Why I Would Not Take the Russian or Oxford – AstraZeneca Vaccines – Part 2

This is a continuation of Russia’s COVID-19 Vaccine Part 1, in the form of a brief note which  will be followed up in depth.

Traditional vaccines inject antigen into the body to  cause an immune response. The Russian and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines belong to a new breed, which harness your own cells, at the site of the injection, to make antigen.

This requires that cells at the injection site, most likely your arm, are fooled or forced to take in foreign DNA or RNA, and convinced to make the antigen you want, in this case the spike protein of COVID-19. Of all the schemes to do this, the one employed by the Russian and Oxford-AstraZeneca contains the most novel hazards. From Russia’s COVID-19 Vaccine Part 1,

  • Both the Russian and Oxford vaccines contain novelties.
  • Novelties can contain surprises.
  • Surprises can be bad.

The method these vaccines use to penetrate your cells is an adenovirus vector, engineered in the lab to carry a payload of DNA for the COVID spike protein. Most of the genetic code of this carrier virus has been ripped out. It cannot replicate. Like a Kamikaze pilot, it has one mission, to crash into the side of one of your cells, penetrate the cell membrane, and release the payload. Since that’s all it does before it is destroyed, it must be harmless, right?

To understand the hazard, we have to go back to the lab, where we grow the stuff.  All viruses require live medium to grow. Since this special carrier adenovirus cannot replicate, it won’t  grow even  in the warmest, juiciest cell culture medium.

The trick is to use a helper virus, also an adenovirus, which co-infects the cells of the culture medium. Unlike our kamikaze, the helper virus can replicate, and while it does, it also makes copies of the Kamikaze vector.

After a while, we’re ready to harvest the culture medium for the virus we want, the Kamikaze, purifying it of the helper virus. We don’t want the helper virus in our vaccine, because it  does not contain the code for the spike protein, and it can replicate..

The various but related methods of purification are all called chromatography. It has nothing to do with color. The problem with it is that the result is not 100% pure Kamikaze-vector-adenovirus. Because the Kamikaze and the helper are so similar in size, shape, and weight, the helper can’t be completely purified out. Try as you might, you can only make it more pure, not completely pure.

Very small quantities of live, helper, adenovirus are present in the finished vaccine product.  Supporters of these vaccines make these claims:

  • The helper virus has been chosen to be harmless.
  • The helper virus will stay harmless. The theoretical basis for this has recently been shown to be false. There is an absence of fact, pro or con.
  • Safety can be proven with trials over periods short relative to the human lifespan.
  • The impurity of helper virus is very small. (With something that can grow, what’s small?)
  • Clinical experience with adenovirus vectors  in therapies for several thousand of the severely ill has been positive.

If you get a shot of the Russian or Oxford-AstraZeneca, you’re also getting a little bit of live, helper virus along with it. Will it grow? Will it remain harmless? There is absence of fact, practical or theoretical.

Should you get this shot? Life is a gamble to which there are no sure answers. Guidance is hard to come by.  If the approval process is allowed to complete without political interference, consider your own situation. Only 24.5% of Russian doctors would accept it. (Reuters) Russian doctors wary of rapidly approved COVID-19 vaccine, survey shows. Quoting,

A survey of 3,040 doctors and health specialists, conducted by the “Doctor’s Handbook” mobile application and quoted on Friday by the RBC daily, showed 52% were not ready to be vaccinated, while 24.5% said they would agree to be given the vaccine.

I am waiting for a better vaccine. Although I myself would not receive these vaccines, personal risk factors tilt the balance of risk/reward. The CDC page on risk factors lacks authority that is years down the road.

Since medical advice that embodies meaningful professional knowledge is not yet available, these are my personal opinions:

  • Diabetic, take it. The consequences of COVID are too severe.
  • Obese, BMI>30, maybe you should take it.
  • Uncontrolled hypertension, maybe. Or maybe you should have it treated.
  • First responder or infectious disease healthcare worker, maybe.
  • If you’re one of the 2.8 million in the U.S. who are Immunocompromised, run the other way. The helper virus might grow in you.

For the rest of us, it’s a great big unknown-unknown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alexei Navalny, Poisoned Again? The Russian Poison Trick

(RFE) Kremlin Critic Navalny ‘In Coma’ After Suspected Poisoning.

The last time this happened was just a year ago. Alexei Navalny, Poisoned?  noted how remarkable it was he was still alive. This directly translates to the present tense.

