Update On The “Truth About Vaccines”

The Four Biggest Unanswered Questions

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

newspaper heallinesAs someone who is not normally a proponent of vaccinations, I have done my best to provide a scientifically accurate evaluation of the vaccines for COVID-19. My purpose has not been to change people’s minds.

  • If you have already decided to get vaccinated, I applaud you.
  • If you have decided not to get vaccinated, I respect your opinion.

I have written my articles for those of you who recognize the dangers of COVID-19, want to get vaccinated, but are hesitant because of all the negative chatter about the vaccines you have seen on the internet.

I believe every vaccine should be evaluated on the basis of its risks and benefits.

The benefits are clear. COVID-19 is a deadly disease. It is hard to believe that anyone could look at what has happened in the United States and around the world and not realize COVID-19 is not the common flu. It is the most infectious and deadly disease we have seen in our lifetime. Anything that can help us conquer this deadly disease is tremendously beneficial.

However, every vaccine has risks. The risks are extremely low, but they are not zero. And some past vaccines have had unexpected risks. For that reason, I have evaluated potential risks, including those “risks” you have heard about on the internet, against actual data. I have asked, “Are the risks real?”, “Are they serious?”, and “Do they occur often enough to be of concern?”

The yardstick I use for “Do they occur often enough…?” is the 1 in a million to 1 in 10 million range. The chance of dying in a plane crash is 1 in 10 million. Yet that doesn’t stop us from getting on planes to fly where we want to go.

I think that is an apt analogy. Serious risks from the COVID-19 vaccines are in the 1 in 10 million range. I am willing to take that risk because it will take us to where we want to go – the other side of this pandemic.

I summarized the risks and benefits of the COVID-19 vaccines in a recent “Health Tips From The Professor” article (https://chaneyhealth.com/healthtips/the-truth-about-vaccination/). However, science marches on. That article was written just one month ago, but it is time to update the data and also acknowledge what we still don’t know.

Update On The “Truth About Vaccines”

 

Last week I recorded a talk on the “The Truth About Vaccines”. Part of my motivation was to provide people with audio and video files that would be easier to share. However, I also used that opportunity to update the information on vaccines. Here are the files. Consider them a gift you can use to spread the word about the vaccines. 

 

Video Link: 

https://zoom.us/rec/share/WkDiDdygAnsY4-8YO9HvT55jPOOH73xZ2cTy-cIMDBWSEhOOxgrxliUoH7iAtD5l.hVMILee_-bJg0Xvd

Passcode: FUfZ$3F$ 

Audio Link:

https://zoom.us/rec/play/vIXHPtXHzg-WV8KQb7JjZws49J0z_LY2yOKA5fWIN93GKvLUw08ViOpOa9QcLlvzEphIKibSvcwhgmoV.07AjXCj2j8Ac1cQy

Passcode: FUfZ$3F$

Note: If you want to share these audio and video files or the “Health Tips From The Professor” article I wrote a month ago, share the link rather than forwarding this email to them.

Similarly, if you would like to share this article with someone, share the link given at the beginning and end of this article rather than forwarding this email to them.

This is because if you forward this email to someone who unsubscribes because they aren’t in favor of vaccinations, it will unsubscribe you from receiving future issues of “Health Tips From the Professor”.

The Four Biggest Unanswered Questions

questionsIf you feel like the experts have been “flying by the seat of their pants”, that is because we are. When COVID-19 burst on the scene and spread like wildfire, it was a completely unknown entity. We had no idea what to expect or how effective measures to control it would be.

In fact, much of what we thought we knew was plain wrong. That is why:

  • We went from “masks are only important for health care workers” to “masks only protect others” to “masks protect us” to “maybe we need double masks”.
  • That is why a state like California, which has remained mostly locked-down and a state like Florida, which has remained mostly open, have ended up with about the same per capita cases and deaths from COVID-19.

Clearly some mitigation efforts are needed to “flatten the curve” and prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed. We cannot just let the virus run rampant. But there is no clear agreement among experts as to which mitigation efforts are essential.

So, with perhaps a little humility, let me address the four greatest unanswered questions about COVID-19 and the vaccines. In each case, I will:

  • Give you the facts as we know them.
  • Give you my opinion.
  • Tell you what to watch for and what to do about it.

Here are the questions:

#1: How Long Will Immunity Last? Most headlines you have seen recently are asking this question with strong immune systemregards to the vaccines. But this question is equally important for those of you who have recovered from COVID-19. You also want to know if and how long you are protected from getting infected again.

Studies on this important question have mostly relied on measuring antibodies to COVID-19 in the bloodstream. And the answer appears to be similar for people who have been infected with COVID-19 and people who have been vaccinated, namely:

  • There are significant individual differences.
    • In some people, antibody levels decrease after a few months.
    • In other people, antibody levels appear to remain high for at least 6-8 months.

This is why the CDC is considering recommending a booster shot of the vaccine 6-12 months after you have completed your first round of vaccinations. It is also why some are recommending you get vaccinated even if you have recovered from COVID-19. The theory is that you will need to boost your antibody levels again to maintain full immunity from COVID-19.

But is a booster shot really necessary? As I have written previously:

  • Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines create memory cells as well as circulating antibodies.
    • Memory cells reside in the bone marrow and retain the blueprint for making more antibody-producing cells if the virus ever reappears. They are responsible for long-term immunity.
    • For example, many of you may remember a few years ago, a new variant of the flu virus appeared that hit young people much harder than people over 50. The explanation we were given at the time was that the new variant of the virus was similar to a flu virus that had widely circulated 30 years earlier. We had retained significant immunity to the previous virus, and it protected us from the new virus as well.
  • Because of memory cells, I am optimistic that we will retain significant immunity to COVID-19 even after circulating antibody levels have disappeared. But we won’t know for sure until we have accumulated enough data to know how well the vaccines protect us from COVID-19 a year or two down the road.
  • However, the data on patients who have recovered from COVID-19 is encouraging. So far, the reinfection rate seems to be around 1-2% and most of the recurring cases are mild.

So, should you get a booster shot? The risk of the vaccines will not change, so we need to look at the benefit side of the ledger.

