Several months later, things are very different. The vaccine has already been given to many millions of people. Whereas millions have died from Covid, there are at most just a few debatable deaths from the vaccine. There are negligible short-term effects and no reason to believe that there are any long-term side effects.
Meanwhile, the chances of catching Covid have gone up immeasurably with the new, more contagious variants. And the long-term effects of Covid, even for those who recover, are now known to be much more serious, including nerve damage and severe lung damage. As one surgeon has said, "There is no long-term implication of a vaccine that could ever be as bad as the long-term implications of Covid."
And yet, people are still irrationally afraid, and spreading conspiracy theories. The Arutz-7 website, popular because of its national-religious orientation, has been especially guilty of this. Its latest missive is an anti-vaccination article, titled "This Is Not A Vaccine," by a "Health and Wellness Counselor" which superficially looks impressive (it has lots of endnotes!).
With lives at stake, it's important for this to be refuted by authoritative voices - and for people to realize that they should be listening to authoritative voices, not "wellness counselors." And so I approached two suitably qualified people to write a response. Dr. Joel Kaye (my esteemed brother-in-law) has a PhD in Immunology from the Weizmann Institute of Science, a Fellowship in Immunology from Harvard Medical School, and 16 years’ experience developing drugs for Autoimmune Diseases and Cancer. Dr. Gillian Kay (no relation) has a PhD in pharmacology and has been involved in molecular biology research at Hebrew University for 25 years. Here is their response:
This IS a Vaccine
The homepage of Israel National news, the English language website of Arutz 7, has three headlines close together:
“9,172 new COVID infections in 24 hours”
“1 person with British mutation gives 146 people COVID”
“This is not a vaccine”
The extremely worrying current situation regarding COVID-19 has not deterred Arutz 7 from publishing an article aimed at preventing people from vaccinating against this disease.
This opinion piece, packed with misinformation and distortions, was written by Ilana Rachel Daniel, a “Health and Wellness Counselor”, who has a hastily put together website in which she gives a link to what purports to be the “Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System Israel,” but is in fact a Google form that gives no indication where the information goes to or mention of data protection. The questions on the form include personal details and medical history. Her qualifications and scientific background are not given on her website or in the article.
The subheading is “Israeli people haven't been given information required for a sufficient risk-benefit analysis in this extraordinary endeavor.” We assume she has not subscribed to the Ministry of Health’s Telegram channel or bothered to spend any time looking at the wealth of information on their website, but apart from that, since when does a country's general population carry out risk-benefit analyses about public health issues? It is the job of the Ministry of Health and their scientists and epidemiologists to weigh all of the evidence before approving medicines for the use in specific diseases.
Tens, if not hundreds, of independent people from different disciplines review the data for ALL drugs and vaccines. Every medication we take – from antibiotics to biological anti-cancer drugs has been reviewed and approved. Each individual ultimately has the right to decide for his/herself whether to vaccinate, but the public health decisions are not made by the public, but for the public.
The impression from the article is that a secret agreement was made to offer Israeli citizens to Pfizer as guinea pigs, an agreement that is only now being revealed, and that the vaccine is being tested on us before everyone else. While it is true that Israel is leading the world in the number of vaccines per 100 people, as of Jan 14th 37.5 million vaccination doses have been given worldwide. We only account for 2 million of these.
What is special about Israel is that since we have both a high vaccination rate and a high disease prevalence, the effect of the vaccine will be quickly seen. In addition, we have a fully computerized medical system that creates a huge amount data; this is termed “big data”. All the HMOs use this big data to carry out many studies, analyzing the effects of many public health interventions, medications, vaccines, diet, various therapies and more. This data is all protected by privacy laws so personal identifying information is never revealed.
The Ministry of Health is also keeping track of all adverse events as a result of COVID-19 vaccination (the online form for reports can be found here). The information collected is available to all on their website (the presentation given to the committee in charge of monitoring adverse events at their first meeting can be found here).
So much for the supposed “complete opacity of data on the unfolding outcomes of adverse reactions currently taking place”.
Phase 3 clinical trials are carried out on tens of thousands of people, providing enough information on efficacy and safety for roll-out to the population at large. Research into the effects of the vaccine or drug always continue after roll-out. This is the only way to reveal any rare adverse events and long-term effects and efficacy. It can be considered Phase 4 of the trials; currently there are at least 17 million people in this “trial” worldwide (since we don’t know how many of the 35.6 million doses were first or second doses).
