The human lineage has been engaged in a danse macabre with viruses for millions of years. To understand how best to tackle SARS-CoV-2, it is necessary to understand some of the basic steps and twirls in this dance.
We encounter trillions of individual viruses every day of our lives. When a virus enters the body, it tries to find a type of cell into which it can insert itself. The vast majority of viruses, having adapted to other species, do not have a “key” by which they can enter human cells, and so are harmless to us. When a virus has the key to enter a type of human cell, it commandeers the genetic machinery of that cell to make as many copies of itself as it can, releasing these copies into the body to infect more cells and create more copies. We get sick from a viral infection when it overwhelms and defeats the normal functioning of the type of cells it infects. The body also weakens as it shifts resources into the immune system’s war effort against the infection.
The Virulence and Transmissibility of Covid-19
There are two independent characteristics of viruses that interest us: virulence and transmissibility. Virulence refers to the harm done by the virus; transmissibility refers to the virus’s ability to spread from one individual to another. Both properties are a complex function of genetics, biochemistry, and individual and social behaviour. A virus could have many different harmful effects; some of them are likely to be only probabilistic or potential; and most will be contingent upon variables within the complex biological systems of the human hosts.
Transmissibility is measured in the scientific literature by the term R0 (pronounced R-naught). A pathogen’s R0 is an estimate of the average number of individuals each infected person is expected to transmit the virus to.
RU Naughty? Transmissibility of a virus, measured by R0, is contingent not only on the type of virus and its transmission mechanism, but also on the society in which it spreads.
An R0 of less than 1 means that infections will fall in number over time; an R0 greater than 1 means that infections will increase. The transmissibility of a virus will depend upon not only the genetic and physiological hardware involved – the mechanism by which a virus enters cells, which cells it enters, how much viral load is needed to overcome natural resistance, and so on – but also upon the social and cultural context in which it transmits. All other things being equal, a culture of close-talkers and double-cheek-kissers will have a higher R0 than a more reserved culture, for example.
When a virus jumps from another animal species into humans, or escapes from a lab, it could initially have any degree of virulence and transmissibility. The good news is that the evolutionary trajectory of respiratory viruses tends to be toward reduced virulence. This is because a highly virulent respiratory virus sends people to bed, or to the grave, both of which limit social contact and thereby reduce the opportunities to spread the virus. Mutations of the virus which render it less harmful, that is, less virulent, to human hosts will be naturally selected and come to dominate the variants that spread, because people who are infected but experience mild or no ill-effects are more likely to continue social interaction as usual. At the same time, mutations that render the virus more transmissible will find more hosts and come to dominate the variants that spread.
The so-called Delta (or India) variant illustrates this general evolutionary principle perfectly. Despite early reports that it is more virulent than the original variant of Covid-19, the evidence shows otherwise. The case fatality rate (CFR) per 100,000 cases reported in Canada in the early months of the pandemic was 8,200, or 8.2 percent. By contrast, the CFR rate per 100,000 cases in the first week of September 2021 – when the Delta variant had become dominant – was on the order of 450-500 (the figures generated at this link changes daily), and had been for several weeks.
By this reckoning, the original variant was 17 times as deadly as the Delta variant. Other variables were surely at work during this time, which may well reduce the difference. But the effectiveness of the injections in August and September 2021 can only be a small factor in the CFR’s plummet, since a very high proportion of the recent cases are among those not fully injected. As for transmissibility, the R0 of the original variant is estimated to be between 2.4 and 2.6, whereas the R0 of the Delta variant is estimated to be between 5 and 9.5.
SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus. RNA is a less stable genetic material than DNA, making it prone to rapid mutations. To give a sense of how rapidly mutations can occur, the new variant out of South Africa, C.1.2, contains between 44 and 59 mutations relative to the original strain! This rapid mutation rate is why other RNA viruses like the common cold and influenza viruses quickly become benign; after a season or two of causing suffering, they lose their virulence as they become endemic.
The rapid mutation of RNA viruses is both a blessing and a curse, however, because just as last season’s virus is losing its virulence, new viruses are arising that may be more virulent. The rapid transitioning through various cold and flu viruses is why it is impossible to develop a highly effective and enduring traditional vaccine for the common cold and influenza.
