The hottest news related to COVID-19 these days is around the vaccine: will it really be as good as they claim? Does it have the 666 apocalyptic chip? Will it genetically modify its recipients? Was it too rushed? The list goes on. I will attempt to answer some of these questions. I will not pretend to know about the contribution of vaccines to the apocalypse though.
What is a vaccine?
A vaccine is an agent created using either weakened living organisms (usually virus) or particles of the virus. The weakened organisms or their particles contain something called antigens which awaken the immune system of the body to defend the body from what it perceives as an attack. The immune system of the body fights off these invaders even if they were not going to cause any harm and in the process, sensors in the immune system become aware that these germs exist in the environment and can attack the body at any time. It, therefore, dedicates cells in the immune system called memory cells to keep a memory of the invaders and the right type of antibodies required to fight off that particular or very similar germ should it be encountered again. Some memory antibodies live for the lifetime of the person hence conferring lifelong immunity which others provide on short-term immunity.
How long do vaccines take to be rolled out?
The development of vaccines usually takes several years from conception to being rolled out for use in the general public. Before this year, the vaccine that had taken the shortest time to develop was the mumps vaccine which took four years to develop. No wonder people are concerned about the COVID-19 vaccine which in just a few months is now being given to the public. There is however an explanation for this.
While the previous method of developing vaccines involved isolating the germ and weakening it enough to not be dangerous before proceeding with tests in healthy humans, over the recent years, advances have been made in the field of vaccine development that focuses on using the building blocks of the virus (RNA or DNA) to create a chemical that directly targets these building blocks. For the virus that causes COVID-19, for example, research on it identified early its spike protein in the virus as well as the receptor it targets in the cells of the human body.
It was therefore easy for scientists to quickly design and develop vaccines and test them in animals very early in the pandemic. Scientists are using many different approaches to developing this vaccine including; killed inactivated virus, live weakened virus, fragments of SARS-CoV-2 proteins (particularly the spike protein), and DNA or RNA for these proteins.
While many countries’ pharmaceutical companies in the resource-rich world are developing more than 50 different versions of the vaccine, there are two that are ahead of the curve and have now been approved for use among the public especially those at highest risk for contracting COVID-19: the elderly and healthcare workers.
These two vaccines are now being used in the USA and some European countries. For both vaccines, two doses are required to achieve maximum effectiveness. The good news is that while the requirement for the vaccines being developed was that in addition to being safe for use in humans, they should confer at least 50% protection from COVID-19, both the approved vaccines provide more than 90% protection. There are also at least three other drugs which are in their last phase of safety testing (Phase 3 trials) with promising results so far.
Is it true that the vaccine will alter human DNA?
This is categorically not true. The vaccine does not integrate with human DNA at all. Also like all vaccines, it has been taken through the three phases of development. The first two phases called Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials, involve testing the vaccines in small numbers of healthy volunteers.
The purpose is to ensure that the vaccine is safe and to determine the right dose required to obtain maximum positive effects.
The final phase, Phase 3 trials involves testing the vaccine in thousands of people volunteers to see how effective they are. While some volunteers are given the actual vaccine in the right dose, others are given a non-active substance called a placebo.
All volunteers are then closely monitored for any side-effects and for development of the disease that the vaccine is meant to protect from, in this case, COVID-19. Safety monitoring continues after a vaccine has been approved for use in the general public in case there are side effects that were not seen among the thousands of people on whom it has been tested.
What about the microchip?
What I know for sure is that Bill Gates at an interview in March 2020 mentioned that it would be nice to have a digital signature with each vaccine to be able to identify which people develop the disease despite vaccination and which ones recover. Reference is made to a study, funded by The Gates Foundation, into a technology that could store someone’s vaccine records in a special ink administered at the same time as an injection but the COVID-19 vaccine is not part of the study.
Should you take the vaccine if it becomes available?
Currently, with the available approved vaccines, pharmaceutical companies have agreed to provide completely free of charge vaccines for 8% of Africa’s most at risk of COVID-19 by April 2021. When the vaccine does become available, each person will need to make a personal informed decision.
What we must keep in mind is that vaccines save lives either directly by getting vaccinated or indirectly by ensuring that those people with weakened immune systems are protected by the rest of us who are kept healthy by receiving the vaccine.
Dr. Miriam O. Lakero-Oketta
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