Covid-19. Is the vaccine safe? Also, who’s to blame?

This post: circa 3,000 words, estimated reading time: 15 minutes

Thought-provoking observations

A friend shared this picture below, and while you may or may not agree with its underlying message, it raises a valid point.

 

Vaccine check point

 

Makes you think, eh?

 

NOTE!
This post does not suggest nor imply the vaccine will be mandatory*, here in the UK or anywhere else in the world. Certainly in the UK it will be little different to the ‘flu jab’, just more extensive. It’s to be prioritised to those most in need; no-one is being forced to take it.
*(Probably! I am not going to rule Hobson’s choice and cases of “if you want to continue working ‘here’ you will get the vaccine”.)

 

My concern:
Medicines normally take many years to test and approve, but big business is suffering due to this pandemic, so this vaccine was created and approved in just a few months. Does that not set alarm bells off for anyone else?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process, often lasting 10-15 years and involving a combination of public and private involvement.

That was from the History of Vaccines, a post on Vaccine Development, Testing, and Regulation.
(“The History of Vaccines is an award-winning informational, educational website created by The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, one of the oldest medical societies in the United States.”)

They say 10 to 15 years, and yet this Covid vaccine was ready in a few months. They claim it is safe, but they do not know, there has not been a longitudinal study!

Note that I am not suggesting or saying that the vaccines are unsafe. Nor am I disagreeing that all tests so far have been mostly positive. However, trialling a few thousand or tens of thousands in a few months is not the same as giving it to a hundreds of millions, to billions of people. Probably, it will be fine. Or maybe it forces a new and deadlier strain to emerge. I don’t doubt they are being thorough, but there is a small risk it will created newer, stronger versions of the virus. Bit like MRSA superbugs. You kill the weakest strains and the most resilient proliferate.

Wishing to be balanced, naturally I searched for for authoritative views and opinions, using the term ‘Covid-19 vaccines in development‘.

There are many strict protections in place to help ensure that COVID-19 vaccines will be safe. Like all vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines should go through a rigorous, multi-stage testing process, including large (phase III) trials that involve tens of thousands of people. These trials, which include people at high risk for COVID-19, are specifically designed to identify any common side effects or other safety concerns.

World health Orgainsation, October 2020, Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Vaccines

A month ago, according to WHO, no vaccine was ready, now it’s being rolled out by the NHS.

A coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine developed by Pfizer/BioNTech has been approved for use in the UK.

The vaccine will be made available from next week.

The vaccine has met strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness set out by the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Other vaccines are being developed. They will only be available on the NHS once they have been thoroughly tested to make sure they are safe and effective.

So far, thousands of people have been given a coronavirus vaccine and no serious side effects or complications have been reported.

The NHS will start giving the coronavirus vaccine as soon as it is available.

You will be contacted when it’s your turn.

Coronavirus vaccine (2nd December, 2020)


Testing times? (Links)

 

European Medicines Agency, COVID-19 vaccines: development, evaluation, approval and monitoring

 

New York Times (2nd December, 2020), Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker RECOMMENDED READ.

~ 7 are approved for early or limited use
~ 0 are approved for full use

“Vaccines typically require years of research and testing before reaching the clinic, but scientists are racing to produce a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine by next year. Researchers are testing 58 vaccines in clinical trials on humans, and at least 87 preclinical vaccines are under active investigation in animals.”

The NY Times section on the AstraZeneca vaccine is interesting.

“The British-Swedish company AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford developed a vaccine based on a chimpanzee adenovirus. On Nov. 23, they announced that a preliminary analysis of their Phase 3 trial revealed the vaccine was up to 90 percent effective, depending on the dosage. But uncertainty over the results have clouded its prospects.

They looked in particular at how people at different ages responded to the vaccine, studying 160 people aged 18 to 55 years old, 160 between 56 and 69, and 240 70 years or older. They didn’t observe any serious side effects at any age. Encouragingly, the older volunteers produced about as many antibodies against the coronavirus as the younger ones.

On Nov. 23, AstraZeneca and Oxford announced that the vaccine had good efficacy, based on a study of the first 131 cases of Covid-19 in the trials in the United Kingdom and Brazil.

I’m impartial here, and the US will favour and be biased towards wholly US companies. Still, based on a few hundred test subjects, one of more of whom did have unpleasant reactions, and with questions raised over integrity, this vaccine has been approved for hundreds of millions of doses. (But see BBC, next)

 

BBC Covid vaccine update: When will others be ready?

Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine:
Pfizer/BioNTech published its first results in November.
The UK is due to get 40 million doses.
About 43,000 people have had the vaccine, with no safety concerns.
2nd December, the UK became the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for widespread use.

Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine:
The UK has ordered 100 million doses.
Trials with more than 20,000 volunteers are still continuing.

Moderna vaccine
The UK will have five million doses by the spring
30,000 have been involved in the trials, with half getting the vaccine and half dummy injections (placebos)

 

Regulation Affairs Professionals Society, COVID-19 vaccine tracker

 

This next one is more interesting. I heard about this recently and thought. “What? No? Really? That’s mad!” It’s called ‘human challenge trials‘ and is considered unethical. It is unethical. And it is planned for the UK!

The world is in a rush for a vaccine, big pharma wants its payday, big business and governments, and indeed voters (sorry, I meant the general public) want things back to normal, so shortcuts are being taken.

Rather that giving the ‘rona jab (like the flu jab), and waiting to see if it is effective, these trials take healthy volunteers and intentionally infect them with a (potentially fatal) virus, then apply the vaccine see if the vaccine works. And or give them the vaccine as a preventative and then infect them. They are guinea pigs.

I’ll hold my hands up here. I do not trust governments or big business to have our best interests at heart, not if it conflicts with theirs. So, my concern is this. What if, next time, it’s not 3% mortality, but 30%, and what if, having gained a ruling to allow such trials, they decide it’s best (for them, personally) to do it again. And maybe not inform people at all. Y’ know, for the greater good. Or to paraphrase Spock, “The greed of the few outweigh the needs of the many.”

Some scientists argue that a “human challenge trial” could speed up the vaccine clinical trials and answer questions about the vaccine’s efficacy and long-term protection.

In this type of trial, healthy volunteers are given a potential vaccine and then intentionally infected with the virus.

Usually, researchers wait for a person given a potential vaccine to be exposed naturally to the virus. Then they look at how well the person was protected by the vaccine.

That means people can’t really know the risks of participating in the study, so they wouldn’t be able to give high-quality informed consent. This is an essential part of modern clinical trials.

Healthline, Here’s Exactly Where We Are with Vaccines and Treatments for COVID-19

 

Fierce Pharma, COVID-19 vaccine players will split $100B in sales and $40B in profits

 

Forbes, Pfizer Covid-19 Vaccine’s Five Big Unknowns.
“Analysts estimate that the Covid-19 vaccine market could be worth $100 billion with 40% profit margins from which Pfizer could grab $15 billion in profit.”

 

The Guardian, Pfizer and BioNTech could make $13bn from coronavirus vaccine. Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca pledged to make their vaccines available on a not-for-profit basis.

 

One of my favourite sayings is, “You don’t see the world as it is, but as you are.”
Doctors are hoping for a cure, patients are hoping there won’t be side-effects, the big pharmaceutical companies are hoping for mega-profits. At the same time, analysts and hedge-fund managers are eye-balling share prices and also hoping to make a killing on the stock market, if they can pick the right ‘horses’.

 


Trust issues

My generation has trust issues. We remember the tobacco industry lying for decades about the risks of smoking. We remember Thalidomide, which was used as a cure-all, “for treating a wide range of (other) conditions, including colds, flu, nausea and morning sickness in pregnant women.”

My dad died of lung cancer, caused by working in an asbestos factory, and we all know about that stuff. A lot of old people in my town went the same way, or now have asbestosis-related illnesses, apparently. When I was a kid, if you fell in the river, they pumped your stomach, just in case. It was a chemical town, and it was cheaper to dump in the rivers and streams than pay for waste disposal.

I worked in an aluminium plant. I was helping clear out the labs after it closed and came across medical references and studies going back to the 1950s, associating aluminium powder with a similar lung condition and with dementia. The health risks were known as at least far back as the 1930s; it’s called Aluminosis. The company I was working for made products for the paint, concrete and explosives industries. Some of our research was for the MOD and was classified under the Official Secrets Act. They, like the others, knew, but corporate profits and governments take precedent. Workers were never told of the risks.

“Recently, the main discussion has been on the neurotoxicity and in particular on the controversial relationship between Alzheimer’s disease and occupational or environmental exposure to aluminium.”

Elsewhere, while controversial, there is plenty of supporting evidence:

“Al is considered as a well-established neurotoxin and have a link between the exposure and development of neurodegenerative diseases, including Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Alzheimer’s disease (AD), dementia, Gulf war syndrome and Parkinsonism.”
(Maya et al., 2016)

I have a neurodegenerative disease, one related to ALS (aka Motor Neurone Disease). Coincidence, perhaps? Flags were raised when another person I worked with died of MND around the same time I was provisionally diagnosed. Such diseases are too rare to appear in clusters without questions being asked, though such things do happen. Epigenetics is another factor. These things can change you and can get passed on.

