Covid 19 – Have you got questions?

Dr Emily Grossman

Dr Emily Grossman is a scientist, science author, TV broadcaster and climate activist who recently moved to Totnes from London. She is concerned about a lot of misinformation going around which is tragically costing lives. The recent “Newsletters” or “Truthpaper” that have been pushed through Totnes front doors of late are pushing an agenda of lies, and mis-direction which is creating a great deal of confusion and in some cases, fear. This “Fake-News” can be literally life-threatening.

As a scientist and also a professional communicator, Emily is keen to combat misinformation by assimilating the often complex information and responding directly to questions people may have, using plain English.

She says: For anyone wondering why I can be trusted, let me tell you a bit about me and why I’m doing this. I’m a science communicator by profession, which means that as well as having a science background (I have a Double First Class Degree in Natural Sciences from Cambridge University and PhD in molecular biology and genetics), I have the special skill of being able to research the science on pretty much any topic and translate it into layman’s terms. My work includes having done this for outlets such as BBC News, Sky News, The Guardian, The Science Museum and The Royal Institution, as well as being the resident science expert on various mainstream TV shows. I have also worked as a science teacher and I have written several best-selling kids’ books explaining science facts in a fun way. You can read more about my work and credentials by googling me (Dr Emily Grossman) and having a quick look at my website.

 

Much of the current situation is relatively simple;

  • The pandemic is very real – 85,000 more people died in 2020 than the average for the previous 5 years
  • Young, fit and healthy people can get very sick from Covid-19 too, and are in fact more likely to suffer from long-lasting and recurring symptoms (“long Covid”)
  • You can pass on the virus even if you don’t have symptoms
  • Masks DO make a difference – and they are NOT damaging to health
  • Lockdown is working
  • The only real long-term way out of the pandemic is the vaccine

Emily states that the vaccine has undergone extensive testing for safety and efficacy. The reason it was able to be approved so quickly is that, due to the urgency of the situation, huge amounts of money, resources and time were funnelled into its development, with scientists working on it non-stop. Our understanding of molecular biology technology has increased massively in recent years. All the usual phases of vaccine development, concerning safety, quality and effectiveness, were still able to be completed – just much faster than usual, sometimes with phases overlapping one another. The resulting vaccines were assessed in thousands of patients, and every single batch has been, and will be, checked for purity and quality, with health data being monitored on an ongoing basis as it is rolled out.

She says that waiting more than three weeks for a second dose, at least for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, is extremely unlikely to have any impact on its effectiveness and that it is very likely that all of the current vaccines will not only stop you from getting Covid-19, but will significantly reduce your chances of passing it on to anyone else – and inadvertently causing their death. That’s why even young and healthy people should have the vaccine, if and when they are eventually offered it.

Emily also advises that taking 4000 IU per day of Vitamin D – that’s 10x the RDA – is likely to reduce your chance of getting the virus. She says it’s perfectly safe at those levels, as long as you’re a healthy adult with no contraindications (she says you’d almost certainly know if you had any of those). In fact, most of the UK is deficient in Vitamin D and 4000 IU is far less than you’d get from sunbathing on a warm summer’s day.

Below are a range of questions that Emily has already responded to. If you have any questions that are not already addressed here, you can ask them in the comments section at the bottom of the page and Emily will update the article in due course – with answers to new questions appearing at the bottom of the article. Latest update, 10th February 2021.

 

Q: Is Covid really all that bad? The NHS is always struggling at this time of year and anyway I’ve seen videos of empty hospitals.

A: Covid-19 is around 6-10 times deadlier than flu. The Office for National Statistics recently reported that in 2020 there were around 85,000 excess deaths in the UK, compared to the average over the previous five years. There are now countless reports and videos from NHS workers saying the situation in hospitals is an order of magnitude worse than anything they’ve ever experienced. The reason there were photos and videos going around of empty hospital beds is that many wards have now had to close down so that all available staff and equipment can be diverted to Covid wards and ICU. Below are a useful graphic to illustrate what’s happening and a compelling video made by The Financial Times explaining how we know that Covid-19 is far worse than flu:

Graphic Link

Financial Times Video Link

 

Q: How do we know that the people who the media say died within 28 days of having a positive Covid test actually died OF Covid?