In Russia, poisoning politicians is nothing new. The modern syndrome, specifically applied to politicians in post-breakup Russia, may date no further back than 2015, with the first poisoning of Vladimir Kara-Murza. Poisoned again in 2017, he was allowed to seek medical treatment abroad. Forced emigration may have been the poisoners’ objective. See Kim Jong Nam & Vladimir Kara-Murza; All About Poisons; Novichok.

The modern syndrome is near-death, prolonged illness, partial recovery, and prolonged or permanent disability. It is characterized by stealth and extreme precision,  a sub lethal dose of a  substance so poisonous it completely evades standard toxicology. Vil Mirzayanov revealed the existence of the Novichok family of nerve agents in 1992, but hope for a “new Russia” delayed assessment of the threat.

With the poisoning  of Sergei and Yulia SkripalCharlie Rowley and the death of Dawn Sturgess, it became apparent that Novichok A-234 is not simply a Russian ace-in-the-hole, but an operational device.

The Russian arsenal also includes agents of embarrassment, such as the dioxin TCDD, used against Viktor Yushchenko in 2004. In July 2019, Navalny asserted he was “poisoned” in his Moscow jail cell.  (Reuters) Kremlin critic Navalny says he may have been poisoned. The nonlethal swelling and skin irritation could have been caused by urushiol, the cause of poison ivy. A subtle warning?

In the case of Kara-Murza, the onset of symptoms occurred in places where the actual exposure was unlikely to have occurred. This implies a time-release preparation, which was first seen in the poisoning of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov with ricin in 1978. Time-release can be accomplished with a  carrier pellet, or by the composition of the poison itself. A-234 is not the most potent Novichok; solid forms that dissolve slowly exist that are far more lethal.  A grain a few tens of microns diameter, fired at speed into exposed skin, might suffice.

It’s not hard to kill a man. The gem of the Russian technique is the ability to precisely dose for severe illness without actually killing the victim. In the case of Navalny, we do not yet know the Russian intent, which will become clear only on his death or recovery.

Limited tolerance of political opposition in what is essentially a one-party state  keeps opponents of the regime visible and controllable, and provides an escape valve for dissent. In the best of times, the rein is easy. When the going gets tough, the reins tighten. Navalny currently positions himself as a pro-Western democratic nationalist. At intervals he has expressed an ethnocentric view of Russia, and associated with the extreme right-wing. This is a threat to the  Russian state, which like the Soviet Union,  is multi ethnic. See Alexei Navalny, Poisoned? for details.

But why must Navalny be silenced now? Navalny has recently positioned himself as a pro-Western democrat, but his history includes association with the ultra-right. While his impulsive rants are harmless to the Kremlin, Navalny-the-strategist is the ultimate of danger:

  • He  advocates an end of subsidies to the Caucasus, risking a third Chechen war, and worse.
  • To a  Russian nationalist, Belarus is part of Russia. A Russian politician has free license to import Belarusian trends for political purpose. In this case, the trend is revolution.
  • Navalny’s on-off association with the ultra-right could presage a combination, against Putin, with virulent right-winger Vladimir Zhirinovsky, whose party governs in Khabarovsk Krai.
  • Should Navalny appropriate the Khabarovsk protests, which are turning into a lasting feature of Russian politics, a breakdown of authority could result with some features from the Caucasus. This is the greatest danger.

The above is mechanism. Now let’s look to the points of a compass:

  • In the west, Belarus threatens the  importation of 9 millions who want to join the West.
  • In the south, the Caucasus, part of which is claimed by Iran, could break away. Immune to cultural absorption or genuine pacification, loyalties of Islamic quasi-states are bought with expensive subsidies, considerable autonomy, and the threat of crushing military power. There was nothing civil in the two Chechen wars.
  • In the far east, political unrest  is  seeded by Khabarovsk over the entire region. An historical fact has recently come alive, with the first signs of China revanchism: parts are claimed by China, as unjustly ceded by the Unequal Treaties.

Only in the north is Russia secure. Cold comfort for the bear. The Kremlin’s anxiety:

Will the center hold?

 

 

 

 

Russia’s COVID-19 Vaccine Part 1

Have a look at Moderna Partial Results Part 1. This is in the same theme.

Russian confidence in their vaccine is based on 40 human study participants. It did not take long for U.S. researchers to realize that the Russians had tested the vaccinated volunteers with live COVID-19 virus.  It could have been a death sentence for some.  Judging by their tone, they won their gamble – for now.

