problems for the world.

Sure, GoF research can be used for nefarious purposes. A malevolent actor can use it to make terrible pathogens like anthrax resistant to all antibiotics and turn it into a weapon. It would be simple to do; a college microbiology student in a college lab could do it if he got his hands on the bacteria (which can be easily grown from soil). Ebola is a terribly lethal virus, but it is very difficult to transfer between people,  which has limited it to controllable regional epidemics. If a mad scientist manipulated its genome to turn it into an airborne pathogen, it could wreak world-wide havoc, probably worse than COVID or the Spanish flu. And so on.

Therefore GoF research on pathogens can be both beneficial and dangerous. This is called “dual purpose research.” Scientists and government officials are very aware of this dual threat from such research and sometimes science publications purposefully withhold critical data that a bad actor could misuse.

Needless to say, this is a very controversial tightrope science walks when dealing with dual purpose science, such as GoF research on dangerous pathogens. Science is entirely based on disclosing what it discovers, but it can sometimes discover things that, while enormously useful for humans and the world, can also be enormously destructive. What do you do then?

Have you seen the movie, Oppenheimer?

Now that we have established grounding in what gain-of-function research entails, the next blog post, will describe the coronavirus research that went on in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Hopefully, these blogs will give you a clearer understanding of whether or not the lab was responsible for the virus that caused the COVID pandemic.

While SARS-CoV-2 And Our Immune Systems Do A Dance, We Get Re-Infected

Note: Artificial intelligence wrote nary a word of the following article, which was fully composed by the natural intelligence of a certain human.

Your sometimes humble blogger remembers how immunology science first beguiled him. It was during senior year in high school in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC. More specifically it was during a lunch break while working at a People’s Drug Store that had a lunch counter. Your then nascent blogger grabbed the recent issue of Scientific American from the magazine rack and opened it to an article that was way above his green scientific understanding but, he, nevertheless, gleaned from the article that the immune system could make antibodies to just about any molecule in the universe, even ones newly created in a lab that the universe had never seen. Amazing!

Your immune system would also make antibodies against the cells and tissues of your best friend and everyone else in the world, and vice versa, but you and your best friend, et al., would not make antibodies against the same cells and molecules in your own bodies! What?

“Holy cow!” I thought. How in the world can the immune system do all that? How can it respond to something the world had never seen and secern friend from foe? At that moment, at that lunch counter over a burger, Coke and an article I barely understood, an immunologist was made. And I did indeed go on to earn a PhD in immunology and I indeed have studied how the immune system recognizes viruses and have done vaccine research. What a pivotal lunch break that was for me.

The question about antibody discrimination clearly fascinated me. That mystery has been solved and a few Nobel prizes awarded for its elegant solution, but related spin-off questions about how antibodies protect us keep coming up in different ways. It did so most recently during the COVID pandemic. Why weren’t the antibodies we generated via vaccination or via natural infection more protective against subsequent infection? In a twist in the plot of biology, it turns out that we have learned that the answers to these questions center around a complicated dance performed between both the virus and immune biological systems.

Biology is so doggone interesting!!

COVID Vaccine generated immunity: The several vaccines we now have against the SARS-CoV-2 virus are effective and provide examples of how vaccines are very good at getting the immune system to respond to what it detects as foreign invaders. But the vaccines are just designed to tell our immune systems to make antibodies against just a very small fragment of the spike protein. In contrast, the virus is constructed of several large proteins each of which has many different regions that the immune system can separately recognize as foreign. In other words, if the virus is like a brick building, your system theoretically can make a different antibody that specifically recognizes each brick of the building. So, the vaccine is like exposing the immune system to about 2-3 bricks of the whole building and trusting the resulting immune response against those few bricks to bring the whole building down.

