What do you need to know before lining up for one of the Covid 19 vaccines? This bonus episode offers a careful analysis of the top frontrunner Covid-19 vaccines. What are the potential risks and benefits?
Dr. Bob Sears, author of “The Vaccine Book”, offers information to equip you to make an informed decision about whether or not to get a coronavirus vaccine. He explains how the new M-RNA vaccine technology works. He covers the efforts made historically to address viruses through vaccinations. And he reminds us that no pharmaceutical company has promised that the vaccine will actually prevent infection and transmission of the coronavirus.
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For the transcript below, host Hilda Labrada Gore’s words are in bold. Dr. Bob Sears’ words are in plain text.
What do you need to know about the Covid-19 vaccine before getting in line for it? How does the new M-RNA vaccine technology work? What do the outcomes of the early trials suggest in terms of efficacy or risks? Dr. Bob Sears, author of The Vaccine Book and co-founder of the non-profit Immunity Education Group, addresses these questions in today’s episode.
He tells us which companies are developing the most likely covid-19 vaccine front runners, and what characterizes these vaccines. He also offers an overall risk/benefit analysis for the vaccines in the works to help each of us make an informed decision on whether or not to take this particular vaccine.
Welcome to Wise Traditions! Bob, we wanted you on the show because you’ve done extensive research on vaccines, and there are COVID vaccines that are nearing completion, about to hit the distribution stage, and we want your perspective on them. Can you start off by telling us what companies are frontrunners in this race to develop a vaccine?
There are three frontrunners right now. There are fifty-eight vaccines currently undergoing human trials. That’s a lot but there are three that are at the finish line. The first one coming out is Pfizer’s vaccine. It doesn’t really have a name. I guess it’s just called the COVID-19 vaccine by Pfizer. It’s actually a collaboration with a German company, BioNTech, and a Chinese company, Fosun Pharma. You have three different countries working together on this. They’re the front-runner. It is supposed to be approved by the FDA not full vaccine approval but approval for emergency use as an experimental but acceptable product. We might get that approval next week. The one that’s going to follow a week later is Moderna’s vaccine which was made here in the United States in collaboration with the National Institute of Health. The final one is the AstraZeneca vaccine [does not use mRNA technology but uses adenovirus-vectored technology]. That’s a collaboration between Britain and Sweden. We’re not expecting that one until sometime in January.
What kind of vaccines are they? How are these three frontrunners similar and in which ways are they different?
That’s a great question. They are all extremely different. The main frontrunner is a classic vaccine that simply has the coronavirus spike proteins in it. It is like your old classic Hepatitis B vaccine or DTP vaccine or polio vaccine–some of the classic protein-based vaccines. That frontrunner is Novax, which is a U.S. company, but that’s a ways away. Two of these three frontrunners are mRNA vaccines. They’re based on a brand-new technology. We’ve never had an approved vaccine based on this technology. It doesn’t mean it’s bad–it’s just new, it’s unknown and it’s experimental. They’ve been trying to make mRNA vaccines for a variety of other infections over the last decade or so, testing it to see if they could get it to work but they weren’t successful.
It tries to mimic what really happens in nature. What we understand happens in a natural Covid infection is the virus gets into your body, invades your cells and the viruses release their RNA. The RNA and viruses are the equivalent to our human DNA. Some viruses don’t even have DNA. They just use RNA to function in the capacity of their DNA. Covid releases its RNA strands inside us when we’re infected and those RNA strands take over our cellular production of proteins and basically commandeer our cellular machinery to start making a whole bunch of COVID viruses. These are replicating COVID viruses and replicating COVID proteins, so each infected cell will then spit out a bunch of COVID viruses. Then, COVID can spread from cell to cell, infect our body and make us feel sick. That’s the natural process.
These mRNA vaccines are trying to replicate that. What they do is instead of injecting COVID viruses into us, they inject fat globules that contain a genetically-engineered version of the COVID RNA strands. They basically use genetic engineering techniques to create part of the COVID RNA–the part that builds COVID spike proteins. The vaccine injects a solution that contains a whole bunch of fat globules that contain COVID RNA strands. Those fat globules go into our cells and release the COVID RNA and then our cells start making a whole bunch of COVID proteins. Then, the cells break open and release all those proteins into our body and our immune system reacts to those artificially generated COVID proteins. It’s trying to mimic an infection by using artificial means in order to create an immune response. Does that make sense?
