Current thoughts on the Covid vaccines

I can’t claim to know 100% where the truth lies, but I want to share my current thought process.  Given that my perspective is in conflict with most media, government, and people that I know, this is something that I think about often, research daily, and do my best to approach from a scientific, unbiased angle.

I hope that – even if you don’t find my arguments convincing – you can accept that I have both a strong scientific mind and a solid moral compass and you can respect my thoughts and positions on these issues.

As I have written before, much of our society is in the grip of what I would call the religion of Progress – a faith in technology and industry to solve our problems – including those problems directly created by technology and industry.  I experienced this directly during my time as a PhD student, when a vast majority of researchers in my field studiously ignored the obvious fatal flaws that would preclude real-world implementation of their research, while a few courageous folks – mostly nearing retirement or otherwise outside of institutional environments – were willing to address reality more honestly.  Since then, I have been on the lookout for these “heterodox” voices – those scientists willing to prioritize the pursuit of truth and the scientific method over a religious commitment to pursuit of Progress.

There are many topics to address here, but I would like to specifically consider:

  • Fundamentals:  What is going on, and what should we expect?
  • Adverse effects – prevalence, reporting, and societal treatment of those affected
  • Spike protein biodistribution, longevity, and health concerns
  • Duration of immunity
  • Vaccine-resistant mutations
  • Politics: the “anti-vax” buzzsaw
  • Politics: the debasement of dialogue
  • The impossibility of truth-seeking

Fundamentals

Vaccine development is a process that generally requires at least five years, and often up to 12 years or more.  When considering vaccines using novel technologies or targeting novel pathogens, fewer than 5% of candidate vaccines make it through this development process to ultimate approval.  Therefore we should assume that vaccines rushed through development in the absence of long-term safety and effectiveness studies will likely be inferior to fully-researched and evaluated vaccines.  This doesn’t mean they will definitely be bad, just that we shouldn’t be surprised if they fail to live up to initial expectations.

The current crop of vaccines, and especially the mRNA vaccines, confer a high level of short-term immunity against symptomatic and (especially) severe Covid-19.  Data are less clear with regard to long-term immunity and protection against asymptomatic infection and spreading of the virus to others, although there is some evidence of a protective effect.

Adverse Effects

It is well-accepted that these vaccines have a higher level of adverse effects than any other vaccines in common use – to the point that it is common practice to take a day off of work after getting the second shot.  More significant effects – up to and including lasting disability and death – have been not infrequently recorded.  In the absence of an ongoing scientific study tracking vaccinated and unvaccinated cohorts (which does not exist), these can all be written off as anecdotal and probably unrelated to the vaccine.

The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System exists to document adverse reactions to vaccines.  In a typical year there are fewer than 500 deaths reported following administration of all vaccines.  This year, so far, the total stands at 11,405 deaths reported following the Covid vaccines alone (https://www.openvaers.com/covid-data).  This number is frequently “debunked” based on the fact that there is no proven link between vaccination and death, and indeed some of the reported deaths are almost certainly coincidence.  That said, the magnitude of increase is a red flag worthy of investigation.  In addition to the deaths a large number of hospitalizations (36,000), heart attacks (4400), and urgent care visits (62,000) have been reported.

There is also a large and growing community of vaccine-injured people online, seeking greater recognition for their symptoms and experiences.  Perhaps unfortunately they have only been able to attract attention from conservative-leaning politicians and media, which has paradoxically reduced their credibility in more liberal circles.  Facebook and Instagram have repeatedly removed groups set up for sharing side effects and adverse reactions.  Most of these people report that their doctors refuse to accept that their symptoms are vaccine-related, despite the fact that they began shortly after vaccination in otherwise-healthy people and that they group into common syndromes.  Most doctors are also reluctant to report their patients’ experiences to VAERS, which leads to the possibility that the VAERS numbers are a significant undercount.  For some examples of personal experiences, see https://www.c19vaxreactions.com/