The immune system was very good in generating antibodies to a small portion of the virus, yet many vaccinated people still were infected and caught COVID. Does that mean, as many vax naysayers claim that the vaccines were ineffective? Not at all, as I have discussed here before. While the CoV-2 vaccines did a good job at protecting against serious disease and death they were not very good at preventing the spread of the virus. These vaccines effectively generated a systemic immune response, meaning that you had anti-viral antibodies circulating in your blood, which did do a very good job preventing serious disease once the virus got inside you. But, it still got inside. You still got infected and got mildly sick.

We now know that the virus enters via mucous membranes in your nose, sinuses, mouth, throat and eyes. It has to first cross mucous membranes in order to infect you and that is where it needs to be stopped in order to actually prevent infection and further spread to others. The problem is that mucosal immunity is caused by a different type of antibody than what circulates in the blood and by what is generated by a typical vaccine that is given by an injection in the arm. To generate mucosal immunity, you need a vaccine that you spray in your mouth or nose, which then should generate the type of antibodies that provide mucosal protection and better protect you from infection via that route and better prevent the virus from spreading through a population.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we were faced with a brand new pathogen for which we knew nothing about how it behaved or how it infected and spread between people. At that point, we reasonably chose to quickly make the most common type of vaccine--a shot. While it didn’t fully protect against getting infected, it nevertheless was very effective at protecting against serious disease. So, it did a good job. Current efforts are underway to develop a mucosal vaccine. But, we must also deal with other complications we have learned about the dance between the virus and the immune system to make sure that vaccine will be maximally effective at preventing infection. Read on.

“Natural” COVID immunity: As it became clear that vaccinated people were still getting infected, the vaccine dissenters and dissemblers proclaimed loudly, and still do, that the vaxes failed miserably. They ignored the survival data and only focused on the infection data. They then began touting “natural immunity,” which is the immunity one usually gains after being naturally infected. But, that can be uncertain given the fact that the route of infection and the dose of virus can vary wildly and confer different levels of protection, as I reported earlier. Plus, with natural infection, one runs the risk of serious disease and death from the disease.

Then, to the chagrin of the “natural immunity” enthusiasts it turned out that they also were getting re-infected! And this re-infection occurs despite the fact that natural immunity occurs after infection across the mucous membranes that should, as discussed above, generate an immune response that would stop an infection! This is the dance.

Therefore, we now know that neither vaccine immunity, nor infection immunity fully protects against future infection with the CoV-2 virus (there is partial protection, but I won’t go into that here).

As we learned as recently as last April, from a Harvard study published in the journal Science, despite the fact that a natural infection presents the immune system with the full viral “building and all its bricks” potentially recognizable by antibodies, it turns out that only a few of the “bricks” are in fact actively “seen” at any time by the immune system.

This immuno-dominance of a small part of a larger pathogen that has thousands of sites or bricks the immune system can recognize is not unusual. It is like a large building consisting of thousands of bricks, but having a very attractive window that draws your attention. While you know an entire building is there, your attention is mostly drawn to the window. So can the focus of the immune system be preferentially drawn to a small part of a larger edifice. The immune system is perfectly capable of seeing the rest of the “building,” but it prefers to direct its attention to a small part of it. However, if you take away the part it prefers to focus on, the immune system will easily recognize something else. This immuno-dominance in what the immune system “sees” has several causes that are way too complicated to go into here without writing a textbook (an interested reader might try Paul’s Fundamental Immunology. My rather old edition of that book runs about 1500 pages!). Suffice it to just know that this sort of immuno-dominance often happens where only a small part of a large pathogen is preferentially recognized by the immune system.

Thus, the immunity developed after a natural infection is mostly only directed at a small portion of the virus, much like the antibody response after vaccination with just a small part of the virus. The natural immune response, like the vaccine immune response, is robust and effective, yet both are only directed against a very small portion of a big pathogen, and both are very leaky in that one can still get infected again! What gives?

Mutation gives.