Yes, to a degree. I’m still wrapping my head around it.
I kind of worry when we try to replicate Mother Nature with an artificial and genetically engineered process. We’re trying to simulate nature hoping that it’s going to be good and healthy for us and that nothing bad can happen to me. I wouldn’t be the first in line for this vaccine because of its brand-new nature, its technology.
Can you give an example of one time when scientists decided to try to replicate nature with a bad or dangerous outcome that they weren’t expecting?
I’d say the classic example is the polio vaccine that we used to use. We had the oral polio vaccine which was a live, oral polio vaccine that we all swallowed. Remember the sugar pills you used to take as a kid or the sugar solution they used to give you? That was the oral polio vaccine. They used natural polio viruses but genetically modified them, processed them, so that they would hopefully be safer. They tried to make it less infectious to us and they gave everyone the oral polio vaccine. In a tiny percentage of kids, the oral polio vaccine woke up and created a real paralyzing polio infection. Because we could not perfect the process of trying to mimic Mother Nature. That’s just one example. I’m sure there are tons of examples.
One that comes to my mind is after World War II. Didn’t we take some of the chemical compounds thinking they will make great fertilizer because it’s like manure with phosphorus and things you find in natural manure or fertilizer for the soil. And it ended up causing the death of some elements of the soil so the soil actually became less rich and vibrant with microorganisms? We were trying to do what we saw in nature but we couldn’t see that the solution wasn’t going to be as helpful as we thought.
Tell us now about the potential benefits from these mRNA vaccines.
I looked at the research protocol and what the company Pfizer has put together to present to the FDA for approval. Basically, based on the studies so far the only scientific claim that they can make based on the limited research they have is that it might work like the flu shot works in that the only benefit that they’re seeing so far is that it might stop you from feeling the symptoms of coronavirus. It might make your symptoms either milder or it might prevent you from feeling symptoms at all. That’s all they know so far.
Wait. I have to stop you for a second. That is a far cry from what we’re expecting–that once we get this vaccine we can go back to normal. You’re saying they might only be able to reduce our symptoms?
It is just like the flu shot. What a lot of people don’t realize about the flu shot is it does not stop you from getting infected with the flu virus, having the flu virus grow in your system, making you contagious to others and giving you mild symptoms. The flu shot doesn’t even stop that. All the flu shot does is make you feel less sick but you’re still just as contagious and just as infectious to other people. That’s why we see the flu everywhere. Maybe people aren’t dying from the flu as much as they otherwise would have, maybe they’re not feeling as sick but the flu still breaks out every year despite mass vaccination. So far, scientifically, that’s all we also know about the coronavirus vaccine.
If I’m going to make a claim that goes against what the media is saying, how do I know that? The chief medical officer of Moderna, Dr. Zaks, said it himself in a television interview in November. He said when we start the deployment of this vaccine, we will not have sufficient concrete data to prove that this vaccine reduces transmission. Not only did he say it, the British Medical Journal also said it back in October. It said the vaccines are not being studied to determine whether they can interrupt transmission of the virus so we don’t know if this is going to help reduce the pandemic. We don’t know if it’s going to give a public health benefit. We don’t know whether or not you get a vaccine is going to matter to anyone around you at all. All we know, so far, is it’s going to make you less likely to feel the symptoms of the virus when you do get infected, it’s not going to stop transmission.
I feel like a Tylenol can help me with that–I’m being facetious. Please talk about the risks. Now that you’ve made it clear that the companies themselves are not making big promises about reducing the possibility of transmission or infection, what are the risks of getting these vaccines?
Actually, the companies are publicly promising that this is going to help end the pandemic. This little quote from the chief medical officer of Moderna was just one quote amidst a whole litany of promises that this is the best discovery of the century, we are here to save the planet, this product is amazing. Yet we have no evidence it reduces transmission. He went on to say, but I have complete confidence we will find the science to prove that it reduces transmission. They are painting it that way. They just have no signs yet to back up this claim.
So, risks–we don’t know a lot about risks yet. We do know that this vaccine is going to make you feel very crappy. The rate of just how bad you’re going to feel from this vaccine is incredibly high. At least half the people are going to feel very fatigued, get a headache, feel muscle pains and chills. Maybe a quarter of people are going to feel joint pains. You know how a lot of people say the flu shot is going to make you feel like you have the flu? That’s only a small percentage of people. With the COVID vaccine it’s a lot of people. At least half the people are going to feel that way. They’re concerned that people aren’t going to come back to get their second dose. There are two doses three weeks apart, and if you feel terrible after the first dose and you’re down for a couple days, they’re worried about compliance on a second dose. But they don’t have any way around that. That’s just what they’re finding in the initial safety studies.