  • If I am right and COVID cases are low 6-12 months from now, the benefit of getting a booster shot would be small. I’d give it a pass.
  • If I am wrong and COVID comes back with a vengeance, getting a booster shot might be prudent.

#2: Do We Need To Fear The Variants? You have seen the hype, “The new variants are highly contagious, Fearand vaccines may not work against them.” The first claim is correct, but existing evidence suggests that the second claim is overblown.

  • Tests with antibodies from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 and from patients who have been vaccinated find that these antibodies are 70-90% effective at neutralizing the new variants. To put that into context, 70-90% effectiveness is significantly higher than the average flu vaccine.
  • New data coming out of England, where one of the variants originated, reports that the reinfection rate for people who have recovered from COVID-19 is around 0.7%, and this has not changed since the British variant strain appeared. [If the antibodies produced from the original COVID infection were not effective against the new variant, we would have expected reinfection rates to increase as the new variant became the predominant version of COVID circulating in the country.]

Of course, these data have not deterred the fearmongers. They are telling you that it is only a matter of time until a variant comes along that is unaffected by vaccines. I consider this unlikely, and here is why.

  • Vaccines are directed against the spike protein of the virus. That is the same protein the virus uses to bind to our cells. Any mutations severe enough to eliminate antibody binding to the spike protein are also likely to prevent the spike protein from binding to our cells. If the spike protein can’t bind to our cells, the virus can’t enter our cells. Such mutant viruses would be non-infectious. They would die out spontaneously.
  • Because of that, I am optimistic that the current vaccines will retain significant effectiveness against new variants as they arise.

Once again, the CDC may recommend a booster shot to help protect against the variants. The pharmaceutical companies are also working on vaccines that are specific to the new variants.

Should you get one of these shots? Once again, we won’t know for sure until we see how well the vaccines protect us from the new variants.

  • If I am right and COVID cases are low 6-12 months from now, the benefit of getting a shot would be small. I’d give it a pass.
  • If I am wrong and a new variant causes a massive surge in COVID cases and deaths in people who have been vaccinated, getting another shot might be prudent.

#3: Can I Get My Life Back After Vaccination? You have probably heard the CDC recommendations that we can still get COVID-19 and pass it on to others after we have been vaccinated. We should, therefore, continue to wear masks and socially distance ourselves.

I have had many people say to me, “If that’s true, why should I even bother to get vaccinated?” Let me start by covering what we know and don’t know about this question. Then I will put it into perspective for you.

  • The immune cells in the upper respiratory tract are not in perfect sync with the rest of the immune system. That means that after vaccination we may not get quite the level of protection in our upper respiratory track that we do in the rest of our body.
  • In the initial studies with rhesus monkeys, the animals were vaccinated and subsequently a high titer of live virus was sprayed directly into their noses. Virus was detected in their nasal passages for about 3 days before it disappeared.
    • The animals did not have detectable levels of virus in their bloodstreams. Nor did they develop any disease symptoms.
    • However, the brief presence of live virus in their nasal passages led to the suggestion that one might still be able to pass the virus on to others after vaccination.
  • Small, preliminary studies with a subset of patients enrolled in the vaccine clinical trials suggested that the vaccines might only be around 60% effective at preventing upper respiratory tract infections.
    • That means if you are exposed to COVID-19, you might have a 40% chance of developing an upper respiratory tract infection. In most cases you will be asymptomatic, but you could pass the virus on to others.
    • The good news is that you are still 95% protected against severe disease, hospitalization, chronic long-term symptoms, and death. This is the answer to the “Why bother?” question.
  • However, new data out of Israel gives a more optimistic assessment. The latest study reported that the Pfizer vaccine is 89% effective at preventing even asymptomatic disease.

The bottom line is that the data are still coming in. It may be another 6-12 months before we have an accurate estimate of your risk of developing asymptomatic disease and passing the virus on to someone else if you are exposed to COVID-19 after being vaccinated.

So, what do I recommend? I can’t tell you what you should do, but I will tell you what I plan to do.

  • I still plan to wear a mask and social distance when I am out and about.
  • I am comfortable meeting with small groups of close friends and family without a mask, especially if they have also been vaccinated.
  • I am comfortable going back to church because our church follows an excellent social distancing protocol.
  • I am comfortable traveling to visit our family in California.
  • Once the number of COVID-19 cases has reached a low level, I will be comfortable resuming all my previous activities, subject, of course, to any state mandates.

News Flash: Yesterday the CDC updated their guidelines for people who are fully vaccinated. They now say that fully vaccinated people can:

  • Visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physically distancing.
  • Visit with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease indoors without wearing masks or physically distancing.
  • Refrain from quarantining and testing following a known exposure to someone with COVID-19 unless you develop symptoms.

The other CDC guidelines remain in place for now but are likely to change once a larger percentage of the population has been vaccinated.

#4: Why Not Rely On Diet And Supplementation? I have friends who tell me they are not going to get Vaccination Perspectivevaccinated. They will rely on diet and supplementation to keep their immune systems strong and protect them from COVID. I respect their choice.

In fact, I have a great deal of sympathy for that choice. When I think of protecting myself from colds and flu, my preference has always been to keep my immune system strong with diet, supplementation, and exercise rather than relying on vaccinations.

However, COVID is different story. It is a far deadlier disease. And even if it doesn’t kill you, it may impact your life for years to come. The long-term health consequences of COVID are perhaps even scarier than the 1% death rate.

Let’s take a realistic look at each of our options to defeat COVID:

  • In a previous issue of “Health Tips From the Professor” I shared some preliminary clinical studies showing that people with adequate vitamin D status were 60-70% less likely to be infected with COVID, hospitalized with COVID, in the ICU from COVID, and dying from COVID. That is impressive, but it is not 100% protection. And if your vitamin D levels are already adequate, you get no additional benefit from adding extra vitamin D to your diet.
  • In another issue of “Health Tips From the Professor” I shared a review written by a group of experts on respiratory diseases. They concluded that, in addition to a good diet, supplementation with a multivitamin and extra vitamin C, vitamin D, and omega-3s reduced the risk of dying from respiratory diseases. But they didn’t say it eliminated the risk. It did not guarantee 100% protection.
  • As for CDC guidelines, wearing a mask gives you somewhere between 30 and 70% protection. Social distancing and handwashing also help, but they don’t offer 100% protection.
  • Vaccination with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines gives you at least 60% protection against upper respiratory infections from COVID-19 and 95% protection against severe disease, hospitalization, long term health consequences, and death. It is the single most effective tool we have at our disposal, but it does not give 100% protection. As one of my pessimist friends put it, “95% protection means I have a 1 in 20 chance of getting it.”

