COVID-19 vaccines are here. This news comes to the relief of millions who’ve had to endure lockdowns, curfews, and not being able to kiss any random person on the street. For us Canadians, it also meant no more cross-border shopping since the US/CANADA borders were closed. Let’s face it, COVID-19 made most of our lives miserable.
One cannot forget how life changed on January 30, 2020, when we received an official declaration from the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) that the COVID-19 outbreak is a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. As a result a set of temporary recommendations were issued (1).
The COVID-19 pandemic has been among the most talked about subjects for over a year. Symptoms range from common, less common, and serious. The common symptoms one could experience are fatigue, dry cough, and/or a fever. The less common symptoms are loss of taste or smell, nasal congestion, conjunctivitis, sore throat, headache, muscle or joint pain, different types of skin rash, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, and chills or dizziness.
The more serious symptoms range from shortness of breath, loss of appetite, confusion, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, and high temperature (above 38 °C) (2). While we’ve been bombarded with this news, we’ve all followed the latest developments on a COVID-19 vaccine.
Throughout the year, we’ve seen human behaviour at its best—where people openly applauded our health care workers. We’ve also seen it at its worst—where social media influencers, politicians, and certain medical “professionals” used their platforms to spread disinformation. Honourable mention goes to those who hoarded all the toilet paper and sanitizers to sell on eBay at marked-up prices.
However, even though there has not been much news about toilet paper sales going through the roof lately, the dangerous element of disinformation still exists—especially with regards to the COVID-19 vaccine. These false claims would have less likely gotten a foothold if more people were better educated. This is why it is vital that governments worldwide invest heavily in education—especially in science—to prevent another health threat from becoming a pandemic. It is also important that people learn to distinguish hard facts from opinions that are presented as being facts.
Even though I’ve written about fictional biological weapons, the science behind those stories is based on hard facts. It’s for this reason I would like to highlight and dispel some of the myths and misinformation that’s been spread since last year.
Even though Wakefield, to my understanding, did not spread misinformation about COVID-19 nor the COVID-19 vaccine, in order to understand why anti-vaxxers have such a strong influence over people, it’s important to understand how and why Wakefield perpetuated one of the biggest lies which misled large segments of the population into not trusting vaccines.
In 1998, Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues published a paper in The Lancet, where they made a bogus claim that the MMR Vaccine, used against measles, mumps, and rubella, caused autism. However, several epidemiological studies were unable to duplicate Wakefield’s results and failed to find a causal link between the MMR vaccine and autism.
Thankfully, due to the investigative efforts by award-winning journalist, Brian Deer, it was brought to light that Wakefield had a financial conflict of interest in submitting that misleading paper. According to Deer, in 1996 before he applied for ethical approval in The Lancet and before he dispatched a letter to the UK’s Chief Medical Officer to warn him not to re-vaccinate children, Wakefield failed to disclose that he had secured up to £55,000 from the Legal Aid Board specifically to investigate a possible link between MMR and autism in respect of 10 apparently brain-damaged children.
As it turned out, Wakefield had known at the time that his paper was published in The Lancet that the parents of these children had an interest in seeing a scientific link between MMR and autism established. Only if he were to successfully establish a link would the children’s parents be able to sue for compensation. Although he knew this, he failed to disclose any of it in the Lancet study, to his principal co-authors or to the public.
What is even more egregious is the fact that he had written to the department of health to attack the MMR Vaccine even before his study was complete. The now-infamous paper has since been retracted by The Lancet. Soon after, in 2010, Wakefield was struck off the UK medical register for misconduct by the country’s General Medical Council.
Because of Wakefield, the inoculation rate has fallen to just 79% — well below the 95% needed to confer “herd immunity” in crowded schools, nurseries and playgrounds. This led to many outbreaks in the United Kingdom. Despite these facts and that Wakefield has been discredited, he is still hailed by anti-vaxxers (3).
Dr Stella Immanuel
Stella Immanuel is a Houston-based doctor who made outrageous claims that hydroxychloroquine cures COVID-19. She is also a pastor and the founder of Fire Power Ministries, where she used her platform to promote conspiracies about the medical profession, despite having a license to practice medicine herself.
Someone who does not know better would cite her as a reason not to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Even though there are many sources that debunk her claims about hydroxychloroquine being an effective treatment for COVID-19 (4), there are many other reasons why Immanuel’s claims should be taken with a grain of salt.
According to the BBC, she said: “Nobody needs to get sick. This virus has a cure – it is called hydroxychloroquine, I have treated over 350 patients and not had one death.” However, a little over five years ago, she alleged that alien DNA was being used in medical treatments, and that scientists were cooking up a vaccine to prevent people from being religious.
Immanuel even claimed that certain medical conditions were caused by witches and demons, and that they have sex with people in the dream world. According to same article on the BBC, during a sermon she said: “They turn into a woman and then they sleep with the man and collect his sperm… then they turn into the man and they sleep with a man and deposit the sperm and reproduce more of themselves.” As a medical professional, she knows or ought to know that she should provide evidence to back up these claims—something which she has failed to do.
As for her claim that she successfully treated 350 patients who allegedly had COVID-19, someone who believes in “Demon-Sperm” should be the last person who should be diagnosing anyone for anything. This alone ought to raise serious doubt about her credibility. If she ever “treated” 350 patients, then it is reasonable to question whether these patients ever had COVID-19 to begin with.
Robert F Kennedy, Jr
To no surprise, most lies and conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 vaccine were not even promoted by those who are either epidemiologists or doctors. Instead, the disinformation was perpetuated by celebrities.