Radical New Inoculations Unlike Previous Vaccines
The failure of traditional vaccine technology on respiratory RNA viruses has led to a search for new technologies to mitigate their virulence and transmissibility. Although these are also administered by injection in the deltoid muscle, their mechanisms for action are otherwise so different from traditional vaccines as to constitute a distinct type of medical intervention.
The new technology had been referred to as a “novel…gene therapy” by its developers, but that label sounded scary to many people. So, despite their fundamental differences, public health officials decided to use the more familiar and reassuring label “vaccines.” Henceforth, I will refer to the novel gene therapy as vaxxes, to distinguish them from traditional vaccines.
Vaccines work by exposing the immune system to a sample of the target virus that has been rendered benign, either because it is dead, or a weakened variant, or is administered in such a small quantity as to be not dangerous. Sometimes, hosts are inoculated with a closely related virus that is relatively harmless but provides cross-immunity against the more virulent target virus. This has been done with, for example, cowpox to inoculate against deadly smallpox.
When the body is exposed to foreign proteins in the vaccine, it mounts a suite of immune responses. To greatly simplify, I shall discuss only the antibody and lymphocyte responses.
Antibodies are neutralizing agents specifically made for each foreign protein the immune system encounters. By attaching themselves to the foreign protein, they disable it until the body can evacuate the virus. Lymphocytes are cells that continuously circulate in the body and, when they encounter another cell which is infected by a pathogen, they kill that cell to stop it from replicating the pathogen. T-cells and B-cells are lymphocytes which are capable of “remembering” foreign proteins, even passing on their “knowledge” when they replicate, providing longer-term immunity that in some cases can last the person’s lifetime. This remarkable ability means that the immune system does not have to relearn to recognize the same foreign proteins with each new infection by the same pathogen.
Once the lymphocyte has killed an infected cell, it continues to circulate in search of more infected cells to kill. Thus, while it requires multiple antibodies to neutralize each virus, lymphocytes can kill an indefinite number of viruses over the course of their lives. Lymphocytes, especially long-lived memory T-cells and B-cells, therefore provide a far more powerful immune response than antibodies. The advantage of the antibody response is that it is much quicker. Together, these two immune responses generally provide fast and enduring immunity.
A whole, live SARS-CoV-2 virus contains five different proteins that attract an immune response in a healthy person. One of these is the famous “spike protein,” which is the key by which the virus lets itself into cells that bear what are called ACE2 receptors. The vaxxes are designed to generate an antibody response to this spike protein. To accomplish that, a sequence of messenger RNA (mRNA) that codes for a sub-unit of the spike protein is wrapped inside a protective nanoparticle, and trillions of these particles are injected into the deltoid muscle.
According to the pharmaceutical companies’ marketing, most of these nanoparticles stay in the deltoid muscle, where they are rapidly broken down and evacuated from the body; but some of them are absorbed into cells which then start manufacturing copies of the spike protein. When the immune system detects these spike proteins, it develops antibodies to disable them. A second (or third) injection of the mRNA boosts the number of antibodies, such that when the live virus is encountered later on, the antibodies are sufficient in number to disable the virus and prevent serious infection. As nearly all of us know, this is the type of inoculation provided by Pfizer and Moderna.
The technology used in the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) shots is a hybrid between traditional vaccines and the mRNA vaxxes. Their active ingredient is a benign cold virus with a SARS-CoV-2 spike protein genetically engineered to it. When a person is exposed to this chimera by injection, the body starts to manufacture spike proteins as part of the replicating cold virus, and the immune system responds to the spike proteins in the same way as it responds to the spike proteins created from the mRNA technology. The cold virus used in this technology is merely a non-pathogenic vector for the spike protein; hence the name vector vaccine. In my opinion, these shots are closer to the novel vaxxes in their mechanism of action than to traditional vaccines.