Of course, it is also fair to look at these numbers in comparison to 625,000 Covid deaths.  It is quite likely that – at least for vulnerable groups and people above a certain age – the vaccine carries a much lower risk than the disease.  This, however, presents a messaging problem.  If, to use a war analogy, the battle will have casualties, then it is essential that we treat those casualties as heroes rather than ignoring them, denying their very real suffering, and sweeping them under the rug.  To date, our treatment of those suffering long-term effects from the vaccines has been more akin to our unfortunate societal abandonment of injured veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan than to the hero’s welcome given to injured soldiers returning from World War II.  Speaking personally, I would be much more willing to take a personal risk to potentially benefit the whole of society if I knew that society would honor and take care of me if I were injured.  In the current situation – in which vaccine manufacturers are legally protected from liability and doctors are unwilling to acknowledge real vaccine reactions – I don’t have that assurance.

The Biotoxic Spike Protein

Much of the damage caused by Covid appears to be connected to the biotoxic effect of the spike protein on vascular tissues, as opposed to being caused by virus-mediated cell death or the human immune response.  Researchers at the Salk Institute recently confirmed this effect by injecting inert nanoparticles covered in spike protein into animal models and noting significant tissue damage in response.  This raises concern with regard to spike-protein-based vaccines.  In theory, if the spike protein is limited to the muscle where it is injected, this risk should be minimal.  However, very limited biodistribution studies were carried out, and those that were are concerning, showing the vaccine nanoparticles and resultant spike protein expression spread throughout the body and concentrated in certain organs. 

I have also not seen a comparison of the level of spike protein expression following vaccination vs. that experienced in the sort of mild Covid infection that is the most common manifestation of the disease.  It is often asserted that the disease causes lasting damage while the vaccine does not; however I have yet to see conclusive science to back up this claim, and I have read plenty of personal accounts of long-Covid-like syndromes following vaccination.

Duration of Immunity

“Genetic vaccines” – in which the human body produces a viral protein to generate an immune response – are significantly different from conventional vaccines in which the body is exposed to complete but non-infectious versions of the pathogen.  One of the risks is that a full immune response – including both short-term production of antibodies and long-term establishment of “memory” T and B cells – may not be achieved.  There is already some concerning evidence in this direction from Israel, the first country to carry out mass vaccination.  Those vaccinated prior to late February are currently twice as likely to catch Covid as those vaccinated later, after correcting for age and other factors.  https://www.timesofisrael.com/hmo-those-who-inoculated-early-twice-as-likely-to-catch-covid-as-later-adopters/

This is concerning because if the vaccines require boosters every six months, the overall rate of adverse effects will likely be much higher, and there will also be a risk of cumulative effects following re-administration of the same or a closely related vaccine.

Vaccine-resistant Mutations

One of the most common arguments for mass vaccination is that it will reduce the ability of the virus to evolve vaccine-resistant mutations.  This could be true, but it is also worth considering the opposite hypothesis:  that mass deployment of a vaccine in the midst of a global pandemic could easily generate vaccine-resistant mutations, in a manner akin to the development of antibiotic-resistance following widespread use of antibiotics.  One prominent voice giving this warning is Dutch vaccine researcher Geert Vanden Bossche, who has immaculate credentials in this regard: https://www.geertvandenbossche.org/

If we are going to use this argument to advocate for mass vaccination, we should first be sure that it is actually scientifically valid.  It is quite possible that a more limited rollout targeting vulnerable groups and healthcare workers might actually help to slow the development of vaccine-resistant mutations, when compared to a population-wide vaccination campaign.

The Anti-vax Buzzsaw

The “buzzsaw” is a concept developed by Dr. Bret Weinstein, in his analysis of the breakdown in dialogue in modern society.  A buzzsaw, in this context, is a term that encompasses a group of people regarded as bad or unworthy of respect, and that can be used as a weapon to discredit more reasonable views.  One example is the way that “racist” has been defined as KKK-level bigotry but has been expanded at will to include anyone who questions the importance of black squares on Instagram, or who has ever used the N word in any context at any age. 