A: Yes, that’s a good question. It actually turns out that this method used by the Government to estimate Covid-19 deaths (as reported in the media) is an underestimation of the number of deaths due to Covid-19, not an overestimation. The number of people who died OF the virus is actually a little higher than the figures we’ve been told.

You see, it can often take quite a long time for the actual cause of death to be determined by autopsy and registered on someone’s death certificate. The Office for National Statistics keeps a record of this, and you can find those numbers for 2020 on this ONS chart here. Column E shows the number of people who died WITH Covid-19 each week, whilst column F shows the number of people who died OF Covid-19 each week, as determined by autopsy.

But because this method of determining the cause of death takes so long, the Government uses a proxy measurement of “deaths within 28 days of having a positive Covid-19 test” as a quick and easy estimation of daily coronavirus deaths. (It is important to realise that this is NOT the same as column E from the ONS data, which shows the numbers of deaths with Covid-19 regardless of when they had received a positive test.)

The time frame of 28 days was chosen because, if we use a longer one, too many people end up being included in the estimation who didn’t actually die from Covid-19, but if we use a shorter one, too many people get missed out who actually DID die from Covid-19 – but whose positive test had been received too long before their death to count.

Looking at the figures in column F from the ONS chart (actual deaths due to Covid-19) and comparing them to the figures used by the Government and reported in the media, it’s clear that “deaths within 28 days of receiving a positive Covid-19 test” is actually an underestimate of the number of people who actually died OF Covid-19.

This article does a god job of explaining why it’s really hard to get actual numbers of people who died of Covid-19.

 

Q: How much do masks actually help?

A: Virus particles are spread in the tiny liquid droplets which spray out of us when we breathe, speak, cough or sneeze. These droplets can hang around in the air, even outside, just like how mist hangs around in the air on a cold damp day. A mask will catch a substantial number of those droplets, significantly reducing your risk of breathing them in, whilst also protecting others from the droplets you breathe out. And remember, you can’t tell if someone, or even you, has the virus as they may not have symptoms, but they can still pass it on. That’s why everyone should wear a mask to protect themselves and others – especially indoors in public places. It’s important to make sure your mask fits properly, and f you’re using a disposable one, don’t re-use it and always change it as soon as it gets damp. For evidence on the effectiveness of mask-wearing see this Reuters Fact Check Link. See also question answered on 2nd February, below.

 

Q: Some people say that wearing masks can be bad for your health. Is this true?

A: Claims that masks deprive your body of oxygen, cause carbon dioxide poisoning or harm the immune system have now been throughly debunked. Oxygen and carbon dioxide molecules are much, much tinier than water droplets and so won’t be trapped by any of the kinds of breathable materials that are recommended for masks (such as paper or thin cloth), they will just go straight through and around the mask. This means that there’s no danger of your body being deprived of oxygen, or of carbon dioxide building up in your blood from “re-breathing your own breath”. Indeed surgeons regularly wear much heavier-duty face coverings all day without coming to any harm.

On the Alan Titchmarsh Show

Here’s a selection of articles about this:

Statement from Professor of Pulmonary Medicine Link

WebMD Link

BBC Link

See also question answered on 2nd February, below.

 

Q: I heard that 4000 IU / day Vitamin D might not be safe. Is it really worth taking it?

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about Vitamin D, but I can assure you it’s absolutely safe at those levels as long as you are healthy and have no contraindications (you’d almost certainly already know if you had any). 4000 IU per day is not a high dose, it’s far less than you would get from sunbathing on a warm sunny day.

The NHS guidance (400 IU / day) is out-of-date – it was based on a statistical error back in 2014 that was never corrected. Even doses of 20,000 are perfectly safe. In fact, some experts suggest starting on 10,000 IU / day for a few weeks as it takes a while to boost the levels in your blood. Liquid form is best (capsules or droplets) as it can be absorbed best that way .

