by Arjun Walia, The Pulse:
- The Facts:
- A paper was published in PLOS BIOLOGY in 2015 titled, “Imperfect Vaccination Can Enhance the Transmission of Highly Virulent Pathogens.”
- The paper explains how the transmission of viruses and more severe strains by infected vaccinees could provide an opportunity for more virulent variants to spread if the vaccines do not stop transmission.
- Reflect On:Do COVID vaccines stop the transmission of the virus? Are they what some would call “leaky” vaccines?
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Penn State biologist David Kennedy PhD, published a paper in PLOS BIOLOGY in 2015 titled, “Imperfect Vaccination Can Enhance the Transmission of Highly Virulent Pathogens.” In it, he explains how the transmission of viruses and more severe strains by infected vaccinees could provide an opportunity for more virulent variants to spread.
The article described an experiment with a herpes virus that causes Marek disease in chickens. Vaccines against Marek disease are described as “leaky” because, although they protect chickens from getting sick, they don’t prevent them from becoming infected and transmitting the virus to unvaccinated chickens. That allows the most virulent strains that normally would die along with an infected chicken to survive and infect and kill unvaccinated chickens.
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Vaccines that keep hosts alive, but still allow transmission could thus allow very virulent strains to circulate in a population…Our data show that anti-disease vaccines that do not prevent transmission can create conditions that promote the emergence of pathogen strains that cause more severe disease in unvaccinated hosts.
In other words, the vaccinated and unvaccinated can still spread the disease, and the vaccinated are protected from severe disease and symptoms. But what happens if vaccines don’t protect against severe disease and symptoms of these new variants? This means that conditions can be created that cause more severe disease in the vaccinated as well.
We’ve seen this with seasonal flu, where vaccines have to constantly be updated because of changes in the virus, and we’re currently witnessing it with COVID vaccines. COVID vaccines will most likely be tweaked as new variants continue to emerge, and shots may be encouraged once or twice a year. Who knows?
Many people have already received a third dose and in some countries, like Israel and Canada, a fourth dose is being offered to the elderly and immunocompromised patients. This is something people aren’t used to, so many jabs in such a short period of time, along with mandates as well.
We now know that COVID vaccines don’t stop the transmission of COVID, and that variants like Omicron and Delta are able to escape the protection that COVID vaccines provide. This is why the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that even after they’re fully vaccinated, people should continue to mask up and socially distance in public places in part because they could still unknowingly become infected and transmit COVID to people who have and haven’t yet received their shots.
But do COVID vaccines help reduce the transmission? And does that mean they aren’t considered “leaky” vaccines? We will get to this discussion later.
An argument can be made that COVID vaccines protect people from severe symptoms and chances of hospitalization, but how much protection can they really provide for most people under the age of 70 who have a very high chance of survival? Furthermore, we musn’t forget that COVID added to an already existing problem of hospital capacity issues. Is COVID the issue or is an inadequate healthcare system?
And why hasn’t the science behind natural immunity been included in health policy? According to CDC statistics, for example, 95 percent of people who have died with or from COVID have an average of four other causes (comorbidities) listed on their death certificate. Furthermore, it’s not entirely clear how many people are ending up in hospitals with COVID, or because of COVID.
There are multiple real world examples showing that COVID vaccines fail to prevent transmission, including exponential outbreaks in the most highly vaccinated populations on the planet. This is why of the top five counties that have the highest percentage of population fully vaccinated (99.9–84.3%), the CDC identifies four of them as “high” transmission counties. This fact comes from a paper published in the European Journal of Epidemiology titled, “Increases in COVID-19 are unrelated to levels of vaccination across 68 countries and 2947 counties in the United States.”
Right now, COVID cases are surging in the five most vaccinated states.
According to a study published in October, infected vaccinated and unvaccinated people can also carry the same viral load. Viral load is a good proxy for infectiousness.
Another study was conducted with positive samples from asymptomatic testing at UC Davis for Healthy Yolo Together and at the Unidos en Salud walk-up testing site in the Mission District of San Francisco.