Not Exactly as Advertised
Unfortunately, we are learning from experience that these novel technologies do not quite work “according to the brochure.” For one thing, the nanoparticles in the vaxxes do not stay localized in the deltoid muscle; up to 75 percent of them – i.e., 30 trillion with the Pfizer shot and 75 trillion with the Moderna shot – actually disperse throughout the body and collect in particular organs and tissues. For another, the spike protein produced by all of the new technologies turns out to be cytotoxic – it can kill cells it attaches to – so creating spike-protein factories inside the body comes with its own risks. Many of the serious adverse reactions to the vaxxes, including capillary leak syndrome, myocarditis and pericarditis, clotting, platelet depletion and cytokine storms, are related to problems with the spike protein.
The critical functional difference between traditional vaccines and the novel technologies is that the former are “sterilizing” while the latter are not (or at least not for long). A sterilizing vaccine is one that enables the immune system to kill the target pathogen before it replicates, and thus before it is capable of being transmitted to another host. While most people initially develop a high enough antibody response to the injections to halt infections before they become dangerously transmissible, the vaxxes do not have this effect on everyone. They are “leaky.”
Thus, a certain proportion of people who receive the shots nevertheless suffer infections that result in hospitalization, death or, less severe for them but most worrying from the standpoint of stopping the pandemic, transmission. Moreover, we now know that the antibodies generated by this technology decline quickly, such that by a few months after receiving the injections, the vaxxed are at significant risk of infection, although still much less likely of becoming severely ill. Once infected, someone can also transmit the virus. After six months or so, the injections no longer provide adequate protection, which is why “booster shots” are now being recommended.
It is too early to tell how effective a third dose of the vaxxes might be; the very early evidence is mixed. On the one hand, the booster shots do seem to increase antibodies initially. On the other, those who had caught SARS-CoV-2 and recovered, and were subsequently vaxxed, gained greater antibody immunity with the first dose of the vaxx, but suffered a decline with the second (which would be their third exposure to the spike protein). This finding is consistent with the paradoxical “high zone tolerance” effect that causes a declining immune system response and has been observed with other vaccines. More problematic still, the injections do not generate a lymphocyte immune response, so the long-term effectiveness of this technology is questionable in theory as well as practice.
The State of Things Entering Fall 2021 – Risks vs. Benefits
Twenty months after the virus first gripped the popular imagination, and nine months after the vaxx roll-out began, there is still a great deal we do not know about this pathogen and its treatments. The data on which our decisions must be based is radically incomplete and noisy. But we are in a much better position to assess the risks and benefits of the vaxx program. It is time for a systematic analysis, free from the propaganda and gaslighting that have taken place from inception.
There are three risks associated with getting vaxxed and two benefits. First, the risks:
- The first risk is that you will suffer an adverse reaction to the injection, and known adverse reactions include everything from very mild to death, and from immediate to lasting (such as myocarditis). There are many adverse reactions associated with the vaxxes besides those associated with the spike protein, including anaphylaxis, viral reactivation (waking up dormant viruses such as herpes zoster that causes shingles), Guillain-Barré Syndrome, and Bell’s Palsy. Adverse reactions that might only appear over the long-term are mostly unknown (because the vaxx technology is radical and new), making the total risk of getting vaxxed difficult to assess. It is important to note that, if you end up having to get booster shots every six months, you will be recurringly exposed to these risks. It is not yet known whether they increase, decrease, or stay the same with each successive injection.
- The second risk is that you might suffer a “breakthrough” infection. That is, there is still a risk of hospitalization and death even for the vaxxed, especially as the antibodies wane. It is important to note that while type 1 and type 2 risks are so far believed to be relatively small, they are certainly not negligible, and they are additive. For all we know now, these two smallish risks might add up to a medium-sized risk, in the same order of magnitude of the risks facing the un-injected. As the data relating to every aspect of the virus keeps changing to support an ever-changing narrative, doing a proper risk-benefit analysis is like trying to hit a moving target. And the problem gets significantly worse due to type 3 risks.
