What can we believe about Covid-19 vaccines?
What is real and what is agenda driven misinformation, disinformation and confusion? Here are the basic facts in plain language, followed by a few of the lies and conspiracy theories that you may be concerned or confused about.
So far, there are three vaccines approved under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the FDA for use in the US, and one approved for England, EU and other countries. Many companies in several countries entered the race to develop vaccines when President Trump made the funds available and announced Operation Warp Speed to develop vaccines as quickly and safely as possible. Several other companies are still doing research or trials. Merck dropped out when it determined that its vaccine was not as effective as the others that were being developed, but partnered with Johnson and Johnson, which lacked capacity, to manufacture their vaccine. Other independent efforts include Sputnik 5 from Russia and Convidicea from China.
Pfizer and Moderna (US) used gene sequencing techniques to create a short segment of the Covid-19 single stranded mRNA (messenger RNA) molecule that codes for the Covid-19 surface spike protein. To produce immunity, the vaccine mRNA first uses ribosomes inside the host’s cells to build the Covid-19 spike protein. Ribosomes are molecular machines that build proteins by reading the genetic information of mRNA. When injected, the mRNA enters the host’s cells and uses ribosomes, to read the genetic code and make copies of Covid-19 spike protein. The new copies of the Covid-19 spike protein then can be used by your immune system to evoke an immune response that produces antibodies and other defenses to Covid-19. Note that, contrary to rumors and scare stories, the small segment of mRNA never enters the nucleus of the cell so it cannot interact with or change the DNA, which is protected inside the nucleus.
AstraZeneca (UK & EU) and Johnson & Johnson (US) developed their vaccines using a more conventional method. Each used a non-replicating, weakened adenovirus combined, through recombinant gene engineering techniques, with laboratory created Covid-19 genes coded for Covid-19 spike proteins. The Covid-19 spike proteins are expressed on the adenovirus surface, giving them the ability to evoke an immune response in the human body and produce antibodies to Covid-19. An adenovirus is a double stranded DNA virus that normally causes the common cold. The corona type viruses like Covid-19 are single stranded RNA viruses.
Research and Approvals
The research itself was expedited because the companies already had the information provided by China, WHO and CDC for the virus RNA genetic sequence and the protein structures, including surface and spike proteins. Each company used well established genetic sequencing techniques to build copies of genes and/or proteins to make their vaccines. In addition to gene recombinant technology and gene and protein sequencing techniques, Pfizer and Moderna took advantage of a very recent patented breakthrough in stabilizing the Covid-19 spike protein against early immune system attack in order to design their mRNA molecules. None of this would have been possible just a few years ago.
Each of the vaccines went through a series of tests and double-blind clinical trials to determine safety and effectiveness. Even for FDA Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), the complete series of trials (in vitro, animals, humans in three phases) double blind clinical trials were completed on tens of thousands of volunteers and thoroughly documented. All possible negative effects were thoroughly documented on the various populations involved. The trial participants included a wide range of ages, races and backgrounds. No shortcuts were taken. The only reason they were approved so quickly is that they got priority by the government agencies, and the documentation was expedited, so that they did not wait months or years to get approval of each trial design and permission to run each phase of the trials.
The process was further expedited by running some of the trials concurrently, not in series, which would have required waiting between trials for approval and permission to run each new phase. After early trials showed promise, bulk manufacturing was begun so that vaccines would be available immediately if and when they were approved. Manufacturing before final approval was a gamble the Warp Speed team was willing to fund in order to get the vaccines out as quickly and safely as reasonably possible. At the same time, a distribution system was developed to make the vaccines available throughout the country.
The efficacy of all three US approved vaccines is high, compared to flu shots. Fifty percent is considered a good result. Pfizer’s or Moderna’s COVID vaccine was 80% effective in preventing infections. That number jumped to 90% two weeks after the second dose. Moderna’s vaccine reported 94.1% effectiveness at preventing COVID-19 in people who received both doses. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was said to be 95% effective.