So we have to imitate!  (NBC) U.S. to make coronavirus strain for possible human challenge trials. Putin is right; this truly is a Sputnik moment. Then it was the space race; now the germ race. Quoting,

Such trials are typically done when a virus is not widely circulating, which is not the case with COVID-19. Many scientists consider human challenge trials of the novel coronavirus unethical because there are no “rescue therapies” for those who fall ill.

There is no situation of “typically done.” Someone is trying to open the door a crack.

The space race was a test of technological dominance, capitalism-versus-communism, which implied political and cultural superiority of the winner.  The Germ Race requires innovation of ethics. Quoting,

Van Hoof said such trials would offer a testing option in case the virus stops circulating widely, but the company would only move forward with such trials if the ethical issues are resolved and an effective treatment is available.

If there were an effective treatment, there would be no need for desperate measures, but let us not be distracted from our goal, which will be conveniently defined by a combination of need, greed, and momentum.  Someone is prying at the door.

We must rise or sink to the occasion. Groucho Marx, said “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.” Facetious, of course. This is  a Nathan Hale moment for the study volunteer, who might say “‘I only regret, that I have but one life to lose for my country on a ventilator.”

Should Russia be condemned for risking 40 lives?  Absolutely not. In the West, there are already indications of viable vaccines for every need. Take your pick: speed of production, immunogenic potency, shelf-life stability. Russia is not the West. Outside Moscow, it is a poor country that cannot afford the parallel efforts of the West. Their vaccine has to work.  

Should Russia be condemned for exaggerated claims? The propaganda is irritating, but they don’t have to worry about lawsuits.

Should we congratulate ourselves for appropriating Russian ethics? I think not.  Though if he were he alive today, Dr. Str_____  would pronounce the Russian move an astonishingly good idea. If the Russians have an unethical protocol, we have to have one too. This is as race to the bottom we cannot afford to lose. There must be a bottom. How low can you go? We cannot let the Russians get to the bottom first.

We’ve been there already. The history of Western medicine is replete with studies that make the Russian study innocuous. The atrocities are not limited to the likes of Nazi Josef Mengele or Japan’s Unit 731.

We can find it close to home. The U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee, on black males without knowledge or consent, ran from 1932 to 1973.  Even in the 30’s, syphilis could be treated with difficulty. After World War II, a single shot of penicillin was curative in stage 1, while all but those who had progressed to tertiary  syphilis could have been treated.

While the Tuskegee study is a powerful statement about racial bias, the  human radiation experiments conducted by U.S. Public Health Service and the Atomic Energy Commission between 1944 and 1947 apply the same ethical flaw to the weak, sick, old, and disabled.

Operation White Coat,  bio-warfare experimentation on consenting participants is the bookend of questionable U.S. human challenge studies. Conducted at Fort Dietrich on enlisted volunteers  between 1954 and 1973, there were no deaths. Some participants report persistent health problems.

Like the Russian vaccine trial, the White Coat experiments were challenge studies of no benefit to the participants. You might insist there is a difference between military bio-warfare research and protection of civilians.  But much of the work at Fort Dietrich was defensive in nature, and COVID is a potential bio-warfare agent. It has already disabled an aircraft carrier. The line between bio-warfare and plagues does not exist.

This was the country of our fathers. We have progressed beyond with the strength that comes from reckoning with ugly truth. In 1978, the  Belmont Report attempted to fix our little ethical problem (pdf original document).  Wikipedia makes a nice abstract from these quotes:

  1. Respect for persons: protecting the autonomy of all people and treating them with courtesy and respect and allowing for informed consent. Researchers must be truthful and conduct no deception;
  2. Beneficence: the philosophy of “Do no harm” while maximizing benefits for the research project and minimizing risks to the research subjects; and
  3. Justice: ensuring reasonable, non-exploitative, and well-considered procedures are administered fairly — the fair distribution of costs and benefits to potential research participants — and equally.

This reads like the collapse of the St. Francis Dam in LA.. It was built by the William Mulholland of Muholland Drive.  LA must have had a critical street name shortage. The foundation of the Belmont Report is self-levitating prose. Lacking the force of gravity, the push for human trials of the deadly COVID-19 virus will level the Belmont Report.  The rubble will consist of a few paperclips.

Quoting from NBC,

NIAID said it is continuing to prioritize field trials to evaluate SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidates, but it opened the possibility to challenge trials for future generations of vaccines or treatments.

This is not a possibility we should be open to. We should fight it tooth and nail.  If you are a decision maker, tempted in a weak moment, consider this. The Russian human challenge trial shows efficacy, but not safety.

  • Both the Russian and Oxford vaccines contain novelties.
  • Novelties can contain surprises.
  • Surprises can be bad.