COVID-19 is throwing everything it has at us. When faced with a deadly disease and several things I can do that offer partial protection, I choose a holistic approach. I choose to use every tool at my disposal. I choose diet, supplementation, CDC guidelines, and vaccination. Everyone should make their own decision about how best to protect themselves from COVID-19, but my choice is clear. I want to do everything in my power to avoid this disease.

The Bottom Line 

In the article above, I have updated my information on vaccines with data from the latest studies, provided you with resources about the vaccines you can share, and have given you updates and perspective on the four biggest unanswered questions about COVID-19 and the vaccines, namely:

  • How long does immunity last?
  • Do we need to fear the new variants?
  • Can I get my life back after vaccination?
  • Why not rely on diet and supplementation?

For more details, read the article above.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

The Truth About Vaccination

The Risks Of Vaccination

VaccinationMany of you want to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but you are fearful. You have been sending me videos and posts about the risks of COVID vaccines. You have been asking, “Are the vaccines safe?” I don’t have time to respond to all of you personally, so I have decided to combine my responses into a single article in an effort to provide some scientific perspective on the controversies surrounding vaccination.

Let me start by reminding you that I am not someone who automatically endorses every vaccine. I believe every vaccine should be judged on its risk versus benefit. I have discussed this in a previous issue of “Health Tips From The Professor”. In my view, the main benefit of getting the flu shot is to protect others, especially the vulnerable with weak immune systems. Accordingly, the only time I have ever taken the flu shot was the year my granddaughter was born, and that was to protect her.

However, the original strain of COVID-19 is 3-5 times more infectious (the new variants are around 7 times more infectious) and 10 times deadlier than the flu. Even worse, many people never fully recover from COVID. This dramatically changes the risk, benefit equation.

I believe everyone has the right to decide whether they will be vaccinated. I also believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion. I am not writing this article to argue with people who believe vaccines are a bad idea. I am writing this article for those of you who want to get vaccinated but are fearful because of negative messages about vaccines on the internet or from your friends.

In addition, if too many people decline to get vaccinated, the consequences could be catastrophic. This is another powerful motivator for writing this article. I don’t want people refusing the vaccines for the wrong reasons. You deserve to know the pros and cons of vaccinations.

I apologize for the length of this post. There is a lot of negative information about vaccines on the internet. I wanted to respond to as much of it as possible. Here is what I will cover in today’s article:

  • The public health argument for vaccination.
  • The personal argument for vaccination.
  • The risks of vaccination – A perspective.
  • The claims about existing vaccines.
  • The good news nobody is talking about.
  • New vaccines on the horizon.
  • What questions remain?
  • What alternatives do we have to vaccination?
  • The truth about vaccination.

Now, back to the videos and posts. Some are utter nonsense. Others are videos posted by honorable people (some of whom are doctors) who have overstated the risks and understated the benefits of the vaccines. The best analogy I have heard recently is flying in an airplane. If we were to focus on all the horrible things that can happen when a plane crashes, we would never get on an airplane again. However, the risk of a plane crashing is 1 in 10 million, so most of us have no trouble getting on airplanes to take us where we want to go.

I will start by making a science-based comparison of the benefits and risks of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Then I will touch briefly on some on the other vaccines that will soon be available.

To best understand the benefits of vaccination we need to envision what a world without effective COVID vaccines would look like. It drives me crazy when I hear people dismiss the risks of COVID by saying the death rate is only around 1% (1.5% to be exact). That vastly understates the risks of COVID.

The Public Health Argument For Vaccination

deadLet me start with the public health perspective:

  1. For us to get the pandemic under control and have life to return to normal we need to reach herd immunity. What would that look like without vaccines?
    • Let’s start with deaths. The best current estimate of the US population is around 340 million. According to the CDC, there have been 26 million cases of COVID-19 in the US to date. That is around 7.7% of the US population. The original estimates were that 40-60% of the population would need to be immune to reach herd immunity. That means an additional 110-178 million Americans would need to be infected with COVID-19 before we achieved herd immunity. With a death rate of 1%, that would require that an additional 1-2 million Americans die before we reached heard immunity.

And this is just a minimum estimate. The % of the population required to reach herd immunity depends on the infectivity of the virus. With the new variants that are now spreading through the US population, 70-90% of the population may need to be infected before we could achieve herd immunity. In either case, are we willing to let millions of Americans die so that we can achieve herd immunity without the vaccine?

    • Now let’s talk about the 99% who don’t die. The best current estimates are that around 80% of people who were hospitalized with COVID and 20% of those with milder disease suffer from chronic fatigue and/or some degree of lung or heart damage after they have “recovered” from COVID. In some cases, this resolves in a few weeks, but for many it lasts for months, and for some it still has not resolved almost a year later. Are we willing to let millions of Americans suffer from chronic fatigue or worse when this could have been avoided with vaccination?
    • Obviously, these are worst case scenarios. We have already seen 20 million Americans be vaccinated. Many more are eagerly awaiting their turn to be vaccination. However, the concern of the public health community is that unfounded fears of vaccination will prevent us from reaching herd immunity through vaccinations. That would mean that many Americans would die needlessly from COVID. And many more would suffer needlessly from chronic fatigue or worse for months after “recovering” from COVID.

In summary, the public health argument for you getting vaccinated is clear. You are protecting your fellow Americans (and perhaps your vulnerable loved ones) from dying from COVID-19 or suffering long term health consequences from COVID-19. Whether you are protecting 10’s of thousands, 100’s of thousands, or millions of Americans depends on the percent of the population that gets vaccinated.