How the virus escapes immunity: The SARS-CoV-2 virus is highly mutable unlike the other viruses like polio and small pox we vaccinate against and maintain long term immunity against. Thus, the virus quickly mutated, or changed, the “bricks” against which the vaccines were made rendering the immune response less and less effective over time as new viral iterations appeared. That is why the many boosters we got were necessary to keep vaccination immunity up with viral changes.

And that also is how someone who became immune after natural infection also became re-infected. The virus did a two-step and mutated the small region recognized by the immune system. It was pretty easy for the virus to do since it only had to change a couple of “bricks” in its facade that the antibodies were mostly attacking. That means that upon re-infection with a slightly mutated virus, the immune systems have to be re-educated to recognize a new intruder, and that takes time, which allows a new infection to settle in. Thus, in this dance, the gentleman virus leads and the dame immune system follows.

New vaccines continue to be developed that scientists hope will solve these problems unique to SARS-CoV-2. Most of the new vaccines are being built on the mRNA platform, but using novel approaches to 1) develop vaccines that can be given as a nasal spray in order to generate the mucosal immunity that hopefully would be more effective at actually preventing COVID. If this works, it might even be possible to hinder COVID spread. 2) But in order to block CoV-2 spread on a population level, we need to find other regions of the virus that are not so highly mutable. These would conceivably be regions of COVID proteins critical for viral function that tolerate little change in structure because that change would destroy the proteins' critical function and essentially kill the virus. Alternatively, new vaccines could incorporate multiple "bricksl" from different regions of the edifice assuming that it would be nigh impossible for all those sites to simultaneously mutate. If such regions are accessible to the immune system, then the resulting immunity would be expected to be impervious to viral mutation, thus ending the dance on a sour note.

It is even possible that such a vaccine could protect against a wide range of coronaviruses, thereby preventing future health problems arising from new coronaviruses. Remember SARS that also popped up in China a couple of decades ago? That virus has some genome similarity to the virus that caused the COVID pandemic, and both are distantly related to the virus that caused MERS that arose in the Middle East. If a pan-coronavirus vaccine can be developed, it could feasibly prevent many future epidemics and pandemics.

We shall see.

This is all part of a new biology that I earlier dubbed BioX. Biology is so doggone interesting!!

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Is Intentional COVID Vax Disinformation Criminal?

Note: Disinformation is different from misinformation. Disinformation is false information which is deliberately intended to mislead. Misinformation is wrong information spread without malicious intent.


“We have met the enemy and he is us.”

--Pogo Possum

Your humble blogger first wrote about vaccine disinformation way back on March 31, 2021, just over two years ago. That was not long after the vaccines, as well as the lies about them began rolling out. Unfortunately, the fiction continues and it is now necessary to provide an update.

In the first quarter of the Monday Night Football game on January 2, 2023, 24 year old NFL player, Damar Hamlin, made a tackle, got up from the play, took a couple of steps, then fell over backward and didn’t rise. He suffered a cardiac arrest and needed to be resuscitated on the field with a defibrillator.

Almost immediately social media came alive with speculation and even outright claims that Hamlin’s collapse was due to the COVID vaccine. Without knowing whether he had even been vaccinated, conspiracy quacks immediately linked old reports of rare post-vax events of cardiomyopathy in young adults and occasional problems with blood clots with Hamlin’s sudden cardiac arrest. They completely ignored other explanations such as how the blow to Hamlin’s chest during the tackle could have caused his heart to fibrillate.

Your still humble blogger attests that this can be a concern to blows to the chest during sporting events. As a 13 year-old, playing first base in a summer league, I was knocked off balance by a runner scrambling to return to the base as the second baseman zinged a fastball to me to pick off the errant opponent after snaring a line drive. The ball hit me square in the chest over my heart and dropped me to ground. I don't remember anything for a few moments, and I was whisked by ambulance to an ER where my heart function was carefully monitored for a few hours before I was released. It was suspected, but not proven, that I had a brief cardiac event but quickly recovered on my own and I was no worse for the wear. It happens.

