As Covid-19 vaccines are rolling out, many are still unsure of whether they should take them or not. There are still some questions that need answers and concerns to address. Some people are worried about possible long-term effects, side effects of the vaccine, and the technology behind the vaccine development. I believe it is ok to be concerned and question things when they aren’t clear. Guided curiosity opens the door for knowledge.
We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.John Naisbitt
After some thought, I felt compelled to share my views as a medical professional and a Christian. This article is not to convince anyone to take the covid-19 vaccine or not. Everyone will still have to decide for themselves. However, a knowledge shared is capable of enlightening the soul and liberating it from ignorance or misinformation.
Respiratory tract infection has been an area of my interest before the current pandemic. I studied viral agents responsible for respiratory tract infections (RTI) and carried out the molecular characterization of some RTI viruses as research. Nasopharyngeal (NP) and throat swab samples were collected from clinical patients (hospital patients), isolated the culprit bugs (bacteria and viruses) found in those samples, and studied the characteristics of the viral agents found to be abundant. Most parts of the work were done in Finland and were supervised by a renowned virology professor. The findings in the study were published in reputable journals and presented at international conferences. Before RTI research, I had the opportunity to study the efficacy of the Measles vaccine distributed in a particular location.
While Covid-19 was ravaging the world, a different type of research was going on all over the world. The newly emerged viruses needed to be studied in-depth before they could be curbed. Various research was put in place to understudy the characteristics of the virus, its genome, the replication style, mode of transmission, etc. I was part of a group of medical scientists studying the behavior of the virus as well. We were able to publish two papers that addressed the genomic diversity and phylogenetic analysis of SARS-CoV-2 in circulation, and the validity, sensitivity, specificity of various Covid-19 rapid diagnostic tests.
A Brief Summary of Coronaviridae
Coronaviridae is a family of enveloped RNA viruses, a single-stranded virus. Covid-19 was borne from this family. Either created, mutated, or escaped from its original habitation, the point is that the virus is real, very contagious, and potentially deadly. The infected people will develop mild, moderate, or severe symptoms depending on many factors; old age, underlying medical conditions, immune system, etc.
Covid-19 being an RNA virus, evolves, is highly unstable, and is prone to genetic altercations. There are already many Covid-19 variants circulating all over the world as the virus changes continuously. The genetic changes that occur with the virus could either be minor or major. It all depends on mutation within the same infecting virus or recombination when more than one virus is involved.
Importance of mRNA and Spike Protein
Viruses generally are hijackers, once they have gained entrance into the host cells, they hijack its machinery to reproduce themselves. These activities will never be successful without the involvement of messenger RNA (mRNA). mRNA is responsible for the synthesis of viral particle protein that includes the viral spike protein. The spike protein plays a significant role in the COVID-19 infection, as it is responsible for the attachment and infusion of the virus into the host cell that has an affinity (receptor site) for the virus spike.
How large is the virus?
The covid-19 virus is larger than a pore found in any standard mask. A good facemask would prevent particles of size >0.007 micrometers (μm) from entering the nose. Research had shown that Covid-19 has an average size of 0.1μm, Influenza virus is between 0.08 and 0.12μm, Bacteria (Bacillus) is much bigger; 0.5 μm.
See the Daniel size illustration below:
So, Covid-19 is about twenty times larger than the smallest particle that could get through a regular mask. No doubt that wearing a mask during this pandemic will help in the fight against the spread of the virus, especially when worn properly. We must also keep in mind that wearing a mask is not about fashion but protection.
How does Covid-19 infect?
Since the virus travels by air like an airplane, it could get suspended in the atmosphere for a long time. The smallest aerosol can carry the virus and hold it in the air by air-currents. So, people sniff it in or swallow it. When ingested successfully into the stomach, the virus dies a natural death. However, in the nose (Nasal cavity), the virus would have to battle its way through several naturally staged obstacles into the lung cells where it has an affinity.
There are internal battles that go on without our knowledge when exposed to microbial agents such as Covid-19. The first battle begins in the nasal mucosal, where exists ecological communities of good bugs; bacteria, viruses, fungi (Normal flora/microbiota). These good bugs prevent the colonization of pathogenic bugs by competing for the same space and nutrients and producing toxic materials against these pathogens. All the surfaces of the respiratory tract from the upper layer to the lower layer are colonized by the host’s normal floral, the good bugs.
The human host has several ways of protecting the respiratory tract from infections which could be nonspecific or specific ways. The nasal hairs, convoluted passages, the cilia, and mucus lining of the trachea (throat), reflexes such as coughing, sneezing, and swallowing are the nonspecific way of protection. Alveolar macrophages are considered the most important means of eliminating pathogenic organisms that gain entrance eventually into the lower respiratory tract (lungs).
The Acts of the Immune System
When viruses attack, antibodies are produced to defend their territories. The action starts with the initial responses of Immunoglobulin M (IgM). Other chains of chemical reactions within the body systems are also fired up. The IgM antibodies that indicate an active infection are short-lived. However, memory cells, Immunoglobulin G (IgG), stay much longer in the system, ready to fight any subsequent specific virus attack.