2) What about lockdowns? Here the data are clear. Lockdowns are effective at temporarily slowing the spread of the virus, so that hospitals are not overwhelmed. But they are not effective for much else. They don’t kill off the virus. And it surges again when the lockdown is lifted. We could lurch from lockdown to lockdown until we have achieved herd immunity, but I don’t think anyone wants that.

The Personal Argument For Vaccination

  1. What about the benefits for you as an individual? Perhaps the best way of answering that question is to
    white mask

    address the recent announcement that you will still need to wear a mask after you have been vaccinated because you can still catch the virus and still spread it. I have seen some of you say, “If that’s true, why bother getting vaccinated?” I am as bummed as any of you that I will still need to wear a mask and socially distance after getting vaccinated but let me put that into perspective for you.

    • Let’s start with the science. While we often talk as if we have a single immune system, we actually have several semi-independent immune defense systems. For airborne viruses like COVID-19, our first line of defense is our upper respiratory tract. We have immune cells that line our nose, throat, and upper respiratory track that can slow or stop the viral infection. If the virus takes up residence in our upper respiratory tract, it can cause mild flu-like symptoms. Once the virus escapes the upper respiratory tract, it can invade the lower respiratory tract and our bloodstream. This is where all the bad things happen.
    • The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 60% effective at preventing COVID-19 from infecting our upper respiratory tract and 95% effective at preventing COVID-19 from infecting our lower respiratory tract and bloodstream.
    • This means after we have been vaccinated, we still have a 40% chance of being infected with COVID-19 and suffering mild flu-like symptoms. If we have been infected, we can still spread it to others. However, we have 95% protection against experiencing severe COVID-19 symptoms, being hospitalized, dying, and suffering from long term complications from COVID-19. This is the most compelling personal benefit of vaccination.
    • Finally, I should speak to the 40% risk of being infected. That is only a concern while the virus is widely circulating in the community. When we reach herd immunity and the virus levels are low, the probability of infection will also be low.

2) There is one other personal consideration. A recent study has confirmed what we already expected, namely that there is a considerable variation in immune response at every age. However, the surprising result was the study could not find any reliable predictor for the variation in immune response. In the words of one of the authors, “If you get infected with COVID-19, there is no way of telling whether it will be a mild cold or a trip to the ICU.” There have even been reports of young, healthy athletes dying from COVID-19. This does not happen often enough for it to affect the statistics. But if it were to happen to you or someone you loved, it would be important to you.

In summary, the personal argument for you getting vaccinated is that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines give you 95% protection from severe disease, hospitalization, death, and long-term health consequences caused by COVID-19. This protection can be important even for people who are young and healthy.

The Risks Of Vaccinations

benefits-risksNow let’s turn to the risks of vaccination. The risks are real, but let’s put them into perspective.

  1. The risks of vaccination need to be compared with the risks of attempting to reach herd immunity without vaccination that I have described above.

2) The risks of adverse events occurring after vaccination also need to be compared with the risk of those same adverse events occurring after infection with COVID-19, flu, or the common cold. This is something that has been completely ignored in most online discussions of vaccination risks. Every time something triggers our immune system, there is a small chance of it going haywire and triggering things like autoimmune responses and Bell’s palsy. It doesn’t matter if the trigger is a viral infection, a bacterial infection, or a vaccine. Simply put, you are equally likely to suffer from some of these adverse events if you get vaccinated or if you decline vaccination and become infected with COVID-19.

3) Some of the reports circulating on the internet are based on the Vaccine Adverse Effects Reporting Site (VAERS) despite the clear warning that these reports are unverified and may be inaccurate. Once the reports have been posted on VAERS, the CDC contacts the person reporting the event and obtains a complete medical history for the patient. If the patient died, the CDC obtains the death certificate and, if available, the autopsy report. They then use a sophisticated algorithm to determine whether the event was unexpected based on the patient’s age, health, and underlying diseases. Rather than using the unverified VAERS data, I have based my analysis on the CDC’s January 27 COVID-19 Safety Update which summarized the data collected from the first 20 million vaccinations.

The Claims About Existing Vaccines

Pinochio

Now, let’s turn to some of the claims you may have heard about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. There is a kernel of truth to each of the claims. However, the people sharing these claims are not sharing the full truth. As Paul Harvey used to say, they are not sharing “the rest of the story.”

  1. I suppose I should start by addressing the oft-repeated statements that these vaccines are not FDA approved, but have received Emergency Use Authorization instead. They are experimental. There is no data on safety. They haven’t been studied in animals. We have never had an mRNA vaccine before.
    • In an ideal world clinical studies on the vaccines would have continued another year or two so they could have received full FDA approval. We would have found out things like how long immunity lasts and whether we could space the shots further apart. However, we don’t live in an ideal world. Thousands of Americans are dying every day. Fast action was needed. That is what Emergency Use Authorization was created for. Clinical studies are still ongoing to resolve questions like how long immunity lasts. Things like that are nice to know, but they are not essential for stopping the pandemic.
    • They have been studied in animals. I suspect this hasn’t been discussed publicly because many people oppose animal testing.
    • Safety was evaluated carefully in the vaccine clinical trials. No major safety issues were seen in the Pfizer and Moderna clinical trials with about 50,000 participants. With any drug or vaccine, you never know about rare side effects until millions of people have received the treatment. At this point, more than 20 million people have been vaccinated and very few unexpected side effects have been reported (more about that below). The safety of these vaccines is well established at this point.
    • mRNA vaccines are not an untested technology. They have been in development for at least 10 years. Personally, I prefer the mRNA vaccines because they are cleaner than earlier vaccines. They have fewer components and there are, therefore, fewer things that can go wrong.

2) Now, let me address the claim that large numbers of people get sick after receiving the vaccine, and are headacheunable to go to work. That sounds scary but let me tell you “the rest of the story”.

    • Short term side effects of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines include pain at the site of injection, fatigue, headache, generalized muscle pain, chills, fever, swelling, and joint pain, particularly after the second shot. These are common symptoms for almost any vaccine. Not everyone experiences these symptoms, and for some people the symptoms are mild. However, the symptoms are severe enough for some people that it keeps them out of work. This is the kernel of truth.
    • However, what people spreading this claim aren’t telling you is that the symptoms are temporary. They generally clear up within 24-48 hours. And people who do have severe symptoms usually miss only a day or two of work.