That conspiratorial chorus in the ether was soon followed by a similarly crazy cacophony of television and radio talking heads also intimating, again without facts, that Hamlin had suffered a vaccine-related cardiac side effect. These pundits included popular host Tucker Carlson who, on his Fox cable show just two days after the game, while Hamlin was still hospitalized in an induced coma, called medical experts “witch doctors” as if he knew more than they did. Dallas cardiologist and anti-vaccine podcaster, Peter McCullough announced on Carlson’s show that ‘vaccine induced myocarditis” likely caused Hamlin’s episode (I guess McCullough was not a “witch doctor” or a “medical expert” according to Tucker's criteria).

Even the very evening that Hamlin collapsed, Charlie Kirk, a radio talk show host, and COVID vax conspiracist claimed on Twitter that many athletes across the country are suddenly dropping like Hamlin did because of the vaccine. And the same evening there was an Instagram post from bodybuilder Louis Uridel showing a screenshot of a tweet stating that Hamlin's cardiac arrest was caused by the COVID vaccine. "24 year old elite athletes in the NFL don't just have a cardiac arrest in the middle of a prime time game," the tweet read. "This is squarely on the back of every single person who pushed that poison…", meaning the vaccine.  

An astonishing statistic is circulating throughout many social media circles claiming that more athletes died suddenly in the last year than have died in the last 38 years, implying that the vaccine is to blame. This originated with the same Peter McCullough who Carlson had on his show right after the football player collapsed. McCullough published a letter on Dec 2022 examining sudden cardiac deaths (SCD) in athletes. The problem, however, is that in his research he did not compare apples to apples. According to an epidemiologist who dug into McCullough’s data, he often compared cardiac events young athletes to events in old athletes(!), he mixed definitions of SCD indiscriminately, he included people who didn’t die of SCD or people who were not even athletes, and he even included people who did not die. But, the damage had been done; McCullough’s letter has spread far and wide and is now conspiracy gospel. Conspiracy buffs don’t really care about data, it is the headlines and talking points confirming their bias that grab and keep their attention. So, the false claim that the vaccine is causing excess deaths in athletes persists.

It is true that most conspiracies are often anchored in some fact, and on that foundation, the rest of the flimsy house of fantasy is constructed with fakery and fraud. Therefore, it is true that some COVID vaccines have been linked to very rare cases of myocarditis in young men. These cases were mostly very mild and were quickly resolved with no medical intervention needed. In fact, many cases were asymptomatic and were only detected because the sufferers participated in the clinical trials of the vaccines. Hence, trial participants were vaccinated and closely followed for adverse effects. This included regular blood draws which revealed that some vaccinated subjects with no physical symptoms at all still showed abnormal levels of a cardiac protein in their blood indicative of myocarditis, which quickly went away. These cases would have been missed completely if they had not been in the vaccine study. After now vaccinating hundreds of millions of people around the world, it is safely concluded that myocarditis following vaccination is very rare (~1 in 100,000) and not a serious problem. In fact, myocarditis following infection occurs seven-times more often than after vaccination, and is more severe. Therefore, it would have been more logical for Tucker Carlson, Charlie Kirk,  Peter McCoullugh, et al., to conclude that Hamlin’s problem resulted from a recent infection rather than a vaccination.

Then there is the blatantly dishonest video documentary, Died Suddenly, that is wildly popular in the anti-vax sector. It was made by Stew Peters and it asserts that people are dying in droves due to the vaccine, which itself was supposedly engineered by an elite cabal to depopulate the planet (seriously!). This video flashes through many alarming news headlines of people dying and shows videos of people collapsing, supposedly after receiving a vaccine. Whole essays have been written rebutting this video (you can read one here), but here are some quick take away points: 

  • Google the news headlines shown in the video and you will learn that many incidents were not caused by the vaccine. In one headline, the person died in a car accident not from the vaccine. Another died before the vaccines were even available! Yet another collapsed during a basketball game, also before the vaccines, but never died. How inconvenient.
  • The video alleges that mRNA vaccines are killing people via blood clots. As “evidence” it simply shows images of blood clots being removed from the blood vessels of cadavers. However, it fails to mention that blood normally clots after death! Ooops. No other evidence for vaccine-induced clots causing widespread death is offered.
  • The video also showed images of a huge blood clot (a pulmonary embolism) being surgically removed from a lung vessel, letting viewers assume the clot was caused by the vaccine. However, the footage was from a 2019 medical education video, that was made, once again, before vaccines were available!

