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 contain 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.