J&J/Janssen vaccine was 66.3% effective in clinical trials at preventing COVID-19 illness in people who had no evidence of prior infection 2 weeks after receiving the vaccine. Analyses of secondary endpoints demonstrated vaccine efficacy against central laboratory confirmed and blind-adjudicated severe/critical COVID-19 occurring at least 14 days and at least 28 days after vaccination of 76.7% (54.6, 89.1) and 85.4% (54.2, 96.9), respectively.
Lies, Conspiracy Theories and Confusion
Claim #1. – Aborted Baby Parts – None of the vaccines contain aborted baby parts as claimed by conspiracy theorists. The truth is that before going on to animal and human tests, the vaccines were tested in vitro on a cell line, originally derived from an aborted fetus in 1966, to determine if the vaccine is safe before testing on animals and then humans. Some of those spreading this lie produced a video and apparently did some study of the AstraZeneca trial documentation, but misunderstood or intentionally distorted the information. The MRC5 cell line was mistakenly claimed to be part of the vaccine, and the word “recombinant” was misinterpreted as “human recombinant.” It really refers to combining the vaccine adenovirus genes with genes coded for Covid-19 spike protein. This may be one source of the next conspiracy theory.
Claim #2. – Vaccines will change your DNA – None of the vaccines change human DNA, but ordinary viruses do. Because viruses lack the ability to reproduce on their own, they hijack the host cell’s DNA to make copies of themselves. Unlike viruses, the vaccines never enter the cell nucleus where DNA is found. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were created by gene sequencing techniques to produce short segments of mRNA (messenger RNA) coded for the Covid-19 virus coat spike protein. The vaccine is designed to enter the cell cytoplasm and use the cell’s ribosomes (outside the nucleus) to make the virus coat protein, which then causes an immune response, forming antibodies.
The AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines use nonreplicating, weakened adenoviruses whose DNA have been modified to include Covid-19 coat protein instructions. The vaccine adenovirus carries the protein on its surface to produce the immune response. It never needs to enter the cell so it can’t affect the cell’s DNA. Note that “nonreplicating” means it has been “killed” by heat or other means and cannot reproduce by making copies of itself.
Claim #3. – Experimental Vaccines – The claim is that the vaccines are experimental so they haven’t been tested and can’t be trusted. See above for a brief summary of testing and trials. No steps were skipped or ended early. The only part that is not completed is long term follow up for length of time that the immunity lasts, and any possible rare, chronic or extended reactions to it.
Claim #4. – Vaccines kill people – Some people have died days of weeks after getting the shot. In each case, investigations found no clear cause-and-effect link between the deaths and the vaccine. The high number (25) reported from Norway were among elderly, frail nursing home residents and could not be linked directly to the vaccine. Other deaths investigated are found to have other causes, but may continue to be associated statistically even weeks after the injection.
There is a US database called VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Effects Reporting System, https://vaers.hhs.gov) that documents any adverse reactions to vaccines. In the Covid-19 part of the databases, I chose to study the first two weeks in January, 2021 as a manageable sample. In that time, there were 9676 adverse reactions and 106 deaths reported of 444,753 vaccinations administered. Most of the adverse reactions were either allergic reactions (treated with Benadryl or epi pen) or mild flu-like symptoms or injection site soreness, infection or itch. Adverse reactions were 2.2% of those vaccinated, and deaths were 0.02%. These percentages are higher than those in later periods because of the age and condition of people permitted to get the vaccine at that time. To assure myself that this was representative of the overall pattern, I later checked late March entries and found a similar pattern.