The bottom line is you may feel lousy for a day or two after the shot (especially the second shot). You may miss a day or two of work. But you will recover in a day or two. You will be fine, and the temporary discomfort will be worth it because you have achieved 95% protection from COVID-19.

3) Next, let me address the claim that some people have required medical attention and hospitalization after Hospitalized Patientbeing vaccinated. That sounds even scarier, but here is “the rest of the story”.

    • What they are referring to are severe allergic reactions to the vaccine. In most cases, severe allergic reactions can be handled with an injection of epinephrine (Most people who are prone to severe allergic reactions carry an epi-pen with them at all times). However, severe allergic reactions can require medical attention and occasionally a brief visit to the hospital. Again, this is the kernel of truth, but here is “the rest of the story”.
    • The chance of a severe allergic reaction occurring is 1 in 100,000. That is about the same as your chance of being struck by lightning.
    • These are not random occurrences. 81% of the cases occur in people who have previously had severe allergic reactions to foods, medicines, vaccines, or insect bites, especially those people who have required medical attention or hospitalization in the past. In other words, most people know they are at risk ahead of time. If you have never had a severe allergic reaction to anything before, your chance of experiencing a severe allergic reaction to these vaccines is around 1 in a 100 thousand.

The bottom line is that if you have never experienced severe allergic response in the past, your chances of experiencing it following vaccination are slight. As a precaution vaccination sites ask you to wait for 15’ before leaving so you can be observed for allergic reactions. 

If you have suffered from severe allergic reactions in the past, your chances of having a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine are greater. This could require medical attention or a brief hospitalization. My recommendation for you is to consult with your physician before signing up for the vaccine. If you and your physician decide vaccination is right for you, get your vaccination from a medical center or clinic where physicians are available should severe allergic responses arise. 

The CDC has been following this side effect very carefully during the rollout of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The good news is that most people fully recover within 24-48 hours. This is also a transient side effect.

4) Another claim is that the vaccine will, in effect, sterilize women taking it so that they cannot become Pregnant Couplepregnant.

    • Let’s start with the kernel of truth. Early last year, two scientists who had formerly worked for Pfizer released a sent a letter to vaccine experts across the world warning that the Pfizer vaccine could cause sterilization. That sounds super-scary, but here is the “rest of the story”.
    • That letter was part of what is called “the scientific method”. Scientists are continually challenging existing paradigms. This constant challenging and testing of ideas is the true strength of the scientific method.
    • Scientists understand this. When someone challenges an existing paradigm, we ask, “Is it true? What do the data show?” Here are the data.
      • The Pfizer study excluded pregnant women from the study. However, 23 women became pregnant and gave birth during the study. Twelve of them were in the vaccine group and eleven in the placebo group. This is a small number, but…
      • The mechanism proposed for the vaccine causing sterility also applies to infection with the live virus. At this point, more than 100 million people have had COVID worldwide and there has been no decrease in fertility.

The bottom line is that the hypothesis proposed by the former Pfizer scientists has been tested and disproved. There is no detectable risk of infertility associated with either COVID-19 exposure or the vaccines. 

    • Unfortunately, most bloggers and many medical doctors don’t fully understand the scientific method. They don’t realize that things like the letter by the former Pfizer scientists are simply hypotheses and they don’t look at existing data to see whether the hypotheses are true or false.

5) Finally, there are claims that lots of people are dying after receiving the vaccine. This is based on misuse Shockingof the VAERS database. They are ignoring the warning that the data have not been verified. If you simply refer to the unverified VAERS database, 196 people have died following the first 20 million vaccinations. It sounds scary, but here is the rest of the story.

    • Every time one of these deaths is reported to the VAERS database, the CDC obtains the medical records and cause of death. Then they calculate whether the death was unexpected for someone with that medical condition. For example, 81% of the deaths have occurred in long term care facilities. When you read the medical records of these patients you find entries like “…in and out of hospice…” or “…has congestive heart failure and was in declining health…”
    • In the words of the CDC, the death of these patients was expected. They called these deaths “temporally-associated coincidental events.” I would word it a bit differently. These were patients on the brink of death. Anything could push them over the edge. It just happened to be the vaccination that did it.
    • When the CDC had completed their data analysis, they could only identify two unexpected deaths in healthy patients following vaccination. That is 1 out of 10 million – the same chance you have of dying in a crash the next time you get on a plane. When you compare that with a 1 in a hundred chance of dying and a 20% chance of having long term complications from COVID-19, the choice of getting vaccinated sounds a lot less scary.

6) I suppose I should close this section by addressing some of the videos you have shared with me of people claiming they have serious side effects from the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Unfortunately, these claims have not been submitted to the VAERS database, so they can be verified by the CDC. At this point they seem to be in the 1 in 10 million category, but I won’t know for sure until they have been submitted and verified. As a scientist, I deal with data, not speculation.

The Good News Nobody Is Talking About 

good newsThe good news nobody is talking about is that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines may trigger fewer autoimmune diseases than previous vaccines.

  • Whenever the immune system is triggered by either viral infection or vaccines, there is a small chance it will go haywire and trigger autoimmune responses, with Bell’s palsy and Guillain-Barre syndrome being the two most common. Typically, this occurs in at the rate of about 1 in a million vaccinations, with the exception of the swine flu vaccine a few years ago when it was 1 in 100,000.
  • At the 20 million mark with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines there have been zero cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome and 4 cases of Bell’s palsy. The CDC considered the Bell’s palsy cases as coincidental given the medical history of the patients. However, even if the Bell’s palsy cases were caused by the vaccination, that would translate into a rate of 1 in 5 million vaccinations. This is about the same as your risk of developing Bell’s palsy after you have had the flu.

New Vaccines On The Horizon 

Now, let me speak briefly about the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines that are likely to be available in the US shortly.

  • Both vaccines utilize a weakened common cold virus with the gene for the COVID-19 spike protein spliced in. This is a vaccine delivery system that has been used for decades and has a well characterized safety profile.
  • The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single shot vaccine that is 66% effective against moderate to severe disease and 85% effective against hospitalization and death.
  • The AstraZeneca vaccine requires two shots for maximum effectiveness. Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, clinical trials have determined the optimal time (3 months) between the first and second dose. The AstraZeneca vaccine is 76% effective after the first dose and 82% effective after the second dose.