The Died Suddenly documentary is dishonest to say the least, yet it is regularly trotted out as prime evidence for the danger of the vaccines.

If the vaccines are so dangerous, one wonders why the evidence needs to be fabricated!

In the end, COVID vaccines prevented 18.5 million additional hospitalizations and 3.2 million additional deaths in the US. Prevented not caused

Spreading vaccine disinformation can be very lucrative. It can bring in advertising revenue, attract subscribers, and help sell supplements and nostrums.

Twelve people are responsible for 65% of the vaccine disinformation on social media in the US, and they do so for profit. Their impact is mostly seen on Facebook, but there is plenty of vaccine disinformation on Instagram and Twitter as well.  Here are some notable examples.

  • A scientific study published in the science journal, Nature, reported that by far most (25%) of the COVID vaccine disinformation posts come from the organization, Children’s Health Defense, an anti-vaccine organization owned by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, the 69 year old son of the late Senator, and recently declared Democratic candidate for US president. RFK, Jr., is a long-time opponent of vaccines. Any vaccine. He gained more than 1 million new paying subscribers in 2020 and traffic to his website rose sharply in March 2021 with 2.35 new million visits in response to his anti-COVID vaccine efforts.
  • Joseph Mercola, DO actually claims in hundreds of Facebook articles that the vaccines will alter your DNA and turn you into a viral protein factory. He does this in order to promote the sale of supplements, books, and health food. During the height of the pandemic, he promoted a new website designed to prevent or treat COVID with his alternative remedies. His business has a net worth of $100 million! As I explained earlier in these pages, it is biologically impossible for the mRNA vaccines to affect your cellular DNA in any way. Mercola is selling a flat lie for profit.
  • Steve Hotze, MD a Houston based doctor who used social media to unabashedly tell people to not vaccinate, but rather buy his vitamin and mineral concoctions, which, he claims was all one needed to fight the virus and many other diseases. In his case, the FDA found the products and marketing to be misleading and issued a cease and desist order.

Bottom line. The insidiousness of these charlatans is that while they claim to be saving peoples’ lives, they are causing deaths. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that between June 2021 and March 2022, 234,000 deaths could have been prevented in the US with COVID vaccinations. Vaccine disinformation that convinces people to avoid being immunized against the virus that causes COVID, undoubtedly caused many of these deaths.

How is a death caused by these deceitful claims about vaccines different from a death caused by criminally refusing to give insulin to a diabetic in crises?

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Vaccine Mandates Have Long Passed Constitutional Muster

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Here is a bit of history for those who think that vaccine mandates are an infringement of their liberty. I apologize to you in advance because it will be inconvenient, to conjure Al Gore.

Today, February 20, in 1905, the US Supreme Court ruled in Jacobson v Massachusetts that states have the authority to enforce compulsory vaccination laws, and that remains the law of the land. That Court opined that individual liberties under the Constitution and Bill of Rights are not absolute and can be suspended for a greater good. Jacobson has since been invoked in numerous other court cases as an example of a baseline exercise of collective rights over individual rights.

At the time of the decision Massachusetts was one of 11 states that had compulsory vaccination laws. The State’s law empowered the health departments of cities and towns to enforce mandatory, free vaccinations for adults over 21 years old if it was determined necessary for public health or safety of the community. In 1902, faced with an outbreak of smallpox, Cambridge ordered the immunization, or re-vaccination of all its inhabitants.