In an interview on BBC News last week, Endocrinologist Dr Richard Quinton – who began megadosing Covid patients at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Newcastle in March – said Vitamin D deficiency is “absolutely rampant” in the UK at the end of winter, with most of the population being deficient – including every single BAME person. Yet Vitamin D is crucial in the function of the immune system and the modulation of the inflammatory response (that occurs in Covid patients). Indeed, Vitamin D deficiency is now highly suspected to play a key role in Covid deaths. So it’s a no-brainer really that we should all take it – there’s nothing to lose except a few pennies and everything to gain.

For more info on this, please have a look at my explainer post on FaceBook and at this recent Open Letter to the Government, signed by more than 200 top experts in the field, imploring them to start recommending everyone takes 4000 IU / day Vitamin D: Vitamin D For All Open Letter Link

And here’s few recent articles and interviews about the role of Vitamin D in Covid-19 prevention:

Meta-analysis of Vitamin D Covid-19 studies Link

BBC Link

Guardian Link

Independent Link

Daily Mail Link

Mirror Link

Evening Standard Link

Vitamin D with David Davis MP Video

Update 3rd February: A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that taking regular Vitamin D supplements could reduce the risk of Covid infection by up to a third. See ITV This Morning: Interview with Dr Micheal Mosley

 

Q: I have a question about Vitamin D, I think I’m right in thinking 10mg of Vit D is 400 international units? In which case we would need to be taking 100mg/day to have the required degree of protection? Also, what is the safe daily dose for children?

A: I think you are thinking of micrograms (μg) which are actually one thousand times smaller than milligrams (mg). 400 international units (IU) is 10 micrograms. For help with Covid-19 protection you need to be taking 4000 IU per day, so this is 100 micrograms. Kids aged 0-3 need 1000 IU per day, so that’s 25 micrograms, and kids aged 3-adult need 2000 IU per day, so that’s 50 micrograms.

 

Q: Is the vaccine safe? I’ve read a few studies that say it’s not

A: Science is about consensus. Even a handful of individual studies that contradict the consensus can seem scary, especially if you only read those. However, scientific consensus is considered to have been achieved when a very high percentage of studies have all arrived at the same result. In the case of the vaccine, the overwhelming scientific consensus is that the vaccine is safe, and that the chance of any serious side-effects is absolutely minuscule. You’ve got more chance of being hit by a bus. On the other hand, the number of people who the vaccine will protect from getting severe Covid symptoms, or dying, will be absolutely enormous. Indeed, we’ve already vaccinated nearly 10 million people in the UK, and there have been very few credible reports of adverse effects – other than a mild fever, tiredness and slight muscle aches for a day or so, which is exactly what we would expect after any vaccine. See also answers below on side effects and specific concerns re vaccine safety.

 

Q: Should I believe the scary videos going around about nasty vaccine side-effects?

In general we need to be extremely careful with anecdotal information about people who have had “side-effects” from the vaccine, as there’s just no way of knowing whether the effects they experienced were actually anything to do with the vaccine or might have occurred anyway. In general, the videos circling around at the moment are designed simply to scare people and should be ignored. All the possible side-effects of the vaccine were reported in the phase 2 and 3 clinical trials of the vaccines, where the effects could be properly compared to those of participants who were given a placebo instead. The side-effects found in these trials were carefully noted and this information is publicly available. See here for an overview of the reactions and side-effects you can expect from the vaccine: DW Made for Minds Link

If there IS genuinely something to be concerned about with the vaccine it’ll get picked up pretty quickly, just like it was when a small number of people had an anaphylaxis reaction to the Pfizer vaccine. Here is the UK this is achieved through the MHRA Yellow Card scheme. This scheme is designed for anyone in the UK to report side effects of anything, and if any patterns emerge then the MHRA takes action (and they also update the information on the medicine’s leaflet). If you happen to hear of anyone who is suffering from adverse effects that they think might be due to the vaccine (other than the sort of mild reactions that are expected after any vaccine), please do make sure they report them to the MHRA via the Yellow Card scheme. But beware of interpreting data from this scheme before it has been analysed by the MHRA – see answer below on why not to believe sorties of “vaccine-related deaths” as reported through the United States CDC VAERS scheme.