In summary, both vaccines are slightly less effective than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Their safety appears to be comparable to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, but we will know much more about their safety after the first 10 or 20 million doses have been administered in the US.

What Questions Remain?

QuestionsWhat about the future? There are three big question marks at present.

  1. Will the residual effects of COVID-19 (chronic fatigue, loss of heart and lung function) resolve or are they permanent? That is a scary thought, but we won’t really know the answer to this question for another year or two.

2) How long will vaccine protection last? You have been hearing that immune protection may only last a few months. If that were true, it would be very discouraging. I could understand you thinking, “Why bother?” However, once again we need to look at “the rest of the story”.

    • If we just look at levels of circulating antibodies, there is a great deal of individual variation. In some individuals, circulating antibodies disappear in a couple of months. For others, they last much longer. If circulating antibodies were the sole measure of our resistance to infection from COVID-19, it would appear the immune protection from vaccinations is short lived.
    • However, both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines create memory cells as well as circulating antibodies. Memory cells reside in the bone marrow and retain the blueprint for making more antibody-producing cells if the virus ever reappears. They are responsible for long-term immunity. For example, many of you may remember that a few years ago, a new variant of the flu virus appeared that hit young people much harder than people over 50. The explanation we were given at the time was that the new variant of the virus was similar to a flu virus that had widely circulated 30 years earlier. We had retained significant immunity to the previous virus, and it protected us from the new virus as well.
    • Because of memory cells, I am optimistic that we will retain significant immunity to COVID-19 even after circulating antibody levels have disappeared. But we won’t know for sure until we have accumulated enough data to know how well the vaccines protect us from COVID-19 a year or two down the road.
    • The CDC may recommend a booster shot a year from now. Hopefully, by then we will know if it is necessary.

3) Will the vaccines protect us from new variants of the virus? Preliminary data suggest that the existing vaccines are likely to offer significant (70-80%) protection against the new variants.

    • However, I know you are seeing doomsday predictions that new variants of COVID-19 will emerge that will be unaffected by the vaccines. If that were to happen, we would be back to square one. We would need to create a new vaccine. However, before you panic, you need to hear “the rest of the story”.
    • Vaccines are directed against the spike protein of the virus. That is the same protein the virus uses to bind to our cells. Any mutations severe enough to eliminate antibody binding to the spike protein are also likely to prevent the spike protein from binding to our cells. If the spike protein can’t bind to our cells, the virus can’t enter our cells. Such mutant viruses would be non-infective. They would die out spontaneously.
    • Because of that, I am optimistic that the current vaccines will retain significant effectiveness against new variants as they arise. Again, we won’t know for sure until we have data on whether people who have been vaccinated are resistant to the new variants.
    • Once everyone has been vaccinated the first time around, the CDC may recommend a booster shot to protect against the new variants. Hopefully, by then we will know if it is necessary.

What Alternatives Do We Have To Vaccination? 

Let me close by asking whether there are alternatives to vaccinations. Are there other things we could be doing to prevent COVID-19?

  1. I should probably start with hydroxychloroquine. You have probably seen the video by a medical doctor saying that we should be using hydroxychloroquine rather than relying on the vaccines. She claims that hydroxychloroquine is safe and effective at preventing serious disease when given when someone is exposed or after the first symptoms of COVID appear. I am sympathetic to her viewpoint. If hydroxychloroquine had been proven to be safe and effective and it were readily available to the American public, I might feel differently about the importance of vaccination. But here is the “rest of the story” the doctor isn’t telling you.
    • This doctor who wants exhaustive clinical trials for the vaccines is willing to accept a couple of small, preliminary studies on the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine. More importantly, the pushback was not about the general safety of hydroxychloroquine, as she states. It was based on published studies suggesting that hydroxychloroquine increases the risk of death when it is given late in COVID treatment to an old and sick population group. We don’t know whether hydroxychloroquine increased deaths because it was given late in the infection or because of certain underlying health conditions those patients had.
    • In a rational world the government would have funded a larger “Warp Speed” study to determine who benefits from hydroxychloroquine and who is endangered by hydroxychloroquine. But we don’t live in a rational world.
    • In a rational world a drug as cheap and readily available as hydroxychloraquine would be available to doctors who wanted to prescribe it for their COVID patients. We don’t live in a rational world.

2) Finally, there is my favorite topic, a healthy diet and supplementation. In previous issues of “Health Tips vitamin dFrom the Professor” I have shared studies showing that adequate vitamin D status may reduce the risk of getting COVID. It also appears to reduce the risk of hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and deaths from COVID. I should emphasize that these studies suggest that adequate D status reduces the risk of getting COVID. None of the studies said it eliminated the risk of getting COVID.

I also have shared a major study that recommended supplementation to strengthen our immune systems and help protect us from respiratory diseases like COVID. Again, the authors said that supplementation reduced the risk of respiratory diseases. They did not say that supplementation eliminated the risk.

If you wish to strengthen your immune system with a healthy diet and supplementation and rely on that to protect you from COVID, I respect your decision. However, I caution you not to think of it as complete protection. It is partial protection. It won’t make you immune to COVID.

The Truth About Vaccination 

the truth signCOVID-19 is the deadliest disease we have seen in our lifetime. It attacks your lungs and every other organ in your body. It kills 1 out of every 100 people it infects. It even attacks and kills young healthy adults. Even worse, between 20% and 80% of its survivors may never fully recover. Their life may never be the same again.

The current vaccines offer 60% protection against mild disease and 95% protection against severe disease, hospitalization, death, and long-term complications from COVID-19 infection. The vaccines are not perfect. They do have some risks. There are still some unanswered questions. But the risks of vaccination are orders of magnitude less than the risks associated with COVID-19.

Good nutrition, mask wearing, social distancing, and hand washing also offer some protection against COVID-19. Here is my perspective.Vaccination Perspective

COVID-19 is throwing everything it has at us. We need to respond with every resource at our disposal. Supplementation, vaccination, wearing masks, hand washing, and social distancing all provide partial protection. However, in combination they provide much more protection than they do individually. For example, good nutrition strengthens our immune system and makes vaccines more effective. Vaccines give our immune system the ammunition they need to fight COVID-19. Thus, vaccines make good nutrition more effective at protecting us.

