COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate Built on Unscientific and Shaky Foundation: A Disaster that can be Prevented

COVID-19 vaccine issue has taken on a cult-like belief. First responders, health care, and other frontline workers who were hailed as hero until the vaccine mandate, suddenly are being fired from work and opinion pieces are being published in the newspapers calling for unvaccinated workers to be fired! The same public and employers had the audacity to call upon these people, asked them to risk their lives and put lives of others before theirs when there were no vaccines; these workers suddenly find themselves without sympathy and jobs. Before vaccines showed up, it was OK for these workers to take care of the needs of others, and now the same people, if refusing to take the vaccine, are pariah and dangerous? What an irony and what hypocrisy. The COVID-19 mania is running amuck; opinions are galore and “based on science” is thrown around loosely without most actually understanding the science or the data being presented about vaccine safety and efficacy or SARS-CoV-2 biology. While the US federal government has made it clear that it won’t support COVID-19 vaccine mandate, local governments counties, businesses, employers etc. have taken it upon themselves to coerce employees to be vaccinated, else face disciplinary action, or quit. This decision is just as rash, haphazard, and absurd as the initial response to COVID-19 pandemic. Dissent and questioning in science are normal; as a scientist, on this issue, I find my self disagreeing with the mass opinion and my fellow scientists. Science evolves constantly and context is key. The situation about COVID-19 is like the famous Indian parable of “Six Blind Men and an Elephant”.

Left: Blind men examining part of an elephant to identify the object under investigation. Right: Conclusions reached by each about the object. Similarly, without context, we come to conclusions that are incorrect or completely misleading.

While there is no denying that COVID-19 disease is real and causes severe disease and subsequent death in a subset of people, the vast majority recover and do not suffer from severe symptoms, and a subset remain asymptomatic or get very mild disease. Do a subset of people who have recovered have lingering symptoms? Yes, sure they do, but so do people recovering from a myriad of other diseases and infections (Chikungunya virus, dengue, mononucleosis, Lyme disease to name a few). Just because some of these infections are rare in the US or not predominant elsewhere doesn’t mean they are any less significant for people who suffer from these infections. And if one were to include chronic illnesses, the suffering and devastation is huge. But the psychological impact of COVID-19 is much harder to assess and will be much longer-lasting than any other impact. An opinion piece published online on June 22, 2021 in the WSJ “Are Covid Vaccines Riskier than Advertised” by Ladapo and Risch delineates risks associated with COVID-19 vaccines [1]. Here, I additionally point out some very serious issues that need to be considered about these seasonal vaccines.

Photo by Hakan Nural on Unsplash

First, flu vaccines haven’t eliminated influenza virus and neither have other vaccines eliminated existence of other viruses, RNA or DNA. Our focus for the masses should be to choose wisely and allow our immune systems to be trained naturally with threats that are not so potent (flu or SARS) and with help with threats that can be life-threatening or debilitating (for example smallpox, polio). Vaccinating kids and healthy adults for COVID-19 vaccine is like doing their home(work) for them so that they appear to be A students/workers, but in realty will fail miserably when faced with real life situations. Are we really helping them? But even more importantly, to fully understand the adverse events of COVID-19 vaccines in both children [2] and adults, which cannot be denied, we need a subset of population that hasn’t been vaccinated to serve as control. Otherwise, all data will be confounded. Even in clinical trials we have a placebo or a control arm and given that COVID-19 is not a life-threatening disease for the masses, the urge to vaccinate people in such haste is “unscientific” and dangerous.

Second, comparing COVID-19 vaccines to chickenpox or measles vaccines is like comparing apples to oranges. The former disease is caused by a RNA virus that mutates frequently and like for infections with flu virus, our immune system probably won’t waste its resources in making long-term memory immune cells as it must adapt to the mutated virus. Without being trained, the immune system is being compromised. The latter two diseases (chickenpox and measles) are caused by DNA viruses, which mutate at very low rates. Thus, our bodies make long-lasting memory immune cells; natural infection protects an individual for life. The only exception is if an individual was younger than 6 months of age or had a very mild, sub-clinical infection. Over time, antibodies become undetectable but that doesn’t mean that the immune system will not be able to mount a robust immune response, should an individual get re-exposed to these viruses. There is no vaccine for chickenpox, measles etc that is 100% efficacious and breakthrough infections are reported in vaccinated children. But importantly, after two doses of these vaccines, constant yearly boosters are not needed, and no further training of the immune system is required.

Third, there is no vaccine to-date, nada, zilch, that is known to generate better, more robust, and diverse immunity than natural infections. So why do people who already have had natural SARS-CoV-2 infection need to be vaccinated and are being forced to take vaccines? Where is the evidence that vaccines help them? And given the vaccine shortage in many countries, shouldn’t the focus be to vaccinate more vulnerable populations who may not be able to mount robust immune response?

Fourth, we also know that some people who get the COVID-19 vaccine have no detectable antibodies to the spike protein and get re-infected. As per CDC, “more than 4,100 people have been hospitalized or died with COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated” (https://www.cnbc.com/2021/06/25/covid-breakthrough-cases-cdc-says-more-than-4100-people-have-been-hospitalized-or-died-after-vaccination.html). Surely, this is an under reported number for breakthrough infections. What is the percentage of people who have naturally gotten COVID-19 and gotten re-infected and gotten very sick?