I went through many of the reactions and all of the deaths reported in these time periods to determine any links, if present. All but a few of the deaths were among the elderly with other serious conditions, many in long term care facilities or hospice. The average age was 74, with a range of 40s to 90s and one 104 for the January set. The one exception was a 25-year-old man that died 20 days after injection; His death is unlikely to be vaccine related because of the elapsed time. Although there were no details, he may have been chronically ill, judging from the fact that he got the vaccine very early when mostly vulnerable people were getting vaccinated. Unfortunately, details of factors contributing to death for some were sketchy or missing. Also company identification was uncertain for the second set. Some listed one company in that column but stated a different company in the text, so no conclusions could be drawn connecting any one company to deaths or adverse effects. The VAERS reporting system is voluntary and transcribed from entries by healthcare personnel and untrained family members.
Claim #5. – Vaccines will sterilize people – Not sure where this one came from, but it is pure fantasy. There is no mechanism for it to do this. There is no secret ingredient added to sterilize people. By the way, this is a common propaganda theme used by population control and anti-vax activists to scare poor people in developing countries from getting much needed vaccines such as polio and measles.
Claim #6. – Vaccines contain specific antibodies that overwhelm and deactivate natural nonspecific antibodies. This is totally false and is probably just anti-vaccine propaganda to prevent people from getting the protection of vaccines. Our bodies make and retain in reserve antibodies for hundreds of substances, both specific and nonspecific. There is no way that antibodies from any vaccine can deactivate any antibodies naturally produced by our bodies.
Claim #7. – Microchips are inserted with the vaccine – this conspiracy theory gets quite elaborate with Bill Gates, Anthony Fauci and Moderna sometimes woven into the narrative about tracking, monitoring and controlling every person on earth. Every word of it is false, including Gates and Fauci as roommates at Harvard (attended a decade apart), Fauci founding Moderna (not), and Gates, a software guy, inventing RFID microchips.
An RFID (Radio Frequency Identification Device) chip is a radio receiver and transmitter. It transmits only when it receives a signal from a reader that then reads the transmitted signal. RFID technology has been used to track shipments for over 70 years. RFID chips are attached to the vaccine containers to track them and make sure they are delivered to the correct facilities. Maybe that’s where this story came from. Microchips that are used in animals are about the size of a grain of rice and need a special applicator to insert under a pet’s skin, not the tiny needle used for vaccinations.
NOTE: Tiny RFID chips, called Smart Dust, that are the size of a grain of sand are being developed for the military. These are experimental (read expensive and unavailable) and require other equipment such as external sensors, antennae, communication nodes and networks to operate. A larger version, ¼ – ½ inch, which contains a tiny computer is called a Mote. It also requires other equipment to operate.
Claim #8. – Nanoparticles are in the vaccine and may contain tiny robots or machines – The “nanoparticles” in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are actually very fine lipid (oil) droplets that protect and help the mRNA segment enter the cell in order to make Covid-19 proteins. Nano is a measure of size and does not imply functionality or complexity. From Wikipedia: “A nanoparticle or ultrafine particle is usually defined as a particle of matter that is between 1 and 100 nanometers in diameter.” A nanometer is 1 billionth of a meter. Although many nanoparticles are solids and may be made of metals, etc., the “particles” in these vaccines are simply very fine oil droplets, similar in size to the colloidal fats in milk, (ranging in size from 1 to 1000 nanometers). Like the colloidal fat in milk, the tiny size of the oil droplets in the vaccines helps keep the oil suspended without separating and settling out. For comparison, the Covid-19 virus is 120 nanometers in diameter, which is large for a virus.
Claim #9. – Nanoparticles are on the testing swab and are inserted into the blood brain barrier – one version says the swab used to take the sample deep in your nose is used to insert nanoparticles in the “blood brain barrier” there. First of all, sterile swabs are mass produced and readily available from medical supply companies. They are not specific to the test. The blood brain barrier is not a membrane located in your nose. It consists of membranes covering all of the capillaries of the brain that protect the brain from contaminants. From Wikipedia: “The blood-brain barrier (BBB) is a highly selective semipermeable border of endothelial cells that prevents solutes in the circulating blood from non-selectively crossing into the extracellular fluid of the central nervous system where neurons reside.” (“Solutes” refers to solids.)