I choose and recommend a holistic approach. COVID-19 is a deadly foe. I choose to arm myself with every defensive weapon I have at my disposal. I choose good nutrition, supplementation, vaccination, mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing.

The Bottom Line 

COVID-19 is the deadliest disease we have seen in our lifetime. It attacks your lungs and every other organ in your body. It kills 1 out of every 100 people it infects. It even attacks and kills young healthy adults. Even worse, between 20% and 80% of its survivors may never fully recover. Their life may never be the same again.

The current vaccines offer 60% protection against mild disease and 95% protection against severe disease, hospitalization, death, and long-term complications from COVID-19 infection. The vaccines are not perfect. They do have some risks. There are still some unanswered questions. But the risks of vaccination are orders of magnitude less than the risks associated with COVID-19.

Good nutrition, mask wearing, social distancing, and hand washing also offer some protection against COVID-19. Here is my perspective.

COVID-19 is throwing everything it has at us. We need to respond with every resource at our disposal. Supplementation, vaccination, wearing masks, hand washing, and social distancing all provide partial protection. However, in combination they provide much more protection than they do individually.

For example, good nutrition strengthens our immune system and makes vaccines more effective. Vaccines give our immune system the ammunition they need to fight COVID-19. Thus, vaccines make good nutrition more effective at protecting us.

I choose and recommend a holistic approach. COVID-19 is a deadly foe. I choose to arm myself with every defensive weapon I have at my disposal. I choose good nutrition, supplementation, vaccination, mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing.

In the article above I have covered the following topics:

  • The public health argument for vaccination.
  • The personal argument for vaccination.
  • The risks of vaccination – A perspective.
  • The claims about existing vaccines.
  • The good news nobody is talking about.
  • New vaccines on the horizon.
  • What questions remain?
  • What alternatives do we have to vaccination?
  • The truth about vaccination.

For more information, read the article above.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

 

 

The Truth About Vitamin D And Respiratory Diseases

How Should You Prepare For This Winter?

deadSome health experts are making dire predictions for this fall when COVID-19 overlaps with our annual flu season. People are worried.

When people are worried, hucksters smell a quick buck and start coming out of the woodworks. They are touting all sorts of miracle pills and potions that will keep us safe this winter. The FDA is doing its best to shut them down, but it’s like the “Whack A Mole” game you may remember from the county fair. As soon as the FDA shuts one down, another pops up.

In the meantime, you are left trying to sort through the claims. I could write a whole book on the truth (and lies) about the claims you are seeing on the internet. But this week I will focus on vitamin D. I will give you unbiased answers to three questions.

1) What is the truth about vitamin D and respiratory disease?

2) Will vitamin D help protect you against COVID-19?

3) How should you prepare for this winter?

I am basing today’s “Health Tip” on a recently published study (H Brenner et al, Nutrients 2020, 12, 2488) looking at the effect of vitamin D status on deaths from respiratory disease in older German adults.

How Was The Study Done?

Clinical StudyThe data from this study were taken from an ongoing study in Germany looking at the effect of diet and lifestyle on health outcomes in older adults. In this case, 9548 adults, ages 50-75, from the region of Saarland in Germany were enrolled in the study between 2000 and 2002 and followed for an average of 15 years.

Blood samples were drawn at the time of enrollment and 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels were determined as a measure of vitamin D status. Deaths and cause of deaths over the 15 year period were obtain from German health records.

The basic characteristics of the study population were:

  • The gender breakdown was 43.8% men, 52.6% female.
  • The average age was 62.1 years.
  • Almost all participants were Caucasians of German or French descent.
  • 8% were vitamin D insufficient (25-hydroxyvitamin D of 30-<50 nmol/L)
  • 1% were vitamin D deficient (25-hydroxyvitamin D of <30 nmol/L)

Note: Almost 60% of this study group had an inadequate vitamin D status. The comparable figures for the US population are 42% with inadequate vitamin D status (34% vitamin D insufficient and 8% vitamin D deficient).

The reasons for this are likely two-fold:

  • Saarland is at the latitude of Newfoundland, Canada, so sun exposure is less than for most Americans.
  • Germans are less likely to consume supplements than Americans.

However, the fact that 60% of this study group has inadequate vitamin D status makes it a particularly good group to look at the effect of vitamin D status on health outcomes.

The Truth About Vitamin D And Respiratory Diseases

the truth signThis study found:

  • Vitamin D insufficiency (25-hydroxyvitamin D of 30-<50 nmol/L) increased the risk of dying from respiratory disease by 1.9-fold for men and 2.1-fold for women.
  • Vitamin D deficiency (25-hydroxyvitamin D of <30 nmol/L) increased the risk of dying from respiratory disease by 2.3-fold for men and 3.0-fold for women.

The authors pointed out that this was consistent with a recent meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials showing that supplementation with RDA levels of vitamin D reduced the risk of acute respiratory tract infections by 70% in people who were vitamin D deficient.

The authors concluded:

“Vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency are common and account for a large proportion of respiratory disease mortality in older adults…Our results, along with evidence from meta-analyses from RCTs [Randomized Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trials] regarding results of vitamin D3 supplementation on various outcomes, suggest that vitamin D3 supplementation could contribute to lowering mortality from respiratory and other diseases during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly among women.”

How Should You Prepare For This Winter?

Winter WindNow it is time to answer the three questions I posed at the beginning of this article:

1) What is the truth about vitamin D and respiratory disease?

There have been many studies suggesting that inadequate vitamin D status increases the risk of “catching” respiratory diseases such as the seasonal flu. Some of those studies showed that supplementation with vitamin D3 reduced the risk of catching respiratory diseases. However, most of those were small studies.

This study and the meta-analysis the authors referred to were much larger, better designed studies. Other large, well designed studies are needed. But, taken together, these two studies strongly support the hypothesis that inadequate vitamin D status significantly increases the risk of developing and dying from respiratory diseases.