I’m not a fan of conspiracy theories, I’m too smart to be. Still, I also maintain a clause such that if there’s a lot of money involved, if billions are involved, dig deep first. Billions are involved. I’m not an anti-vaxer, but neither do I intend to queue up for untested drugs. After all, it was only 2016 when (unrelated) drug trials lefts one bloke brain-dead, and others with lifelong illnesses.


Virus awareness

Covid
Not questioning the dangers of SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) for the vulnerable, but the fatality rate is (only) 3%.
Covid jumped from Bats to humans.

 

MERS
For MERS-CoV (a close cousin of Covid-19), the mortality rate is 35%, and the numbers were growing, but are now (it seems) masked by Covid.
MERS jumped from bats to camels, then to humans.
Similar symptoms, but over 10x as deadly. It’s just as well the r0 infection rate is low. If this was Covid, the death toll would be in the tens of millions.

 

The Plague
For some strains of bubonic plague (still out there, however rare), it’s mortality rate is close to 100%. It’s a bacteria rather than a virus, but it makes a point.

 

Marburg and Ebola

Not had an outbreak for a while but Marburg virus (which, like Ebola, can cause hemorrhagic fever) has a fatality rate of up to 88%.
Spread from bats to monkeys and humans. (Cf New Scientist, 2008. Ebola-like virus returns to Europe after 40 years.)

It’s a case of perspective. Remember the Dustin Hoffman movie, Outbreak? The US was going to firebomb the town and everyone in it. The film was fictional, but it was based on ‘The Hot Zone’ incident. The latter event was real, if not terribly dramatic. Still, Ebola made it to the US in 1989.


STOP ENCROACHING!

These viruses have probably been around for thousands of years. The pandemics and outbreaks are not the bats’ fault, or any other animals, they are ours!

We are forcing these viruses out of their natural environments and into ours!

What has changed is that in the last century or two another virus (humankind) became an unending pandemic. We have poisoned the land, the air, the seas, the rivers. From the tip of Everest and far into the upper atmosphere, mankind’s crap. Dive into the deepest, darkest crevices of the ocean, some seven miles down, and more human rubbish. In the further, coldest, most isolated places on the planet, yet more of our discarded trash.

It forms a geological layer around the planet. We are now living in what is known as the Anthropocene. Purely on pedantry, not all scientists agree with the label, though they do agree with the basic facts.
(e.g. The Anthropocene Is a Joke. “On geological timescales, human civilization is an event, not an epoch.”)

That ‘story‘ (their word and emphasis) was in The Atlantic, a more established look can be found in better-known sources. Such as the National Trust, who ask, What is the Anthropocene?

That usually takes an extinction-level event, such as the meteorite that killed the dinosaurs. Or the passage of many millions of years. We managed it in a century of pollution and reckless progress!

BBC, 2019: Mariana Trench: Deepest-ever sub dive finds plastic bag

National Geographic: Deforestation explained

Between 1990 and 2016, the world lost 502,000 square miles of forest.
17% of the Amazonian rainforest has been destroyed over the past 50 years, and the rate is accelerating.
Over the centuries, 46% of trees have been felled, according to a 2015 study in the journal Nature.

TURN IT ON ITS HEAD!

We breed out of control and cut down the forests of the world to feed and house our uncontrolled numbers. We steal their land, their territory. In the same way, invading Europeans stole North and South America from the native Indians. Then we slaughter them for entering ‘our’ land. We took it, by force, so it’s ours. Fair, right?

That deer isn’t crossing the road, the road is crossing its woods.

The world, the natural world is dying, day by day, and people are too wrapped up in soap operas, smartphones and memes to notice, or care. I rarely leave the house, but even here, in town, I see its effect everywhere. It’s not what I see, or hear, it’s what I don’t – the ever decreasing numbers of birds, mammals, insects, etc.

Worldwide, in the last fifty years, the insect populations have halved. In some countries and areas, it has dropped by a staggering 98%. You may not like bugs, but you need them. The ecology needs them. And humans are too stupid to care because short term corporate profits matter more.

Monsanto, perhaps?

“Never mind bees dying out in a decade, we fell 112 points on the DOW-Jones today! We must make this right”

“The bees, Sir?”

“No, you fool, the stock price. Our dividends are on the line here. Wake up, man. This is serious!”