Daniel's article makes several claims that at best demonstrate her limited knowledge of immunology and the basic tenets of cell biology. For example, she states that Pfizer’s vaccine is not actually a vaccine “..as defined by the CDC as 'A product that stimulates a person’s immune system to produce immunity to a specific disease.' Rather, it is an experimental and novel technology." Since the vaccine does in fact stimulate a person’s immune system to produce immunity to COVID-19, this is a strange thing to say. The fact the technology is relatively novel (after over 10 years of research) does not have any relevance to its mechanism.
Daniel further claims that "By definition of the FDA as a component used as treatment to affect a body’s function, it is indeed a medical device, a physical device that comes in a molecular sized package." All vaccines affect a body's function in the same way, causing it to produce antibodies. This vaccine just does that in a different way, using mRNA instead of a piece of the virus. That does not turn it into a medical device.
A particularly problematic claim is that "An mRNA vaccine is not a vaccine, because it does not elicit an immune response. What it is, is genetic engineering." No, that is not what genetic engineering is. Genetic engineering is the process of using technology to alter the genetic makeup of an organism via direct manipulation of one or more genes. This vaccine does not alter DNA, and it does elicit an immune response, just via production of a protein.
She shows her total lack of knowledge of molecular biology (and the Human Genome Project) later in the article when she discusses “tampering with the human genome”. The human genome cannot be altered by injecting mRNA into our muscles; mRNA does not change DNA – it cannot even enter the cell nucleus where DNA is located. Presumably the author is also unaware that the virus itself hijacks our cell machinery in order to replicate, making our cells produce the proteins it needs (without altering our DNA).
Daniel goes on to discuss several vaccines whose research failed at the animal phase due to antibody dependent enhancement (ADE). Since the current COVID-19 vaccines did not fail at the animal phase, and ADE has not been seen at any three research phases or as a result of the 35.6 million doses already administered, we fail to see any relevance to this information, unless the aim is to provoke unnecessary fear.
The next issue raised by Daniel is that of autoimmune disease and infertility. The immunological concerns of mRNA vaccines have been considered in detail and this vaccine platform has been extensively explored for other infections and cancer. Molecular mimicry has been described as a potential mechanism of some autoimmune disease. But molecular mimicry means that a tiny stretch of amino acids would need to be identical at a molecular level. As described in the NY Timesby Stephanie Langel, an immunologist and expert in maternal and neonatal immunity at Duke University, the coronavirus spike and the placental protein in question have almost nothing in common, making the vaccine highly unlikely to trigger a reaction to these delicate tissues. The two proteins share only a minuscule stretch of material; mixing them up would be akin to mistaking a rhinoceros for a jaguar because they are wearing the same collar. If this were true, we would also expect COVID-19 to cause early pregnancy loss a significant amount of the time, which is not the case. There is no reasonable basis to believe that vaccines against COVID-19 will affect fertility.
Regarding prevention of transmission of SARS-CoV2 by Pfizer’s vaccine, it is untrue to claim that the mRNA vaccines were not designed with that aim but rather as treatments. A vaccine is by definition a prevention, not a treatment. The trials have shown conclusively that the vaccine completely prevents illness in 95% of people and prevents serious illness in those few cases of vaccinated subjects who contracted the disease.
However, the phase 3 trials were not designed to assess transmission; this is being investigated currently world-wide. Analysis of preliminary data by the Ministry of Health and the four healthcare providers indicate that transmission is prevented by between 50-60% after a single dose.
COVID-19 has challenged us in many ways. The scientific community has risen to this challenge, cooperating and shifting their research efforts into investigation of the disease, its treatment and its prevention. Misinformation and fearmongering must not be allowed to prevent us from ending this pandemic.
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I would like to thank Dr. Kay and Dr. Kaye for putting together this response. If anyone would like to understand the science behind the mRNA vaccines and their efficacy, you can watch Joel on the YouTube channel “COVID Vaccine Facts and Fiction”. For general information about vaccination, מדעת is a wonderful resource (https://www.midaat.org.il/) and if you are looking for information in English about vaccination and evidence-based parenting, Gillian is one of the admins of a Facebook group VILOs (Vaccinated Israeli Little Ones)/ Evidence-Based Parenting where all questions are welcome. There is also a lengthy video about the vaccine from Prof. Yonatan HaLevy, former Director-General and current President of Shaarei Tzedek, at this link.
It must be noted that for some people, rational arguments have little effect; they need an emotional appeal. Fortunately, there is just the thing! Check out this amazing song on YouTube.
Dr. Joel Kaye has a PhD in Immunology from the Weizmann Institute of Science, a Fellowship in Immunology from Harvard Medical School, and 16 years’ experience developing drugs for Autoimmune Diseases and Cancer.
Dr. Gillian Kay has a PhD in pharmacology and has been involved in molecular biology research at Hebrew University for 25 years.
Reposted from Rationalist Judaism where it is a guest post.