For instance, Robert F Kennedy, Jr. (Yes, that Kennedy who’s the son of the late attorney general and senator Robert F Kennedy) has been pushing his anti-vaccine conspiracy theories for years.
He’s attacked Bill Gates, accusing him of profiteering off vaccines and attempting to take control of the world’s food supply. He’s even promoted Andrew Wakefield’s debunked claim that vaccines cause autism in children (5).
His wild and dangerous claims prompted his own family to repudiate his ideas. Lately, he was banned by Instagram for promoting unproven and dangerous conspiracies about the COVID-19 Vaccine (6). Even though this was a good move on the part of Instagram, other social media platforms failed to remove him for similar reasons.
Some random guy with a camera
I don’t even know who this guy is, and I won’t even bother to find out nor post his video because I don’t want to be responsible for giving him undeserved hits. To summarize, he claims that he does not need the COVID-19 Vaccine because he never felt sick nor even coughed since the pandemic began.
He then asks a rhetorical question as to why we don’t take AIDS medicine, then proceeds to say “It’s because you don’t have…ah you getting smart.” Afterwards, he goes on a rant, attacking Bill Gates by taking his claims from an old Ted Talk video about vaccines and population control out of context in order to support his opinions for not taking the COVID-19 vaccine.
Honestly, I rolled my eyes after he gave his first reason for not taking the COVID-19 Vaccine as this demonstrates that he does not know the difference between a vaccine and an anti-biotic, nor how do vaccines work.
If he did, he would know that vaccines work by preparing the body’s immune system to recognize and fight off germs. They reduce your risk of getting a disease by working with your body’s natural defenses to build protection.
Some vaccines contain dead or weakened versions of the germ. Others contain substances made to look like part of the germ. New mRNA vaccines (like the COVID-19 vaccine) teach the body to make proteins that look like part of the germ. These types of vaccines do not cause the disease they are meant to prevent. In other words, vaccines are effective because they are our first-line of defense against a disease, which is why it’s important to take them before being diagnosed with an illness (7).
As for his question about AIDS and his uncalled-for attack on Bill Gates, in less than 5% of the time that it took him to make his video, he could’ve Googled “AIDS medication” and learned about the complexities and challenges that scientists face in treating it. He also would’ve learned that the disease is caused by HIV, which does not yet have a vaccine due to the virus being able to mutate rapidly and also hide out in cells (8). Fortunately, most viruses are not this tricky.
I know that this guy has an audience to entertain, but he’s going about it the wrong way.
How can I trust a COVID-19 vaccine that was developed so quickly?
From what I’ve read, one of the primary reasons why people are hesitant on taking the COVID-19 vaccine, is due to how fast researchers were able to develop one. I admit, I was also a bit skeptical, until I did my research and found an excellent article in Nature which responded to my concern.
According to the article: “The world was able to develop COVID-19 vaccines so quickly because of years of previous research on related viruses and faster ways to manufacture
vaccines, enormous funding that allowed firms to run multiple trials in parallel, and regulators moving more quickly than normal. Some of those factors might translate to other vaccine efforts, particularly speedier manufacturing platforms” (9).
Contrary to popular belief, for years, researchers had been paying attention to coronaviruses that are similar to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome). Since then some had been working on a vaccine. Due to these past efforts and to our benefit, we have a COVID-19 vaccine today.
One thing that you will never learn from an anti-vaxxer is how do the COVID-19 vaccines work. It’s important to know that there are two types of vaccines. There’s the mRNA vaccine and the Viral Vector-based vaccine. The two COVID-19 vaccines that are offered in the United States, for instance, are called mRNA vaccines.
Our bodies use messenger RNA (mRNA) to make proteins. The mRNA in the vaccine is packaged inside tiny oily bubbles (known as lipid nanoparticles or LNPs).
The mRNA enters the cells and teaches them how to make harmless pieces of “spike protein”. These proteins look like part of the virus. Our immune system sees the spike protein pieces on the surfaces of our cells and knows that they don’t belong there. Our bodies react by building an immune response. It makes antibodies that can act against the COVID-19 virus’s spike protein and it prepares immune cells. This will protect us if we are exposed to the virus in the future (10).
In Canada, the viral vector vaccine is also available. This COVID-19 vaccine uses a modified version of a different virus (the vector) to deliver important instructions to our cells.
For COVID-19 viral vector vaccines, the vector (not the virus that causes COVID-19, but a different, harmless virus) enters a cell in our body and then uses the cell’s machinery to produce a harmless piece of the virus that causes COVID-19 called a spike protein. Similarly to the one created from the introduction of the mRNA vaccine, this piece is only found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19. The cell will then display the spike protein on its surface, and our immune system recognizes it as a foreign object—triggering it to produce antibodies and activating other immune cells to fight off what it thinks is an infection (11).
Currently, there are over 50 COVID-19 vaccines that are being tested around the world. In the United States, the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are available (12) More recently, the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine was approved (13). The Canadian Federal Government has approved the same COVID-19 vaccine providers, in addition to one provided by AstraZeneca(14).
There’s no doubt that the anti-vaxxers I’ve listed above will continue their crusade to convince the public that they are more informed about COVID-19 or the COVID-19 vaccines than those who actually spent years studying biological and microbiological sciences or worked in similar fields which would make them more qualified to advise the public. But even though they’ll make an effort to undercut the work of qualified professionals and even attack pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer with regards to the COVID-19 vaccine, I can guarantee that they’re first in line to use Viagra when needed—which is also made by Pfizer.
Russell Brooks is the author of four suspense thrillers. Visit his website for more details