Claim #10. – 5G cellphone radiation either causes Covid-19 or makes it worse – This is related to anti-technology fears and is totally unfounded. An earlier claim that cellphone radiation causes cancer has been thoroughly debunked by numerous scientific studies, but is still believed by many. This new iteration claims that the 5G, which operates at higher radio wave frequencies, is more harmful to health than previous cellphone Generations, e.g. 4G, 3G. Current 4G networks, operate in the 700 MHz-2500 MHz range, and 5G operates in a higher frequency range in two bands, either less than 6GHz or greater than 24 GHz. (Hertz means cycles per second, MHz is million and GHz is billion cycles per second). Radio waves are non-ionizing “radiation” and are harmless at frequencies and power levels encountered. The 5G broadens the band width so it can support more users and transfer data faster. Since the higher frequency radio waves don’t travel as far, more cell towers are needed to fill the gaps in the 4G network.
Another version of this conspiracy theory is that 5G cellphone technology is intended to track people with embedded RFID chips. If you have a cellphone, you can be and are already “tracked” by GPS; no embedded RFID chip needed. Although extremely unlikely, this is more likely than the scenario above, and is probably responsible for Hong Kong riots just before China’s 5G system was completed and turned on. Unlike most free countries, China can require its people to get RFID chips embedded in order to access social services, hospitals, schools or employment. 5G short-range and closer towers could, in this case, locate people more accurately.
Over many decades, the anti-vaccine movement has done great damage and cost many lives, especially in poor countries. Celebrity activists such as Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and his Children’s Health Defense foundation, are either innocent true-believers or sinister liars with an evil agenda. The antivaxxers join a cadre of antitechnology groups that want to scare people about anything that is not “natural.” Natural doesn’t make it’s safe; arsenic and death cap mushroom are “natural” but deadly. By “not natural,” they mean anything that was not practiced in ancient times. i.e., technology of any kind, including fertilizers, pesticides, hybrid and GMO foods, most modern medicines, electronics, vehicles, and industries.
Their purpose is to control us by keeping us scared of everything from our food and water to electric lights, pollution and climate change. Their goal is to cripple modern societies and take us back to simpler times of the past. Secret: the good old days were terrible, with high infant and childhood mortality, short, disease ridden and painful lives, hunger, filth, pollution. Like all good lies, they are spiced with truths and half-truths as well as so-called “science” and “authority” to make them believable. Our world is just fine without limiting population and life spans. Overpopulation and limited natural resources are myths, as are most of the climate change claims. Not that it does not exist, but that it is not an emergency, and we can do very little to change it other than adapt to it.
Among many targets of the modern anti-vaccination movement are vaccines of all types. MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine was among early targets, claiming that either the shot overwhelmed the immune system or the preservative thimerisol (containing an organo-mercury preservative) was responsible for autism and autoimmune diseases. This has been thoroughly studied and debunked but it is still claimed, even when the thimerosal was replaced by another preservative. Every vaccine since then has been targeted by their scare stories and propaganda, and it has caused misery and death worldwide.
It makes no sense for pharmaceutical companies to invest billions of dollars and years of research to produce a product that will kill or maim their customers. Even most of the believers in the overpopulation myth and the zero-growth movement have not gone that far, but they may have spread the antivaxxers scare stories in poor countries to keep children from being protected. Their usual methods involve providing or requiring abortion and physical sterilization of poor people, while keeping them poor, sick and ignorant by denying them modern development.
One thing is certain, once a conspiratorial claim is made, it never dies. Regardless of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, some people will continue to believe and spread it. Behind it is a general distrust of authority and government that has been fostered by these groups and promoted by actual government failures and misinformation.
 See my book Saving Africa From Lies That Kill: How Myths about the Environment and Overpopulation are Destroying Third World Countries, Kay Kiser, 2018, or my blog www.savingafricafromliesthatkill.com