- The third risk associated with the non-sterilizing injections is that they create an environment for natural selection to produce “escape variants,” meaning strains of the virus that evade the very narrow antibody immunity conferred by the injection. There is of course only a tiny probability that any given vaxxed individual will generate an escape variant. But when billions of people are primed to produce an escape variant of a highly mutating RNA virus, the odds become much higher that one will arise in short order, and then rapidly spread through the injected population – putting the unvaxxed at increased risk. In short, there is an unknown but theoretically very probable chance that new versions of the vaxx will have to be developed, regularly, to handle escape variants. And if each escape variant also requires a triple-injection regime to gain temporary and “leaky” immunity, the type 1 and type 2 risks mentioned above will escalate without end. This is an “arms race” that Mother Nature is likely to win. It is the first reason we should doubt that we can inject our way out of this pandemic.
Now, the benefits of getting vaxxed:
- The first is that your chances of ending up in hospital or dying if you become infected with the virus are reduced for a period of time after getting the injections. The immediate benefit, by all accounts, is quite dramatic, which is its selling point. People tend to be short-sighted, especially politicians and health authorities in a panic.
- The second benefit of the vaxxes is that they probably reduce transmissibility for a period of time before they start to wane. There is evidence that people who become infected might generate lower viral loads, and for shorter periods of time, which would reduce the opportunities of transmitting it to others. The evidence for this benefit is not very good yet, and what is available is inconsistent. Antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE), which occurs in some viral infections after receiving some vaccines, predicts that the injections might actually facilitate infection in some cases – increasing viral load and thus transmissibility as well. So the hypothetical benefit of reduced transmissibility among the injected needs to be studied more – especially in the context of naturally occurring and escape variants that we should expect to be selected for higher rates of transmission.
There is credible evidence already emerging that the reduction in transmissibility produced by the injections is not great enough, especially for the more transmissible variants like Delta, to halt surges in infections. Given that the injections are non-sterilizing, even if 100 percent of the population were double-injected, it is likely there would still be enough transmission of the virus to generate outbreaks.
This has in fact occurred in Gibraltar, which is experiencing a surge in cases despite the population having been 99 percent fully vaxxed months ago. There was also an outbreak on a cruise ship where more than 96 percent of the crew and passengers were double-injected. Israel, one of the most promptly and highly vaxxed countries in the world, is experiencing a soaring case count. In a sad irony, the oft-maligned, no-lockdown Sweden (allegedly one of the world’s most dangerous countries, Covid-wise) recently imposed a ban on incoming travellers from Israel – supposedly the safest. That turns the official narrative on its head.
Since more highly transmissible variants are very likely to come along apace, this is the second reason to believe that we can’t inject our way out of this pandemic with leaky vaxxes.
Additionally, there is one direct risk associated with remaining unvaxxed, and one benefit.
The risk of remaining unvaxxed is that you will suffer illness after being infected by the virus –again, anything from mild to death, and from short-term to long-term (e.g. “long Covid”). It is important – indeed, critical – to note that the magnitude of this risk depends upon the effectiveness of the treatments for an infection that are available.
There is credible evidence that treatment protocols involving early administration of ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine, quercetin, monoclonal antibodies, nebulizing hydrogen peroxide and others are at least as effective at preventing infection and reducing the illnesses resulting from an infection as getting the vaxx does. In that case, there would be no benefit to getting an injection and only dangers. Even if these drug protocols were somewhat less effective than the injections, when you add the other risks of the injections to the equation, a no-injection option could very well be recommended.
It is also important to note that the risk of the unvaxxed suffering an illness is conditional upon the probability of being infected by the virus. To date, only 4 percent of Canadians have had a confirmed “case” of the virus – and a significant number of those “cases” are likely to be false positives due to the strangely high cycle threshold to which the commonly used PCR test is set for testing purposes (this is another whole can of worms that we will leave aside). On the other hand, since testing is not universal and so many infections are so mild as to be barely noticeable by the victim, going unreported, the 4 percent positive test figure is almost certain to undercount the total number of infections.