If you feel bad for a couple days, some people may still say it’s worth it, because with COVID they run the risk of a more severe issue, so they are compliant. But I guess we don’t know about the long-term risks because they haven’t been able to study it for that long.
You’re right. All the data we have is basically based on about two months of observation. So we’re not going to have any long-term research on this vaccine, but we only have a couple months of efficacy data, as well. When they’re claiming that this vaccine might make you feel less sick and have fewer symptoms when you catch the virus, we don’t know if that’s true three, six or twelve months later. We only know this is true for a couple of months, and we should definitely talk about efficacy. Getting back to the side effects–the few red flags that showed up in the research was that out of the 18,000 people that got the vaccine, about four of them came down with Bell’s Palsy. That’s where one of the nerves in your face gets paralyzed and you can’t move that part of your face anymore. That’s a known complication of a whole variety of viral infections called Bell’s Palsy. Four people came down with that in the vaccine group and none of them came down with that in the placebo group. That was a bit of a red flag but it’s not surprising because we know our natural immune response to viruses can trigger Bell’s Palsy, so it makes sense that an artificial response to a viral vaccine could create Bell’s Palsy.
There’s a little bit of an increase in appendicitis in the vaccinated group versus the other group. There were some cardiac problems in both groups. There were certain severe side effects that occurred equally in both groups. I’m pointing out that in the Pfizer vaccine, what specifically happened in the vaccinated group that did not seem to happen in the placebo group.
One thing that stands out in the AstraZeneca vaccine is that it caused a case of transverse myelitis in one of the test subjects where you become paralyzed in your spinal cord and you’re then in a wheelchair for the rest of your life. We didn’t see anything like that with the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccines yet.
Some might say that’s the rare reaction. I think people try to make up their minds about vaccinations by weighing the risk benefit ratio. They’re asking: Is it worth it? What are the chances? I’m glad you brought up efficacy, because if it’s not efficacious, then we’re wasting our time with a greater risk than benefit.
Right, and they’re popularizing the statistic, 95% efficacy. I want to explain how they came up with that because it’s not very scientific. People have to realize this is not a group of academic scientists at a big, academic institution like a university medical school where they’re working together at their labs trying to save humanity and develop an objective, scientifically well-thought-out vaccine. These are not world experts trying to guide and save us. These are pharmaceutical companies. They’re trying to make a product. Many people have lost faith in pharmaceutical companies, because when they come out with a medication or a medical device—
they sometimes make a mistake. Sometimes they get it wrong and these drugs or medical devices end up causing harm and even killing people because pharmaceutical companies are for-profit companies with CEOs and stockholders. Everyone’s banding together to save the world but their stock options are soaring. They’re getting billions of dollars from governments to create these vaccines so they’re basically creating these vaccines for free. They’re not funding the research themselves and they’re giving them away for free, but they’re raking in the stock options and will eventually be able to start selling this vaccine.
If you’re the kind of person that tends to take a natural approach to life and you don’t like using a lot of medications except when they’re necessary and proven safe, then you should view the COVID vaccine development in the same light–with a little bit of hesitation if you tend to hesitate with big Pharma.
Most of the top pharmaceutical companies have been found criminally negligent in court and have had to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in fines for faking research, hiding research data, hiding side effects, lying to the public and falsely advertising things when it comes to drugs – not so much vaccines for the most part, but when it comes to drugs – so if you’re putting your faith in these companies, you should probably do it with a grain of salt.
Let’s get back to that 95% figure. How did they come up with that?
Pfizer (and Moderna and AstraZeneca did similar things) gave the vaccine to 18,000 volunteers and then gave it again 3 weeks later. They also gave a placebo–a true placebo, which is nice–a saline placebo to 18,000 other volunteers who were blinded, meaning they didn’t know what they were getting so that they’re judgment wouldn’t be clouded if they started to feel sick in the weeks to come. Then, if any of those test subjects got sick, they called their doctor and the doctor would decide whether to bring them into the office to test for COVID. For the most part, they would bring people in to test them but sometimes the doctor would make a judgment about whether or not to test them. The doctor was supposed to be blinded as well so the doctor wouldn’t know whether or not the patient had gotten the vaccine or the placebo. What they found is out of the first one hundred and ninety patients that came in feeling sick and tested positive for COVID, 95% of them were in the placebo group and 5% of them were in the vaccinated group.