Asymptomatic Covid-19 Carrier
The immune system of an individual plays a significant role in the fight against viral infections, including Covid-19. It also speaks to the fact that some people can carry the virus and not become sick (Asymptomatic). It is noteworthy that the immune system is inversely proportional to age starting from an individual’s prime, thus the vulnerability of the elderly.
Generally, most viral infections are self-limiting. Before taking any medication to cure it, the virus had gone through its unpredictable cycle, genetic selection or recombination, and resolve itself from the body. That is the main reason behind the isolation period without any specific medication. Vaccination is known to be more effective than medication. There are no known lasting effective viral medications. That probably must have been one of the reasons the attention is more on the vaccine rather than the medicational treatment.
As defined by World Health Organization (WHO), Vaccination “is a simple, safe, and effective way of protecting people against harmful diseases before they come into contact with them. It uses your body’s natural defenses to build resistance to specific infections and makes your immune system stronger.” (Vaccines and immunization: What is vaccination? WHO, 30 December 2020).
The History of Vaccine
Before the knowledge of vaccination, China and Indian were known to practice a system of Inoculation as far back as the 1500s/1600s to fight the smallpox outbreak. They grind the scrapped scars from smallpox survived individual and blew into the nostril of yet-to-be-infected person. Not everyone agreed to this idea initially, and the success rate was far from 100%. However, it saved many lives.
As smallpox raged across the continents of the world killed millions of people in those early periods, the African slaves used the method of Variolation to keep themselves alive. Cotton Mather, a Boston Minister (1663-1728) who interacted with those slaves discovered their survival strategy and promoted the use of variolation in Massachusetts. Not everyone was initially in support of the approach either. In 1718, the use of variolation was practiced in Turkey. According to Wikipedia, “Variolation was the method of inoculation first used to immunize individuals against smallpox with material taken from a patient or a recently variolated individual, in the hope that a mild, but protective, infection would result”.
The first English variolation was brought into England by Lady Mary Montagu. She was also, initially criticized for advocating for unusual variolation techniques in England. However, when the people noticed its effectiveness, they eventually accepted it. All these old techniques of fighting viral infection, outbreak, or pandemic were never risk-free. 2-3% of those variolated in England during that period died of smallpox in contrast to 20 – 30% of those who died from natural smallpox infection. (https://www.historyofvaccines.org/timeline#EVT_18).
Dr. Edward Jenner pioneered vaccination simply from the observation of milkmaids who seemed to be free of smallpox scars despite the outbreak everywhere. Those milkmaids were exposed to cowpox infection that indirectly protected them from the severe smallpox infection. Dr. Jenner put the study through though in an unethical clinical trial and was successful in his vaccination discovery. The principle of the vaccination was an upgrade version of the inoculation technique and the variolation technique (Cowpox, Covid-19 and Jenner’s vaccination legacy 10, September 2020).
Will Covid-19 vaccination have a 100% success rate?
Considering the immune system, the peculiarity of some individuals, genetic composition of some people, it is not likely. There would always be outliers. Some people might not be fully protected with the vaccine some people might react against the vaccine differently.
The Ethics Behind Vaccination
Ethically speaking, the vaccine would not be out for use if it has not gone through some scrutiny processes and ethical approval. There are ethical rules that guide the development and use of any vaccine. WHO explained it this way: “Any licensed vaccine is rigorously tested across multiple phases of trials before it is approved for use, and regularly reassessed once it is introduced. Scientists are also constantly monitoring information from several sources for any sign that a vaccine may cause health risks”.
Before this era of COVID-19, weakened virus vaccine, protein-based vaccine, and viral vector vaccine had been in use in the battles against viral infections. As knowledge increases and scientific discovery improves, techniques are also modified; thus, the new pioneering approach for the COVID-19 vaccination. Once an individual is vaccinated, such is protected against any subsequent virus attack when exposed to the virus. The generated antibodies remain in circulation, ready to fight back any subsequent infection.
COVID-19 Vaccine Producing Pharmaceutical Companies
A good number of Pharmaceutical companies including, Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson (J & J), AstraZeneca stepped into the production of the Covid-19 vaccine. Moderna and Pfizer used the same principle of genetically engineered mRNA that would produce spike protein that mimics Covid-19 spike protein and then trigger the production of antibodies against it.
AstraZeneca used a similar principle as Pfizer and Moderna, but instead of going through single-stranded mRNA to synthesize the spike protein, AstraZeneca used double-stranded DNA.
On the other hand, J & J company used another approach using the viral vectored vaccine technique. In this approach, spike proteins will also be produced, but this time through cloned Adenovirus carrying genetic code for SARS-2 spike proteins. Upon injection of this vaccine, harmless Adenovirus will use the SARS-2 genetic code inside of it to produce Covid-19 spike proteins. Production of these spike proteins will trigger the immune system to produce antibodies against it.
Within the data generated among the study population used for the clinical trials, Pfizer vaccine was found to be 95% effective, Moderna, 94.1%, AstraZeneca, 62% and Johnson & Johnson a single shot jab, 66.9%; but 85% of J & J vaccine were found to be effective on those with critical infections.
Our world had survived many epidemics, outbreaks, and pandemics in the past time, and for sure, it will also survive the Covid-19 pandemic. Regardless of any conflicting information flying around, the priority of everyone should be safety measures.
Please, watch out for the second part of this article titled: Is Covid-19 Vaccine the mark of the Beast?