 

Q: Should we be worried about the people in Norway who died from the vaccine? Might it have dangerous side-effects?

A: At the time of the report, Norway had vaccinated more than 42,000 people. The 23 elderly people that died had serious underlying medical conditions and no link has been found to the vaccine. It’s sad, but not a reason to be unduly concerned. See these articles for more info:

New York Post Link

British Medical Journal Link

 

Q: How protected will I be after the vaccine?

A: Data from clinical trials shows that one dose of the Pfizer vaccine should give you around a 90% chance of protection 3 weeks after the initial dose, or 76% for the Oxford-AZ vaccine. This is as long as you ensure you don’t get exposed to the virus for the first 2 weeks after the dose. However, until you’ve had the second dose you should still act as if you’ve not had the vaccine. A few weeks after you’ve had the second dose, your protection should jump to around 95% for the Pfizer vaccine or 82% for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. But even if you’re not fully protected by the vaccine, you will almost certainly be fully protected from getting SEVERE Covid-19. In the clinical trials of all of the vaccines (which took place on tens of thousands of people), not a single participant died from the virus if they had received both doses of the vaccine. 

Some people are concerned that the recent data coming out of the Israel suggests that protection is looking lower than expected after one dose. However, it’s important to realise that these were data from people exactly 2 weeks after their first dose. Indeed, protection rose significantly over the next week and is expected to rise further beyond this.

Either way, it was always going to be the case that people should act as if they’ve not been vaccinated at all after having had the first dose, and until at least a few weeks after having had the second dose.

For the best info on the vaccines and how they work, see this: New York Times Link

For info on vaccine safety, see this: BBC Link

For info on vaccine effectiveness and how protected you are after the first dose, see this: BBC Link

And for a great article addressing common myths and misconceptions about vaccines, see this: W.H.O. Link

 

Q: Will having the vaccine stop me from being able to pass on the virus to the rest of my family?

No one knows for certain as it can’t be tested yet, but if we look at everything that is known about viruses, vaccines and the immune system, based on decades of research, it’s highly likely that the vaccine will indeed reduce transmission significantly. This is because if you have had the vaccine and are later exposed to the virus, your immune system will respond quickly to it, leading to fewer virus particles being able to build up in your nose, and for a shorter amount of time – meaning there’s likely to be much less chance of passing them on. Plus, if you are vaccine-protected you will have reduced or no symptoms if you are exposed to the virus, which means less coughing and spluttering of the virus particles all over everyone around you. So again, less chance of passing the virus on.

UPDATE 3rd February: New data from Oxford-AstraZeneca confirm that people who are vaccinated show a 67% reduction in transmission of the virus. This is fantastic news. Plus, given that all of the Covid-19 vaccines get your cells to make the SAME viral protein (which is presented to your immune system in essentially the same way, thereby triggering the same immune response), it is pretty reasonable to assume that we will see similar reductions in rates of transmission with all the other vaccines too. See the full press release here: Oxford University Link

 

Q: I’m having the vaccine this week as I’m a social care worker but really want to know whether or not this reduces the likelihood of me still being able to transmit it to those who haven’t been vaccinated. Is there any scientific clarity on this that you know of please?
A: Yes it is very likely to reduce the chance of you passing it on, but its still possible you’ll be able to transmit the virus, or get it yourself. So the advice is to act as if you’ve not had it, for now at least. But hopefully it’ll mean that you and your patients / clients are that bit safer.

 

Q: What do you think about the government’s decision to delay the second dose?