Most of the people that got sick and tested positive didn’t get the vaccine. They got the placebo. Only a small percentage got the vaccine. They’re saying based on this scientific approach, it looks like our vaccine is 95% effective because most people that tested positive were the people that did not get the vaccine. I have a couple problems with this: in order to prove an efficacy number, you really have to break it down further and know how many people in each group were exposed to COVID, how many really got infected and how many people in the vaccinated group were exposed and then did not feel sick. There are so many data points they don’t know. That’s one critical piece of information that is missing.
Another critical piece is when they look at the numbers of people in both groups that actually felt symptomatic and had suspected cases of COVID, it was about equal. There were about 2,000 people in the placebo group and about 1,800 in the vaccine group that actually felt sick in the months after getting vaccinated. It was almost equal as far as people who had suspected cases of COVID. So when all these people come in to get tested, you had to have a positive Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test result in order to determine who had caught COVID. What is being said about these tests? Many are saying these tests are unreliable. There can be false positives and false negatives. You could have had COVID a couple months ago even before you got the vaccine but still show up as a positive result later or the PCR test could miss it completely. These PCR tests are themselves not FDA-approved.
I heard that the person who developed the PCR test does not recommend them for diagnosing or determining if someone has a particular virus.
Exactly. We are using FDA non-approved tests in order to determine whether or not this new vaccine should be approved. People say, “Well, why are we using the test?” It’s because the tests themselves have FDA emergency use authorization. That means the FDA has glanced at it and thinks maybe it’s okay to use but they have not verified whether or not it’s reliable. That’s what we’re basing this 95% efficacy on the fact that it has a 95% chance of making you feel less sick but not necessarily preventing the spread of your infectiousness to others. And it’s all based on a possibly faulty test. There’s a lot of questions here. I think we are probably going to get approval, emergency use approval, but it’s still going to leave this vaccine in the experimental category in my mind. We’re not going to know how well it’s working and we’re going to be pretty sure from the outset that it’s not going to affect the level of the pandemic yet.
I’m thinking about how the reputations of these for-profit pharmaceutical companies are on the line. I imagine they’re still doing everything that they can to make sure that these vaccines are efficacious on some level. Otherwise, the public will become more skeptical of what they have to offer.
I was talking to my podcasting partner, Melissa, about this, and she likes to think deeper like that. She was trying to put together why pharma would go out on a limb and declare to the world that we’re going to save you from this virus so that you all can learn to trust us again. Because pharma has lost a lot of face over the last thirty years and people are turning towards natural medicine these days more than ever before. COVID hits and everyone worldwide is scared to death. The whole world shuts down, and now we’re trying to come up with a pharmaceutical answer to this. Pharma’s saying, we are going to save you. What if they fail? That would be a huge blow to pharma. I’m not sure pharma would willingly take that kind of risk unless, number one: they knew they’d get it right; or number two: If they got it wrong, no one would know about it. I’m not saying I even know this is true. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, so I don’t spend time thinking much about it, but I suspect right now all the governments are funding this. It’s all of our tax dollars on all the money that we’re not even earning right now. Governments are paying for it. World leaders and elected politicians are the ones that are keeping us shut down and steering all this money into pharma to save us. If pharma gets it wrong and this vaccine doesn’t work and doesn’t prevent the spread, do you think our governments are going to admit that? Do you think they’re going to say “Sorry, world, we screwed everything up. We got it wrong. Sorry and I’ll step down. You can have the government back and we can all move on?” No. They’re not.
I just thought of a way they can do it: they can say “Oh, a different strain has appeared. You had the right strain. We stopped that one, but now there’s a novel novel virus.”
That’s right. Everyone’s signing up to make this mandatory. All the medical institutions are signing up to say “Hey doctors, nurses, first responders! We all have to do our part to be the first ones to get this vaccine, so we can show the world it’s safe and it’s important”, and then everyone’s going to line up for it.
What I think is the end result of this is whether or not we’re vaccinating, this virus is going to run its course through the world and a lot of people are going to end up getting infected. Fortunately, it’s going to be mild for most people. We’re going to develop a natural version of herd immunity. We might have other strains that poke their head up from time to time. I think this might end up being like a flu and might have outbreaks here and there but I think the worldwide pandemic level will come to an end probably more from natural immunity from running its natural course than from the vaccine; but the medical community and governments will probably give the vaccine and our medical institutions the credit in the long run.