It has been clear to me, over the past decade, that “anti-vax” has been groomed for use as a buzzsaw.  Those who opposed standard vaccinations – many for rather hokey reasons – were increasingly smeared, vilified, and legally targeted in an effort to shore up childhood vaccination rates.  The phrase anti-vax is now a ready bad-person category to be lobbed at anyone who hesitates to accept the Covid vaccines, or even those who oppose giving them to children who are at very low risk from Covid.  Importantly, labeling someone as anti-vax says nothing at all about the validity of their argument, the truth of their claims, the reality of their lived experience of vaccine injury, or the integrity of their character.  It saddens me greatly that within the mainstream media it seems to be sufficient to simply use that label to discredit opposing views.

 The Debasement of Dialogue

Every mainstream media article I read these days on the vaccination issue says a lot about Republicans and conservative strategy and disinformation, as if the only reason one might have to question the Covid vaccines is a childish opposition to Democratic leadership and the Biden administration, or a lingering loyalty to Trump.  And I will say this for certain.  Anyone who refuses to be vaccinated because they are a Republican is stupid, but so is anyone who believes the vaccines are totally safe and ought be mandated simply because they are a Democrat and stand behind President Biden.  As I occasionally check out conservative media, I can say that much of the vaccine-questioning coverage is indeed political, but it also covers very real concerns and case studies regarding severe adverse effects, the ethics of vaccinating young children, possible withholding of informed consent regarding risks, and the moral dimensions of mandating an emergency-authorized vaccine for which the full risk profile is not yet understood.  The response from the left is simply to brush all of this aside as political misinformation, with no substantive engagement with the issues. 

An environment in which truth is more political than scientific is a dangerous environment in which to encounter true uncertainty and potential risk.  We must ask ourselves:  exactly how many deaths or adverse effects would need to occur before a medical, political, and media establishment that is committed to the safe vaccine narrative would begin to pay attention? 

My current thoughts

I made a commitment early on that I would not make a decision regarding vaccination for myself until a year had passed.  I very nearly reneged on that commitment back in May, when all of my friends were getting their shots, but then the J&J was paused for clotting concerns the day after I decided I would probably get that one, which served as a reminder that there are still too many unknowns and solidified my commitment.

On a societal level, I am moderately confident that the benefits of vaccination exceed the risks for anyone at high risk of severe Covid-19.  I am much less confident that this is true for lower-risk groups, and I strongly suspect that it is false for children under age 18. Even though long-Covid is a real concern and there can be lingering effects, I feel that we collectively continue to vastly overestimate the risk of the virus to ourselves and our communities.

At present I am leaning toward remaining unvaccinated given emerging science regarding limited duration of immunity, biodistribution of the vaccine, and biotoxic effects of the spike protein.  I will still wait until at least November-December to make a decision.  Should the Novavax vaccine be approved I would be more willing to take that one, as it is based on injected spike-containing particles rather than genetic instructions for my own cells to produce the spike, and thereby likely to be more dose- and distribution-regulated.  But it still contains the spike protein, and it has accordingly been linked to some of the same heart complications in trials.

The current campaign to incentivize vaccinations and shame those who are choosing not be vaccinated is, if anything, hardening my position for the moment.  None of that rhetoric contains any of the science which would inform my decision, and it also contains inherent contradictions (such as recommending vaccinations for previously-infected people when real-world studies indicate strong and lasting natural immunity) which lead me to believe that it is more ideology-driven than science-driven. 

I do not judge anyone who chooses the vaccines for themselves, and I encourage everyone to make a decision based on their own weighing of the risks and benefits.  In turn, I would ask others to resist the pressure to divide the world into “good” vaccinated people and “bad” unvaccinated people, aided by preexisting political fault lines. 

We will know in a year or two whether the vaccines were a good idea.  I certainly hope that the more serious concerns are unfounded.  Until then, let us please not find one more reason to sow distrust, judgment, and division among ourselves.

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5 Responses to Current thoughts on the Covid vaccines

  1. Mark:

    Hope that you will forgive this intrusion. I noticed that you mentioned an Oregon Ecosophian get together. I would love to kow more.

  2. Roger says:

    After absorbing David Martin’s interviews over the last couple of weeks, I’m finally convinced that the virus exists only on paper. Twelve months ago that seemed very far-fetched to me. Two months ago, only the generation of phylogenetic trees through sequencing seemed to be propping up that narrative. Having looked at how that works – heavily dependent on references, preconceptions and guesswork – the only thing I know to be real is the contents of the vials. Definitely alters the risk calculation.