A: Based on decades of scientific work, in terms of what is known of other vaccines and the immune system, there is absolutely no good reason to think that the immunity gained by the first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine would decrease after three weeks. If anything, it will almost certainly increase. Indeed, in the trials of the much newer new Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine, the antibodies produced by the immune system in response to the first dose of the vaccine continued to rise for at least 2 months after the first dose was given. This can’t be confirmed for either the Oxford-AstraZeneca or the Pfizer vaccine as it wasn’t tested, but, certainly for the Oxford-AstraZeneca one, there’s no reason to think it would be any different – it delivers the same protein to the immune system as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, just by a different method.

The situation with the Pfizer vaccine is somewhat more controversial as it’s a different type of vaccine to the other two. The Pfizer vaccine delivers a piece of harmless RNA to the body, that then gets turned into a protein by the body – rather than delivering the protein itself as the other vaccines do. Some experts are concerned that this RNA vaccine might be degraded faster than the other types, leading to a drop in protection after the three week period, but this has not been shown at present.

It’s therefore understandable that Pfizer themselves can’t officially stand by the decision to delay the second dose of their vaccine, as they can only guarantee the results their research showed them. However, given the high chance that protection will indeed increase over time, and the fact that thousands are dying of Covid-19 daily, the decision was taken that it was better to get twice as many people up to single-dose protection, than to give half as many people both doses.

In my opinion, and that of a great many experts, this seems like very good logic. As hard as it is for those who were promised both doses only 3 weeks apart, given the crisis we are in and the how stretched the NHS is, it’s better on balance to try and get as many people as possible up to 76-90% through from the first dose as quickly as possible. 

UPDATE 3rd February: New data from trials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in Brazil, South Africa and the UK confirm that there’s no reduction in protection by delaying the second dose for 12 weeks. Indeed, the trials showed that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is highly effective with a 12 week gap between doses and that efficacy is in fact MUCH HIGHER with a 12 week interval than with a shorter gap. Given that all of the Covid-19 vaccines get your cells to make the SAME viral protein (which is then presented to your immune system in essentially the same way, triggering the same immune response), it is pretty reasonable to assume that we will see similar behaviour for the Pfizer vaccine, which is one of the reasons why the JCVI are fairly confident that the larger gap will be fine with the Pfizer vaccine too. Data for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine support this idea. 

 

Q: Will the vaccine work against different strains of the virus?

A: The vaccine delivers an antigen that teaches your immune system to recognise the “spike protein” on the surface of the virus particle. This protein is not generally mutated in the variants we’ve seen so far, which means the vaccine-primed immune system will still recognise it. In fact, it is unlikely that mutations will occur in this spike protein, as the virus needs it to enter our cells – which means that any virus particles with mutations in the spike protein are less likely to be able to survive. Although there are no clear data on this, it is thought that the vaccines will be effective against the Kent variant, and probably also against the South African and Brazilian variants.

Update 3rd February: New data show that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine seems to be effective against the South African variant of the virus. In the trials, not a single person who received the vaccine and then went on to catch Covid-19 – including from the South African variant – from 22 days after the fist jab ended up in hospital and/or died.

Preliminary data indicate that Pfizer vaccine is likely to be effective against the B1.1.7 variant of SARS-CoV-2 and also the the E484K mutation first seen in the South African variant. However, for variants with the E484K mutation, the amount of antibody required to prevent infection substantially increased. For more information see this article: Cambridge University Link

 

Q: How much do we know about the long-term safety of the vaccine?

A: Fortunately, with vaccines, severe adverse effects are generally seen very quickly. Of course we can’t know for certain, but based on the best scientific knowledge it’s extremely unlikely that for this vaccine there will be any serious long-term side-effects.

This has been carefully looked into by independent regulators the FDA and the MHRA, whose role is to regulate medicines and healthcare products and ensure their safety for the public. These independent bodies check the trial data and re-analyse it and also look to see if there is any evidence at all that we might see any serious long-term effects. They have concluded that the evidence is against this.