That’s another way to play it: “Oh look! We succeeded in eliminating this disease, so we won!” when actually it’s as if it were a football game and the other team forfeited.
Right, and the reason I believe this is similar to what we’re doing with the flu shot is every year our government, medical communities, hospitals, drug stores and pharmaceutical companies declare huge successes with the flu shot. They say “Look. We’ve saved millions of lives every year with the flu shots, so everyone be sure to go get your vaccine this year. Get it next year. Here’s your $10 coupon to the drugstore for getting your vaccine.”
The flu vaccine is the worst vaccine we’ve ever made as far as efficacy. It has the lowest effects of all the vaccines yet it’s the one that everyone pushes. It’s the one that’s mandated in hospitals, it’s mandated for medical workers. They’re mandating it in daycares and some schools now. It has the biggest push of all the vaccines and don’t you wonder why? Why would we be so adamant about pushing and creating mandatory policies on the vaccine that works the least. Some years, it’s only 10% effective yet we still make it mandatory in those years. I feel like the coronavirus vaccine is going to be analogous to the flu vaccine and we’re going to see all the same mandates and probably more. I think whether or not you like vaccines…the fact that they already mandate a really crappy vaccine like the flu vaccine that barely works, they might mandate this vaccine and you should be concerned as a citizen, as a person who cares about your individual rights, your bodily autonomy and your right to make medical decisions for yourself and your child. This whole climate in which this vaccine is being made and then mandated should give you pause. I hope that you think humanity has the right to make medical decisions for things like this instead of the government making the decision for them.
You’ve given us a lot to think about, Bob. I want to ask you a couple of questions as we wrap up. Why a vaccine in the first place? I’ve heard tell of different medicines and even different protocols that have had some success in treating patients who have gotten COVID.
I think the natural response to any big, infectious disease outbreak is to try to make a vaccine. That’s just the modern-day medical response. We saw that as the response to Ebola and the swine flu outbreak. They tried to make a Zika virus vaccine.
Well, the swine flu and the Zika virus ended up not being that serious. Of course, Ebola is terrible, but thank God it doesn’t spread. It’s not airborne and doesn’t spread in modern countries. COVID is terrible for the elderly and if you are obese or certain medical risk factors.
In my pediatric world, it is a virtually mild, completely harmless disease. I tend to operate on what I’m seeing in my world of pediatric medicine and, thank God, it’s barely affecting the kids. They’re barely feeling sick. The fatalities in children is something like 1 in 70,000 cases. In order to come up with a solution, in order to push the public into supporting this vaccine effort, you have to make the disease appear worse than it is and rev up the fear. You have to get people afraid of the disease. Certain groups should be concerned about this disease but the general public–healthy young adults, middle-aged adults, healthy kids–we don’t have to live in dread of this disease like we would with Ebola, smallpox or polio. In order to come up with a way to save humanity from something, they had to rev up the fear and then come up with a pharmaceutical answer because the other answer was to simply take some mild appropriate mitigating measures, protect those at risk, maybe have those who are high-risk stay at home but let the rest of the world go on as normal. Let this disease—that’s going to be just like a mild cold for most people–circulate through the world—not shut down the world and cause all this poverty, starvation, mental illness and suicide and people dying for all kinds of reasons related to the lockdown when they otherwise would not have died. If we had taken more of that common sense, hey-let’s-not-overreact approach, we might be in a better place now.
And actually, this is why we have the show, to let people know that they do have options, that we’re not stuck. Even where we are today, people have options to take their health into their own hands and make choices that they think will help safeguard and even boost their health. I’m glad we had you on and I want to ask you the question I often pose at the end. If the listeners could do only one thing to improve their health, what would you recommend?
I would say above and beyond everything, simply eat healthy. It’s such common sense but do you ever hear public health officers talking about that? Do you ever hear the CDC talking about this? Or the White House people or our state Governors say stop eating sugar, stay away from junk food, stop drinking soda, eat healthy whole foods? Go outside and get some sunlight so you boost vitamin D. Pay attention to your mental health and your physical health. If everyone does that, you will be better equipped to handle COVID when it comes your way and increase your likelihood that it is just going to be the mild cold that it is for most people.