Where is the data that shows that people who were naturally infected + vaccinated have better immunity than naturally infected alone and no vaccine after re-exposure to the virus? We haven’t had the time to ascertain this yet. By forcing everyone to take this vaccine, we are eliminating a very important control group. If everyone is vaccinated, who is to say what is the difference between adverse events from COVID-19 vaccines versus natural course? And of course, eliminate all evidence that these vaccines can cause any adverse events at all.

Fifth, the statement that vaccinated individuals have higher antibody titers than vaccinated individual is flawed. In a paper published recently [3], the authors measured antibody titers (levels) from individuals, 3–14 weeks after vaccination and the titers were comparable to those obtained from individuals 1.3 months and 6 months post natural infection. The n in vaccinated group was very small (n=16) and most could have been just 3 weeks out. Importantly, even 6 months after natural infection, the individuals had high antibody titers. In another paper published in the Lancet, the authors found that the antibody titer falls after 3 months in vaccinated individuals [4]. These two findings emphasize that the research is evolving and it is too early to conclude that vaccines more effective than natural infections. It is also unclear as to why despite vaccinating millions of individuals, have the companies (Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca) not released and updated efficacy, safety, and biodistribution data? They rushed to release pre-clinical data, but that still remains pilot /Phase 1–2 data.

The antibody assays used to make claims about antibody titer levels or neutralizing ability are sort of artificial; the monoclonal antibody being used for these assays/detections is against the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of the spike protein and the binding-affinity of detection antibody to the natural spike protein maybe different than to the lab-constructs used as positive controls and spike protein present in the vaccines.

A natural infection will produce polyclonal and not monoclonal antibodies, and will produce antibodies to several regions of the virus, not just the spike protein and in some cases to the RNA itself. Hence, it will be more robust and much better equipped to handle rapidly evolving variants/mutants than vaccines, which will generate monoclonal antibodies. In fact, the viral RNA is the first to alert the innate immune system due to presence of pathogen-associated molecular patterns in the virus, resulting in release of IFN-g and activation of Toll-like receptors. Why wouldn’t the mRNA vaccine, which is akin to a piece of viral genome, also evoke innate immune responses? What is the proof that the mRNA is not degraded in the Lipid Nanoparticle formulation? Is there enough data on the pharmacokinetics and biodistribution of the mRNA-Lipid Nanoparticle?

Furthermore, the level of antibody titer has no correlation with protection conferred or neutralization capacity. Data published in the June 3, 2021 issue of the Lancet [4] demonstrates that antibody titers fall rapidly (8–16 weeks) after 2 doses of the vaccines, whereas the Nature study [3] showed very convincingly that naturally infected people have high antibody titers even after 6 months. Moreover, the Lancet studies shows that the Pfizer vaccine antibodies have limited protection against the delta variant of the virus.

Sixth, when the virus infects otherwise healthy people, our genes adapt and accumulate mutations that are advantageous [5]. Thus, our gene pool co-evolves with that of the virus and healthy people act as shields. They are more important to having a healthier society and reaching herd immunity than vaccinated people. And if vaccines are doing what they are supposed to do, then why are non-vaccinated people a threat?

Seventh, why is it OK to suffer from side-effects of the vaccine, but not suffer (may or may not) from natural infection and allow one’s immune system to be trained and do its job? Especially in children where heart inflammation appears to be the most common side effect, and not knowing that in the future what other adverse health outcomes these children might face from this vaccine-induced incident of myocarditis. Children’s immune system are best suited for “thymic education” of T-cells, whereas thymic function as well as output of trained immune cells from one’s thymus decreases significantly with age and stress. It is ironical when parents state: “I’d rather see my child get a side effect that doctors can help with than get COVID and possibly die.” The number of kids who have died purely because of COVID is very, very, very small, but the number of kids with side-effects due to vaccine is much bigger than the number of children with natural COVID infection. Thus, the benefits of vaccine in children DO NOT outweigh the negative consequences.

In summary, the fear and hype created by the media is more of a threat to our existence than this virus or the pandemic. The authorities and the policymakers are making rash, hasty, biased, and uninformed decisions putting humanity at risk of being feeble, biologically unfit, and unhealthy by forcing vaccines for COVID-19 on the masses. They are responsible for this mass hysteria and cult-like behavior and are just as guilty as the people on the other side of the aisle in imposing their personal beliefs. The fact is that intubation killed more COVID-19 patients and other comorbidities remains a significant factor for worse outcomes for individual suffering with COVID-19. The number of deaths caused by purely SARS-CoV-2 remain unknown. Ignoring the side-effects of COVID-19 vaccines and deaths, is unconscionable. Science should NOT be consumed in real-time by the masses as the data generated often have limited context and cannot be generalized. COVID-19 and seasonal vaccines should not be mandated, not now, not ever.

Aditi Bhargava, PhD

Literature Cited.

1. Ladapo J. A & A, R. H. in The Wall Street Journal (2021).

2. K. Fung. in Newsweek (2021).

3. Wang, Z. et al. mRNA vaccine-elicited antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 and circulating variants. Nature 592, 616–622, doi:10.1038/s41586–021–03324–6 (2021).

4. Wall, E. C. et al. Neutralising antibody activity against SARS-CoV-2 VOCs B.1.617.2 and B.1.351 by BNT162b2 vaccination. Lancet 397, 2331–2333, doi:10.1016/S0140–6736(21)01290–3 (2021).

5. Souilmi Y et al. An ancient viral epidemic involving host coronavirus interacting genes more than 20,000 years ago in East Asia. Curr Biol, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2021.05.067 (2021).

Dr. Aditi Bhargava is a molecular neuroendocrinologist with research focus on sex differences in stress biology and immunology.