Most of the concerns that have been raised about possible long-term effects have really no basis in common sense, never mind science. Science does not know everything with any certainty – not really. But the human mind craves certainty, which we cannot provide. But what we CAN do is to extrapolate from what we DO know and make educated guesses. And the best educated guesses, based on things we do know, do not suggest that any of the things that are being bandied about are even remotely likely.

The bottom line is that there are a great many extremely smart people out there, who have devoted their lives to science and to helping people, who have been weighing all of this up for us. They know much more than us, and, having looked at everything, they have concluded it’s safe for people to take the vaccine. If they were in any way concerned that there were likely to be issues down the line it wouldn’t have been authorised.

I realise this argument doesn’t hold water for a small minority of people who are so scared of what science is telling us right now that they’ve decided it’s safest not to trust scientists in general – or who believe we’re all being controlled by some big conspiracy and that Big Pharma are out to keep us sick. Unfortunately, for those people there’s probably no point in trying to explain.

But let’s try a thought experiment instead…

Perhaps you are scared that the independent regulators (who, by definition, are civil servants with no vested interests in whether the vaccine gets approved or not) haven’t properly considered the possibility of harmful long-term effects? But in that case, why would they be allowing entire populations to receive the vaccine? This would mean that they are, at worst, acting with a desire to do harm, or at best, with complete ambivalence as to whether they do or not. Is this realistic? Consider for a moment that the people working in these independent bodies are human beings like you or me, and then ask yourself whether most people in these positions are more likely to be motivated to keep people well, or to potentially harm them?

 

Q: My husband is over 70 and asthmatic and has severe allergic reactions (anaphylactic shock) to certain food stuffs. Is the vaccine safe for him?

A: Only your GP can advise you on that. Your GP will know your husband’s medical history and will only offer him the vaccine if it is deemed to be safe for him to take it. In the mean time this article might be useful: Specialist Pharmacy Service Link

 

Q: If someone has had COVID 19, do they still need to get the vaccine? What are the benefits in this case?

A: Yes, absolutely. The kind of immunity you’ll get from the vaccine is very different to any naturally-acquired immunity you may possess from having had the virus. It’s thought that naturally-acquired immunity wears off after a while, so having the vaccine too will, at the very least, boost your antibody levels back up. Plus, even if you’ve got naturally-acquired immunity to one virus variant, there are other variants around that you could still catch. Indeed, there are now many cases of people having caught the virus more than once. The vaccine on the other hand carries an antigen to the “spike protein” on the virus coat, which is not mutated in most of the virus variants. So the vaccine works against a much broader range of virus variants.

 

Q: What is the difference in terms of being able to still carry and pass on the virus between someone who has had it naturally (and recovered), and someone who has been vaccinated? Can either or both of them still pass on the virus?

A: No one really knows for sure yet, as not enough time has passed for that to be able to be measured. It’s pretty likely that people who’ve had the vaccine will be less able to pass on the virus (and probably also those who’ve had it naturally, at least for a while) but the expert line on this is that, for the time being at least, we need to act like ANYONE can pass on the virus.

 

Q: I’ve heard that the vaccine can affect fertility – is this true?

A: It is true that the small print says the effects on fertility are “unknown”. But there is absolutely no evidence that the vaccine DOES affect fertility, nor any scientific reason at all to think it might – it’s just that there is also no evidence that it DOESN’T. It simply hasn’t been tested. Very few (if any) vaccines do impact fertility, so there was no reason whatsoever to think that this one might.

Here’s a nice analogy: They didn’t test the vaccine specifically on a large group of people all called Emily. Why? There was no good reason to think the vaccine might impact Emilys more than, say, Janes. So, in theory, they should write in the small print that the impact of the vaccine on people called Emily is “unknown”. Should I therefore be worried about taking the vaccine? No.

Nevertheless, the current advice for women trying for a baby is to delay for two months after having the vaccine, just as a precaution.

 

Q: If I strengthen my immune system in other ways is it ok if i don’t have the vaccine?