Shades of conspiracy theory! (But still, wait and see!). There is a feeling out there (*waves vaguely at the Internet*) that ‘they‘ are causing nature to collapse on purpose. There ARE elements of truth to the claims, worrying ones actually, but that’s another post. It goes like this, if there are only one species of bee, one ‘they’ modified, ‘they’ created, well, you can only get bees from them. Rinse and repeat for barley, wheat, everything. As it says in the best-selling Handbook of Economics*, “He who controls the spice controls the universe.”
*(OK, Frank Herbert’s Dune, but you got the point).

Thus, we have Invasion of the ‘frankenbees’: the danger of building a better bee (The Guardian, (2018).

Linguapress, 2018, GM crops – Frankenstein Food? Are “genetically modified” crops really dangerous? Or are they essential for feeding the world’s growing population?


Nature in the press, links

Guardian, 2019, Insect numbers down 25% since 1990, global study finds.

Guardian, 2019, Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature’.

Guardian, 2014, Earth has lost half of its wildlife in the past 40 years, says WWF.
Species across land, rivers and seas decimated as humans kill for food in unsustainable numbers and destroy habitats.”

National Geographic, 2018, Widely misinterpreted report still shows catastrophic animal decline.
New research shows that surveyed animal populations have declined by more than 50 percent on average in the last two generations

Reader’s Digest, 2019, 14 Facts About Animals That Have Gone Extinct in the Last 100 Years
“Since 1900, nearly 500 species of animal have gone extinct, according to a 2015 study.”

CBC, 2020, Animal populations worldwide have declined nearly 70% in just 50 years, new report says.

In the last fifty years, the number of humans on the planet doubled.

The cost?
The number of animals, insects, and forests halved, and we poisoned everything we touched.


By the numbers

I could code a table, or make a graph, but the numbers speak for themselves.

Year, World population, Carbon in atmosphere, remaining wilderness

1937, 2.3 Bn, 280 ppm, 66%
1954, 2.7 Bn, 310 ppm, 64%
1960, 3.0 Bn, 315 ppm, 62%
1978, 4.3 bn, 335 ppm, 55%
1997, 5.9 bn, 360 ppm, 46%
2020, 7.8 bn, 415 ppm, 35%

Source, via We don’t deserve this Earth (photos).

The graph below, while a bit skewed given the 12,000-year view, is nevertheless a fair reflection of our meteoric rise, and therefore impact.

world population growth over 12,000 years, 2k increments


Our impact, by images

The following pages were shamelessly ‘lifted’ from We Don’t Deserve Earth’s Facebook page.

 

Unnatural packaging

 

Deforestation of Borneo rainforests

 

The human word vs the animal world

 

Animals tracks

 

The lie that is rhino horn

 

River of plastic

 

Population, message in a bottle

 

A pet is not a toy

 

True cost of big farming

 

Deer crossing the road, road crossing the forest

 

littering

 

The shame of ivory poaching

 

deforestation

 

Tiger in the village

 

Bug splat on car windows

 


I’ll add a couple of my own because they matter. It matters. Because a river starts with a single drop of rain.

The first one is just a bottle of pop, cast aside by someone the minute they were done with it. Not their problem, let someone else clean it up.

 

 

Next is from our shopping – wonky grapes. I’m not getting started on the ridiculous notion of ‘wonky’ veg, I’ve covered it before, and it’s annoying. Some OCD lunatic decided their veggies had to be perfectly symmetrical and it all got ridiculous after that. No!

Anyway, our grapes. In a plastic box. Because it’s easier. Because it’s more profitable for the major stores.

When I was a kid, grapes, all fruit and veg, were in large, often wooden trays, or large cloth sacks. You got a brown paper bag, picked the amount you wanted, and they were weighed and priced at the till.

A few ‘problems‘ here:

The store has to have scales on every till (costs).

It has to have members of staff to check the weights (costs).

People will leave the bruised and nasty ones behind (losses, so costs).

It’s not as convenient (costs).

At every single stage, some bean-counter is asking, “How can we reduce costs, how can we sell more, faster; how can we make greater profits?”

The plastic box encasing the grapes isn’t for my convenience, or yours, it’s so the stores can make more money, with less effort. In balance, in the P&L sheet, the cost to the environment does not matter to them.

 

Wonky grapes

 

The next is our personal footprint. We do recycle and upcycle everything we can, but it mounts up. Old electronics, were possible, are passed on. Failing that, they are taken to the council recycling plant – in the hope they will be responsibly recycled.

The massive pile of recycling below was a one-off. A combination of fires at local plants and centres, plus council changes due to Covid-19 meant nothing was collected for several weeks. The collectors thought it was hilarious to see a body-sized bag of plastic. It made their day.