We’ve finished this segment with  Russian doll logic. Fitting? This will be followed by  the “unknown unknowns” of Donald Rumsfeld that may exist in both the Oxford and Russian vaccines.

Sometimes fear has no name.

I’m going to look into recreational submarines so I can follow this underwater-Sputnik- germ race to the bottom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Beirut Explosion; Bomb Maker’s Delight?

Edit 8/05 1:40 p.m., to include the fireworks theory, of which I am skeptical. Read down.

If you’re a chemist, you are probably already familiar with the content of these papers:

The papers indicate that ammonium nitrate can do many things, and not all of them have been exhaustively studied.

This is for the nontechnical reader. Ammonium nitrate is not burnable. It acts to oxidize something else, meaning to burn it by supplying oxygen. The CNN video has clues:

  • The orange color of the initial reddish-brown plume is typical of  nitrogen dioxide, (NO2) which gives color to smog, It is produced by decomposition of ammonium nitrate mixed with not-enough of another substance to be oxidized. This is the trigger explosion.
  • The white “dome” that appears a second after the plume is composed of water vapor and N2O, nitrous oxide, also known as “laughing gas”. This is  decomposition of pure ammonium nitrate, without oxidizing another substance.

The video suggests an initial trigger reaction that caused the subsequent explosive decomposition of the bulk of ammonium nitrate at the site. The orange plume of nitrogen dioxide, left-over oxidizer, indicates that the ammonium nitrate was not mixed in correct stoichiometric ratio for an explosion. Hence, if terrorism was involved, the explosion was accidental.

In pure form, ammonium nitrate is not  explosive, except for spontaneous decomposition in the event that it is heated to greater than 170C = 338F. When used to make an explosive mixture, it serves as the oxidizer, mixed with something combustible, like fuel oil. Lacking signs of combustion, such as orange glow, an infrared pulse, or flames, the white dome in the video goes against this. The white dome resulted from  decomposition of pure ammonium nitrate, triggered by an actual explosion.

The official explanation is that fireworks provided the trigger. This is not an explanation, though it could be part of one.  Have a look at (Wikipedia) Ammonium nitrate disasters. All of them involve one or more of

  • industrial processes, where intimate mixing of ammonium nitrate with other substances has occurred
  • High explosive trigger. Fireworks are not high explosives.
  • Accidental intimate mixing of hazardous materials.
  • Confinement in a container that concentrates heat and pressure, such as fire in the hold of a ship.

What fireworks can and cannot do:

  • Fireworks are not high explosives; they are low explosives. They do not detonate to produce supersonic shock waves. Fireworks contain black powder, which just burns rapidly, in deflagration.   This rules out one mechanism. Although ammonium nitrate can be detonated by a supersonic shock wave, fireworks do not produce them.
  • Ammonium nitrate usually survives intense fires, unless confined in a hard container and heated for for some time. But in the video, everything happens in a few seconds.
  • Perhaps for these reasons, the fireworks theory lacks support in the literature. Fireworks would be the lowest energy addition to the Wikipedia disaster list.
  • Fireworks could ignite a bomb under construction.

The Russian paper suggests that in an explosion in France, broken  bags became mixed with a modern disinfectant containing chlorine. This creates a complete explosive, oxidizer + something combustible. The size of the initial orange plume suggests the rare trigger powerful enough to cause the bulk ammonium nitrate to explode.

For the chemical detective, there is a natural question. In the initial explosion, what material mixed with the ammonium nitrate to produce the orange nitrogen dioxide plume? Was somebody trying surreptitiously to make something useful to someone?

  • Ammonium nitrate/fuel oil is a terror favorite for large projects. The explosion could have been a bomb maker’s accident. The port was a convenient place to make car bombs since the ammonium nitrate was already there. The fuel oil to make bombs is easily sourced within the port. The colored plume suggests bombs under construction.  A complete bomb would have a cleaner burn.
  • For the sake of completeness,  broken bags accidentally mixed with a common household/industrial cleaner, in the course of some illicit manufacturing enterprise.
  • The official theory, initiation by fireworks, is inconsistent with known ammonium nitrate disasters. This is not the same as impossible.

Lebanon is governed in a power sharing  arrangement that includes groups known for bomb making. An explanation that implicates them, such as bomb construction, is politically unacceptable. A politically acceptable fireworks theory, which lacks support in literature or experiment, can easily be sold to the public by confusion of low explosives with high explosives.

With Beirut’s history, the bomb maker’s factory is more attractive.