    • Mark says:

      I have heard the “virus-is-not-real” narrative throughout, and I’ve always felt like it has a flat-Earth element to it. The issue being that any capable lab, anywhere, can take a sample from an infected person, sequence it, and determine which of the viral variants that person is infected with. Furthermore the proportion of positive tests correlates well with levels of illness, hospitalizations, etc., and there is clearly a unique and novel constellation of symptoms (especially the loss of taste/smell aspect) that is similarly associated with these positive tests.

  3. Debbie says:

    Thank you for your calm, coherent, compassionate thoughts!
    I’ve read through a lot of your posts and your voice is unique and needed in these polarized times.
    I ended up getting vaccinated back in April/May – had decided to get J&J and when it was switched to Moderna during the pause I just went with it. Partly to relieve my indecision and constant grappling with the question! Also because it seemed as if it could substantially decrease transmission and I work with people, some elderly, every day. Now I wonder. If the way it decreases transmission is because it makes the infection mild – well, I am not convinced that I needed a vaccine for that. I am well-versed in how to take care of myself (many are quick to point out the rare exceptions but that was a risk I was willing to take for myself). Other than the possibility of increased mutations/variants (which I admit I don’t fully understand) I haven’t been convinced as to why we MUST vaccinate everyone, especially children. Why not focus on the high risk who want it?
    I appreciate your point about the vaccine-injured and treating them as heroes. It seems some people’s first response is just denial so as not to derail the vaccine program. I also want to have more conversations about what it means to do things for the whole, for the good of others… who/what is included in that whole? Ideally we focus on more than just the survival of our human species in the short-term. And we see that getting the vaccine or not getting the vaccine is not the decider of someone’s humanity.
    I had a sense that injecting something to make my own body produce a toxic substance was not good for me, but I was tired of being bludgeoned by “these vaccines are safe and effective,” and I felt (and still feel) that I could trust that my body could handle any ill-effects from the vaccine. So far so good. I also did not resonate with the rhetoric of those completely against the vaccine, and tried to find a middle road. Still trying. Your words help. Thank you.

    • Mark says:

      Thanks Debbie!

      Yes, we need to be able to have reasonable and reasoned conversations. There are many reasons to doubt the mainstream narrative but not to go so far as to say the vaccines are definitely harmful and should be given to no one. I expect that the majority of vaccinated people will suffer no major effects, and that the vaccines are saving a significant number of lives, at least over the short-term scales that we have been able to observe so far.

      In terms of the risk of increased mutations and variants, there are two factors at play that work in opposite directions. The first – and the one everybody talks about – is that the rate of viral mutation is proportional to the total amount of virus, and so reducing the number of infected people through vaccination will slow down the mutation rate. This is, however, a global phenomenon, so if this were truly the concern we would be sending all of our extra doses to countries that need them rather than trying to coerce everyone here in the US. The second – expressed by Dr. Vanden Bossche and equally obvious to me – is that natural selection is acting on viruses all of the time, and breakthrough infections in vaccinated people will select for viral mutations that are resistant to the vaccine. This is especially concerning given the very narrowly-focused immunity generated by the vaccines, in contrast with natural immunity. The importance of this factor scales with the number of people vaccinated. If this factor predominates, we may find that vaccinating everyone leads to vaccine-escape strains that then resume killing vulnerable people, whereas we perhaps could have avoided this by focusing vaccination efforts on those most vulnerable to severe disease. So it is far from clear to me – and to at least one renowned vaccinologist – that aiming to vaccinate everyone is even the best approach here, even if side effects were not a concern.

      As for those completely against the vaccine, they seem to me to be in two camps. The conspiracists who talk about microchips and biological tracking political agendas and whatnot I have little time for. On the other hand, the vaccine-injured – and their friends and families – are being gaslit on a massive scale, being told that their experiences are not real and could not possibly be caused by the vaccines. It is easy for me to understand how those people will become stridently anti-vaccine.

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