Most people around here did their usual – just threw it all in the regular rubbish bin. Or figured, no collection, not my problem, it can go into landfill. As one put it, “Hah-ha, I don’t have time for recycling”. (‘Cos it takes so long to put plastic in ‘this’ bin, instead of the one next to it).

 

Recycling for collection

 


Everything is connected

You drop a bottle of pop. What does it matter?

7,800,000,000 people drop a bottle of pop, what does it matter?

7.8 billion people drop a bottle of pop every day, what does it matter?

3 trillion empty bottles of pop a year, what does it matter?

But it’s not just one bottle of pop, it’s milk, inner cereal wrappers, yoghurt pots, the cellophane around your PG Tips or your cigs. It’s bread wrappers and sweet packets. It’s the rubbish from every meal you eat, everything you drink. Multiplied 8 billion times. It’s your coat-hangers, the tags on socks, the inserts to make shirts more presentable (easier to sell). It’s everything.

Nestle, for instance, make billions of dollars a year selling bottled water. Middle of a drought? Not their problem, their license lets them carry on, regardless. They really do not give a shit.
For instance, Nestlé Makes Billions Bottling Water It Pays Nearly Nothing For. (Bloomberg, (2017).
According to Ecowatch and others, in 2017 alone, Coca-Cola Produced More Than 110 Billion Plastic Bottles.

Next time you are in the supermarket, glance down the aisles, at hairsprays, shampoos, sealed perishables, tins, plastic combs, corn-on-the-cob holders, all the rest. Multiply that.

All those needs add costs, resources, fuel, etc. So you – we all – take it from nature, and give nothing back. Take. Take. Take. Minute by minute, year by year.

So now poisons like mercury, chemicals like PFAS, the microplastics in our food and drinking water, they all build up in our system. But that’s OK, that’s the cost of modern living.

And we encounter more and more ‘new’ viruses, like Ebola, SARS, Marburg, Covid-19.

And we don’t like that, no Sir, we do not!

But it’s OK, it will pass, it’s the cost of living. Right?

And now 1 in 2 people will get cancer in their lifetime. Not necessarily die, but get. One in two. Half the people you know will get, possibly die of cancer. But that is OK too, it’s just the cost of modern living.

Meanwhile, in places like Indonesia, child labourers are dying mining raw materials for your iPhone. Out of sight, out of mind, eh. Companies like Apple and Samsung, naturally denying all wrong-doing or involvement, profit, while you have the latest phone. Win-win. Right? I mean, seriously, who wants to be seen with last years phone, when everybody who is anybody only uses the very latest model.
Newsflash: the world is running out of the rare elements needed to make them.

This is not natural! None of it!

Covid may be natural, but the pandemic is not. The vaccine is not.

At Wuhan, where is all started, people pushed and pushed until nature pushed back.
Unproven, perhaps even coincidental, but the existence of a bioresearch lab in Wuhan, studying bat viruses, in the places were a bat virus passed to humans is not natural.
(I am not suggesting, nor do I believe the virus was created in any lab. However, I suspect it was an indirect consequence of actively looking for the thing, and finding it. Something the Chinese government at first worried about.)

And now we have a solution, a cure for a (mostly) none lethal virus. And all the people involved are rubbing their hands together, salivating at the billions they will make. Such profits matter to them. The natural world does not.

But just remember, if you find yourself being dragged for your vaccine, or to the Covid gulags, it all started because …

– two children were not enough.
In fact overpopulation is encouraged by some governments, corporations and religions, who want ever greater numbers of followers and consumers. It’s the capitalist way.

– It started because a billionaire wasn’t rich enough, will never be rich enough.
Why only be a millionaire if you can be a billionaire. Why settle at being a billionaire when the claim for being the world’s first trillionaire is still up for grabs?

– It started because you tossed away a food wrapper rather than carry it to a bin.

We’d are not at the Songbird stage yet, but one day, if we continue the path we are on, we will be. It’s a matter of when, not if.


Footnotes

Yes, if I had time I could find the very best peer-reviewed scientific papers, from the best journals. If you are an academic, you can get them yourself. If you aren’t, most are locked behind paywalls, they can be expensive to read, and are in terminally dull jargon. You just wouldn’t. I wholly encourage you to do your own research all the same. Perhaps start with Google Scholar.

Also, you may note I am routing for the planet’s ecosystem, not the human race. If a global pandemic with a 95% fatality rate popped up, my first thought would be for people’s pets, and for farm and zoo animals suffering. My second thought would be for the existing waste and pollution and for nuclear plants. My last thought would be that it gives the Earth a few centuries respite – until we become a problem again.

Covid-19 is not the pandemic, we are.

Ack

Been playing with computers since the stone age, online since the '80s, and developing websites since the '90s.

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