A more careful study suggests that as much as 20 percent of the overall population has been infected by SARS-CoV-2 worldwide. If this study is closer to the truth, it means that the actual chances of becoming ill or dying of Covid-19 are far lower than official data suggest. That is because the official narrative has put so much emphasis on the CFR, while this study uses a plausible estimate for the infection fatality rate (IFR), i.e., the number and ratio of people infected whether or not they are ever tested and recorded as “cases.” The point is that if you have between a 4 percent and 20 percent chance of becoming infected (as this study also suggested is possible), then the benefit to risk ratio has to be between five and 25 times better for taking the injection than not. Suddenly, those two small type 1 and type 2 risks, added together, are not so meaningless anymore.
The direct benefit associated with remaining unvaxxed is that, if infected, you will gain a powerful, broad and hopefully long-lasting natural immunity to all variants of the virus. There is reason for optimism: those who recovered from a SARS-CoV-1 infection 17 years ago still retain some cross-immunity to SARS-CoV-2, even though only 80 percent of the genomes of these viruses are the same. This recent study indicates that natural immunity is 13 times better than the limited and temporary immunity provided by the vaxxes. Of course, you might gain the benefits of natural immunity if you become infected after you get an injection, too, so this benefit should be considered a wash in the analysis.
To complicate this risk-benefit analysis even further, note that everyone in the population does not have the same risk profile. The risks associated with being infected by this virus rise exponentially with age and a long list of infirmities, such that the old and infirm are at least 10,000 times more at risk than the young and healthy. A 10,000-fold difference in risk is difficult for most to comprehend. That is why health officials would be doing the population a great service were they to break out the death and hospitalization rates by age group and infirmities and compare these to common risks such as from the seasonal flu.
In my back-of-the-envelope estimation, a significant minority (at least) of the population are not at high enough risk from infection to justify taking the injections. Robert Malone, who is one of the discoverers of the core technology in the novel vaxxes and who, despite being labelled an “anti-vaxxer,” forcefully asserts his belief that the Covid-19 shots have saved many lives, nonetheless believes that for children the risks associated with the vaxxes clearly outweigh the benefits. And in early September, the UK government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation decided against recommending mass injections for 12-15-year-olds.
Sending Back the Bill of Goods – And Finding a Better Way Out
When the Covid-19 vaxxes were first being rolled out in December 2020, they were routinely compared in safety and effectiveness to traditional vaccines for measles, polio and chickenpox. We were assured that this program was our passport to freedom, the only pathway to return to normal living. There was no empirical basis for this optimism, and the comparison with traditional vaccines was misleading if not outright dishonest. The ridicule, censorship, mandates and other bullying tactics that have been employed to gaslight dissenters and stampede people into getting the vaxxes are unacceptable.
Now that governments all over the world are madly tripling-down on mask mandates and lockdowns even for the triple-injected, with even more draconian measures such as “vaccine passports” being required for employment and travel, the social contracts that the submissive populations entered into with their governments have been proven a bill of goods. Some states in Australia are reportedly about to apply facial recognition technology to monitor and track those ordered to quarantine or shelter-in-place and bring swift punishment down upon violators (one presume the unvaxxed are next in line for such treatment).
The latest rounds of clampdowns are a tacit admission by government that we cannot inject our way out of this pandemic. We must understand not only why this is happening from virological and epidemiological standpoints, but also why this abject failure of public policy has taken place, so that we might find corrective policies to substitute for them.
Accumulating herd immunity through natural infection by an increasingly transmissible but less virulent virus looks to be the only way out of this pandemic – as it was for previous viral pandemics throughout history. Smoothing this path to normal life by protecting the most vulnerable groups, as recommended by the Great Barrington Declaration, while searching for and employing safe and effective drug treatments and prophylactics, should be pursued with all due speed and diligence.
Politicians and health authoritarians should get out of the way of doctors and researchers who are already on this path. Indeed, Pfizer has (perhaps unintentionally) revealed the clear shortcomings of its vaxx program by announcing that the company is developing a two-dose per day drug treatment of its own – possibly akin to ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, but with patent protection and therefore much more expensive. Looking at the range and potential effectiveness of treatments and medications for SARS-CoV-2 will be the focus of a forthcoming instalment in this series.
Grant A. Brown has a DPhil from Oxford University, taught at the University of Lethbridge in the 1990s, practised family law in the 2000s, and is presently trying to sell his B&B in Stratford, Ontario, with the aim of retiring.