The researchers looked at 869 positive samples, 500 from Healthy Yolo Together and 369 from Unidos en Salud. All the Healthy Yolo Together samples were from people who were asymptomatic at the time of positive test result, and three-quarters were from unvaccinated individuals. The Unidos en Salud samples included both asymptomatic and symptomatic cases. Just over half (198) of the Unidos en Salud samples were unvaccinated.
A press release from UC Davis Explains,
When they analyzed the data, the researchers found wide variations in viral load within both vaccinated and unvaccinated groups, but not between them. There was no significant difference in viral load between vaccinated and unvaccinated, or between asymptomatic and symptomatic groups.
The idea that vaccines that are not successful in stopping the transmission of a virus can facilitate the emergence of variants has been written about by academics throughout and before this pandemic. This is evident by Kennedy’s 2015 paper cited above.
Saad O. Omais, a PhD candidate in Cellular and Molecular Biology at the American University of Beirut wrote a response to an article published by Karam Abassi, Editor in Chief of the British Medical Journal. In it he explains how COVID vaccines may not only allow the circulation of existing VOCs but can even facilitate the rise of new ones.
According to Eric T. Payne, MD, PMH, Pediatric Neurocritical Care & Epilepsy, Alberta Children’s Hospital Assistant Professor of Pediatrics & Neurology, the University of Calgary,
With widespread dissemination of COVID-19 vaccines during the pandemic, we are placing enormous evolutionary pressure on SARS-CoV-2 to continue mutating to evade our immune system, gain cell entry, replicate, and possibly cause illness. And, we are now using very “leaky” vaccines, making viral evasion from our antibodies that much easier. Only the fit will survive. Consider the reasonable analogy of antibiotic resistance – this is driven by the widespread and inappropriate use of antibiotics, not by people avoiding antibiotics.
In November, Dr. Günter Kampf, consultant hospital epidemiologist and Associate Professor for hygiene and environmental medicine at the University Medicine Greifswald, Germany published an article The Lancet explaining,
There is increasing evidence that vaccinated individuals continue to have a relevant role in transmission. In Massachusetts, USA, a total of 469 new COVID-19 cases were detected during various events in July, 2021, and 346 (74%) of these cases were in people who were fully or partly vaccinated, 274 (79%) of whom were symptomatic.
Cycle threshold values were similarly low between people who were fully vaccinated (median 22·8) and people who were unvaccinated, not fully vaccinated, or whose vaccination status was unknown (median 21·5), indicating a high viral load even among people who were fully vaccinated.2
In the USA, a total of 10 262 COVID-19 cases were reported in vaccinated people by April 30, 2021, of whom 2725 (26·6%) were asymptomatic, 995 (9·7%) were hospitalised, and 160 (1·6%) died.3 In Germany, 55·4% of symptomatic COVID-19 cases in patients aged 60 years or older were in fully vaccinated individuals,4 and this proportion is increasing each week.
In Münster, Germany, new cases of COVID-19 occurred in at least 85 (22%) of 380 people who were fully vaccinated or who had recovered from COVID-19 and who attended a nightclub.5 People who are vaccinated have a lower risk of severe disease but are still a relevant part of the pandemic.
It is therefore wrong and dangerous to speak of a pandemic of the unvaccinated. Historically, both the USA and Germany have engendered negative experiences by stigmatising parts of the population for their skin colour or religion. I call on high-level officials and scientists to stop the inappropriate stigmatisation of unvaccinated people, who include our patients, colleagues, and other fellow citizens, and to put extra effort into bringing society together.
Fact Checkers and The World Health Organization Weigh In
The discussion of the possibility of vaccines creating conditions for new variants to emerge more easily started several months ago, and was quickly shut down by third party Facebook fact-checkers and the World Health Organization. Yes, COVID vaccines don’t completely stop the transmission of the virus, but arguments can be made that they at least help in reducing the transmission. But, is that enough to stop what Kennedy is talking about in his paper? Does this still mean that these vaccines are “leaky”?