A Cambridge pastor, Henning Jacobson, had lived through earlier mandatory vaccinations in his home, Sweden. Although, the vaccination efforts in Sweden successfully eradicated smallpox in that country, Jacobson, had a bad reaction to that vaccine. The vaccine was crude by today’s standards, and often had adverse side effects, but was quite effective. Because of his personal experience, Jacobson refused to be re-vaccinated and was slapped with a $5 fine. He fought the penalty in courts over the next three years all the way to the Supreme Court. He, argued that the law was "unreasonable, arbitrary and oppressive", and that one should not be subjected to the law if he or she objected to vaccination, no matter the reason.

In the end he lost in a 7-2 SCOTUS decision. The Court held that "in every well ordered society charged with the duty of conserving the safety of its members the rights of the individual in respect of his liberty may at times, under the pressure of great dangers, be subjected to such restraint, to be enforced by reasonable regulations, as the safety of the general public may demand" and that "[r]eal liberty for all could not exist under the operation of a principle which recognizes the right of each individual person to use his own [liberty], whether in respect of his person or his property, regardless of the injury that may be done to others."

In other words, as pastor and prolific author, Tim Keller has written, you cannot have absolute individual freedom and live in community with others at the same time.

Furthermore, the Court held that mandatory vaccinations are neither arbitrary nor oppressive so long as they do not "go so far beyond what was reasonably required for the safety of the public". In Massachusetts, with smallpox being "prevalent and increasing in Cambridge", the regulation in question was "necessary in order to protect the public health and secure the public safety". The Court noted that Jacobson had offered proof that there were many in the medical community who believed that the smallpox vaccine would not stop the spread of the disease and, in fact, may cause other diseases of the body. However, the opinions offered by Jacobson were "more formidable by their number than by their inherent value" and "[w]hat everybody knows, ... [the] opposite theory accords with the common belief and is maintained by high medical authority."

SCOTUS saw through Jacobson's specious medical science arguments, and ignored it in favor of empirical evidence presented by the other side--evidence such as that seen by the eradication of small pox in Sweden.

The Supreme Court reaffirmed its earlier Jacobson decision in Zucht v. King (1922), which held that a school system could refuse admission to a student who failed to receive a required vaccination. Jacobson was also a precedent case in justifying the constitutionality of government face mask orders and stay-at-home orders throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The closest COVID-19-related challenge to Jacobson was Does v. Mills, which questioned Maine's vaccine mandate for health care workers. By a 6–3 vote, the Supreme Court in 2021 denied relief to those who were seeking an injunction on the mandate.

Your humble correspondent, vaccine enthusiast, and left-handed chess player (it confuses the opponent), finds interesting, even sadly amusing, the similarities of some of the poor medical science arguments used by Jacobson and the spurious science often resorted to by the anti-vaxers today.

Sadly, the more things change, the more many things remain the same.

Three Years Ago Today

Yup. This is the three year anniversary of the COVID pandemic. On December 31 2019, the health commission of the city of Wuhan announced that they were investigating an outbreak of an unusual respiratory illness. The statement said that most of the afflicted had visited a food market in the city and that 27 people had contracted an unusual viral pneumonia. Seven were in serious condition. Things went down hill from there. China shut down and the rest of the world vaccinated.

I posted in these pages on those early days of the pandemic here if you want to revisit the beginning of this strange time.

At least I can say, all this has kept me occupied. My blog, going on 160 posts now, has earned me some new friends (I got a very nice message last week from someone in the Phillipines thanking me for "helping humanity." It made my day.) And it has earned me enemies from people who want to believe that Trump botched his response. He didn't. He launched Operation Warp Speed that gave us the vaccine and respirators in record time. On the other side of the political spectrum, I get vitriol from those who think that Tony Fauci is Satan incarnate for shutting down schools. He didn't, since NIH has no authority to do so.But that fact doesn't change anyone's mind.

So, among that cognitive dissonance, I thank my friend in the Phllipines and other readers who fined use in my blog.  I write it for you.