I'm special- don't vaccinate the prole/scutters/gypo types
I received my first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine
two days ago. Like most developed countries, New Zealand is making the vaccine
available to the population by degrees. This is due, in the main, to the
limited supply of the vaccine. In the first tier, doctors, nurses and border
staff, together with other specialist groups received their shot. I belong to
the second wave of inoculations that is being doled out to 'essential workers'.
Next in line will be the most vulnerable segment of our society, the over 80s.
Afterward, the vaccine will become available to the general population,
excepting those under 16 years of age.
At the date of writing, seven distinct
vaccines designed by laboratories worldwide have been made available. There are
differences between these vaccines, although the basic mechanism of action is broadly
similar. When trials began last year there were many more candidate vaccines
undergoing evaluation. The development of any novel drug is required, by law, to
undergo a systematic and arduous testing process and most drug candidates will
fail at one of the many stages in the drug’s assessment. And this has been the
case with potential COVID- 19 vaccines. Even though the urgency of the
situation mandated a rapid introduction of an effective vaccine this did not
mean that safety and efficacy requirements were compromised. Usually, the
introduction of a new vaccine requires a four-year rigorous testing process in
the lab and in the ‘field’. In the case of the COVID-19 vaccine the whole
process was truncated to under a year. This in no way indicates that the
development of the vaccine was haphazard, or normal testing standards removed
or curtailed. The rapidity of introduction was a consequence of several salient
factors: A lot of the preliminary work had been achieved on similar RNA viruses
and vaccines in the past, so it was not as if researchers were entering unknown
scientific territory. A huge amount of money was brought to bear on the problem
world-wide. The current estimates place total expenditure in the region of $7 billion
US dollars. The development of an effective vaccine was a combined international
effort. The best scientific minds and the most prestigious research institutes went
into overdrive, and with virtually unlimited financing, the usual research
restrictions with regard to funding miraculously slipped away. In fact, they
slithered away, like a greased ferret in an ‘Exotic Lard Emporium’ (Steady Flaxen-
remember what your psychiatrist said). Unlike most research, in the initial
stages at least, the results of scientific endeavour where widely distributed/disseminated
internationally. The sharing of data between researchers, to this degree, is
almost unprecedented in the annuals of scientific research.
New Zealand is currently dispensing the vaccine
developed by the German company, BioNTech, in conjunction with Pfizer. During
trials it has been determined that the vaccine, known as BNT162b2, has an
efficiency rate of 95% in preventing COVID-19 infection.
The Science Stuff Briefly Explained
The vaccine contains a piece of viral RNA, that
under normal infective conditions, is responsible for the formation of part of
the protein coat that surrounds the viral RNA. In particular, the RNA encodes for
a class of spike projection proteins. When the virus infects the cell, these
projections facilitate the entry of the virus through the nuclear membrane.
Once the virus has pierced the nuclear membrane, the genetic material of the
virus, in this instance, RNA, can interact with the host genome. Once ensconced
the viral RNA hijacks the protein manufacturing processes within the cell,
ultimately producing new viral particles, that once released, go on to create
invasive and infectious havoc, anew.
Shortly after inoculation, the introduction of
the partial viral genome triggers a strong immune response. As only a portion
of the viral RNA is contained in the vaccine there is no possibility for the pared
RNA to encode for an intact, infectious, viral particle. The RNA in the vaccine
is encased in a lipid coat to prevent degradation once it enters the recipient’s
Once vaccinated the individual’s immune system
becomes primed and ready to react to the presence of the virus entering a host
cell. The presence of the virus initiates the production of antibodies. These
antibodies are highly specific to the spike projections of the COVID-19 virus.
The presence of the virus triggers the immune system to manufacture large
numbers of the antibody particle. When the antibodies encounter the virus,
they attach to the spike proteins. The presence of the antibodies initiates two
key events. Firstly, the presence of large numbers of attached antibodies
physically prevents the virus from entering the cell’s nucleus. Secondly, the attached
antibodies act as a beacon that attract specialist immune cells. Once the virus
is encountered by these cells they are quickly engulfed (phagocytosis) and
rendered harmless. All this occurs outside the cell nucleus and therefore the
virus is destroyed before it can reproduce and produce symptoms of disease.
This genomic approach differs from previous outdated
anti-viral strategies where the presence of the whole virus was necessary to
elicit a positive immune response. In these instances, however, the virus was
first inactivated by heat.
This sophisticated genetic approach is not
entirely new as researchers have been working on this 'RNA strategy' for the
development of novel vaccines for over a decade. There are a number of RNA
viruses that cause disease and extensive anti-viral research has been conducted
on COVID-19's more dangerous and virulent RNA viral cousins, such as those
responsible for the diseases of MERS and SARS. As mentioned earlier, this
seminal work has contributed to the rapid development and production of
BNT162b2. What's in a name? You think a bunch of smart scientists could have
made a little more effort to give the vaccine an imaginative and catchy name;
BNT162b2 does not exactly trip off the tongue. If it were up to me, I would
have burdened the vaccine with the moniker, ‘Arse, big fat, arse’. But what do
expect from someone who is madder than a bucket of frogs in vinegar- nuff said.
As I am close to the arbitrary defined ‘blog post
limit’ of 1,000 words, I will pontificate no more on the topic of COVID-19. However,
I will end with this: It has not gone unnoticed by the author, that there is a
growing minority of folk who are of the strong opinion that the vaccine is a
dangerous entity in itself- more dangerous than the disease and therefore is to
be eschewed mightily. The opposition to the vaccine is in some instances,
rational, although many of the objections are irrational and often quite bizarre.
I will address these concerns in a future post, hopefully within the week.