However, we do need to put this into perspective.

  • Supplementation with vitamin D primarily protects individuals with inadequate vitamin D status. It doesn’t appear to offer significant benefit for individuals with adequate vitamin D status (>50 nmol/L 25-hydroxyvitamin D).
  • Supplementation with vitamin D at doses of 2,000 IU or less appears to be sufficient for most people. There is little evidence that megadoses are beneficial unless you are severely vitamin D deficient (more about that below).

2) Will vitamin D help protect you against COVID-19?

vitamin dThe answer to this question is less clear. As we learn more about COVID-19 we have learned that it is much more than just a respiratory disease. On the other hand, cellular studies suggest that vitamin D may interfere with the mechanism by which COVID-19 attacks cells.

What do clinical studies say? We are just learning. Four small clinical trials and one large study have recently been published or posted online as preprints prior to being accepted for publication.

  • The second study (HW Kaufman et al, PLOS One, September 17, 2020) used data from a major national testing center (Quest Diagnostics) and linked COVID-19 test results with 25-hydroxyvitamin D test results for 191,779 patients. This study reported that vitamin D deficiency was associated with a 30% increased risk of testing positive for COVID-19.
  • The third study found that vitamin D deficiency was associated with hospital admissions for COVID-19.
  • The fourth study found that vitamin D deficiency was associated ICU admissions for COVID-19.

Taken together these 5 studies suggest that vitamin D deficiency may increase the risk of being infected by COVID-19 and on the severity of the disease if you are infected.

I should point out that these studies are preliminary. Normally we would say that they need to be confirmed by larger studies before becoming incorporated into the standard of care for COVID-19.

You might be saying to yourself, , “Why is the medical community paying so much attention to preliminary studies?” The answer is simple:

  • The need is urgent. We need all the tools at our disposal to fight this deadly disease, and we need them now.
  • Vitamin D3 supplementation at 2,000 IU or less is inexpensive and safe. Plus, even if further studies find that our vitamin D status has no effect on COVID-19 risk, we know that adequate vitamin D has many other potential health benefits.

To summarize:

  • Preliminary studies suggest that adequate vitamin D status may offer some protection for COVID-19. These studies are not definitive. No reputable scientist is ready to tell you that vitamin D will ward off COVID-19. However, supplementation with 2000 IU/day or less of vitamin D3 is safe and may have multiple health benefits.
  • Vitamin D should not be considered a “magic bullet”. It is just one aspect of a holistic approach to creating a healthy body that is less susceptible to respiratory diseases like COVID-19.

3) How Should You Prepare For This Winter?

Winter WindAs we approach the winter months, the days are getting shorter and sun exposure is decreasing. This is the time of year when your 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels will be at their lowest.

At the same time, we are likely to see a convergence of the seasonal flu, flu-like illnesses, and COVID-19 this winter. You will need a healthy body, a healthy immune system, and adequate vitamin D status more than ever.

When asked about vitamin D and COVID-19 in a recent interview, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said, “If you’re deficient in vitamin D, that does have an impact on your susceptibility to infection. I would not mind recommending, and I do it myself, taking vitamin D supplements.”

I recommend supplementation with vitamin D3 to make sure your vitamin D status is adequate. The RDA for vitamin D is 600 IU for adults and 800 IU for seniors over the age of 70. However, because the efficiency with which we convert vitamin D3 to 25-hydroxyvitamin D varies from person to person, many experts recommend supplementing with 1,500-2,000 IU of vitamin D3.

I also recommend that you ask your health provider for a 25-hydroxyvitamin D test. If you are in the vitamin D deficient range, your health provider may recommend more than 2,000 IU/day of vitamin D3.

Finally, we should not rely on vitamin D alone. As I discussed in a previous issue of “Health Tips From The Professor”, I recommend a holistic approach for strengthening our immune systems, and I recommend the CDC guidelines for reducing the risk of catching both the flu and COVID-19.

I would note that social distancing, hand washing, and mask wearing are just as effective at reducing the risk of getting the flu as they are for getting COVID-19. In fact, some Asian countries practice mask wearing in public every flu season.

The Bottom Line

  • A recent study found that inadequate vitamin D status caused a 2-3-fold increased risk of dying from respiratory illnesses for seniors (ages 50-74).
  • A previous meta-analysis reported that supplementation with RDA levels of vitamin D reduced the risk of acute respiratory tract infections by 70% in people who were vitamin D deficient.
  • Taken together, these two studies strongly support the hypothesis that inadequate vitamin D status significantly increases the risk of developing and dying from respiratory diseases.
  • Preliminary studies suggest that adequate vitamin D status may offer some protection for COVID-19. These studies are not definitive. No reputable scientist is ready to tell you that vitamin D will ward off COVID-19. However, supplementation with 2000 IU/day or less of vitamin D3 is safe and may have multiple health benefits.
  • Vitamin D should not be considered a “magic bullet”. It just one aspect of a holistic approach to creating a healthy body that is less susceptible to respiratory diseases like COVID-19.

So, how should we prepare for this winter?

  • As we approach the winter months, the days are getting shorter and sun exposure is decreasing. This is the time of year when your 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels will be at their lowest.
  • At the same time, we are likely to see a convergence of the seasonal flu, flu-like illnesses, and COVID-19 this winter. You will need a healthy body, a healthy immune system, and adequate vitamin D status more than ever.
  • I recommend supplementation with vitamin D3 to make sure your vitamin D status is adequate. The RDA for vitamin D is 600 IU for adults and 800 IU for seniors over the age of 70. However, because the efficiency with which we convert vitamin D3 to 25-hydroxyvitamin D varies from person to person, many experts recommend supplementing with 1,500-2,000 IU of vitamin D3.
  • Finally, we should not rely on vitamin D alone. As I discussed in a previous issue of “Health Tips From The Professor”, I recommend a holistic approach for strengthening our immune systems, and I recommend the CDC guidelines for reducing the risk of catching both the flu and COVID-19.

I would note that social distancing, hand washing, and mask wearing are just as effective at reducing the risk of getting the flu as they are for getting COVID-19. In fact, some Asian countries practice mask wearing in public every flu season.

For more details, read the article above.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Health Tips From The Professor