A: I’m afraid not. Whilst strengthening your immune system is definitely a very good idea, that may well not be enough to stop you from getting the virus (and passing it on). There are many people in hospitals on ventilators with perfectly good immune systems. Even taking high doses of Vitamin D, which plays an important role in the immune system and is likely to help protect you from Covid-19, is likely to only increase your protection by about a third at the most (see Vitamin D answer above).

The vaccines on the other hand will give you up to a 90% chance of protection (Pfizer) or 76% (Oxford-AZ) even after one dose, as long as don’t get exposed to the virus for the first 2 weeks after the initial dose. Once you’ve had the second dose, protection jumps up to around 95% (Pfizer) or 82% (Oxford-AZ). And in the clinical trials that took place on tens of thousands of people, not a single person died from Covid-19 after receiving both doses the vaccine.

 

Q: I’m young, fit and healthy. Do I really need to have the vaccine?

A: Whilst it’s true you probably have a lower chance of getting severe Covid-19 yourself, more and more young and healthy people are now getting seriously ill from the virus and many are sadly dying. Also, whilst the chance of dying from it is only around 1 in 200, the chance of long term damage (known as “long Covid”) is around 1 in 10. And what’s particularly worrying is that long Covid seems to be preferentially affecting those who are young fit and healthy. 

But even if you don’t care about your the risk to your own health, vaccination will almost certainly reduce the chance of you being able to pass on the virus without knowing it, which will help to protect those around you. This is especially important as you may, whilst carrying the virus, inadvertently come into contact with someone who can’t have the vaccine for medical reasons. 

Also, the NHS is very close to breaking point. So if you don’t have the vaccine and go on to get sick for the virus and need hospitalisation, that’s a hospital bed or a canister of oxygen you may be taking away from someone else who really needs them too.

Another important reason for having the vaccine even if you’re not vulnerable is that it’s only once enough people have had the vaccine that we can start getting to the overall levels needed for “community immunity”, whereby the virus levels in the population start to drop down significantly. So if we want to get to a place where we can EVER stop worrying about wearing masks or social distancing, as a general population, then we all need to do our bit to help. 

 

UPDATE 2nd February 2021:

Q: I’ve heard that the AstraZeneca vaccine contains monkey DNA and cells from aborted foetuses. Is this true?

A: In a word, no. The AstraZeneca vaccine contains a harmless part of a virus that usually infects monkeys, that has been grown in cell strains that were replicated from original kidney cells decades ago. The cells used in the manufacture of the vaccine are NOT from aborted foetuses. For more info see these articles:

Full-Fact Link

Reuters Link

 

Q: People say that the PCR test is not to be trusted as it produces false-positives. Doesn’t this mean that the actual number of Covid-19 cases is far lower than reported?

A: The concern over PCR false positives has been wildly misrepresented. The true false positive rate of the PCR test is actually less than 0.1%, which is absolutely tiny. In fact, the test has a much higher rate of false NEGATIVES, at 2-54%. This means that the test is far more likely to UNDER-report the actual number of Covid-19 cases than to over-report it. Here’s some useful articles explaining more:

Full-Fact Link

BMJ Link

Europe PubMed Central Link

 

Q: The inventor of the PCR test Kerry Mullis said it is not designed to detect viruses. Also there appears to be info suggesting that the test is actually looking for a sequence if DNA present in all humans. Have you seen this info yourself?

A: Yes I have seen the video you’re referring to. Firstly, its important to realise that the comments from Kerry Mullis’ were made TWENTY YEARS AGO, in reference to the use of PCR in the AIDS pandemic (and identification of the HIV virus). This is not relevant to its use in coronavirus detection. In fact, Mullis died in 2019 so it’s not actually even possible that he could have been talking about coronavirus. 

Secondly, even if we were to look at his concerns about the use of PCR for identifying the HIV virus, this may have been true at the time, but when Mullis invented PCR in the early ’90s he had no idea how the technology would change. At around that time it was taking scientists around 10 years to sequence the human genome – now the whole thing can be done in just one day.

So in terms of the value of using PCR to detect coronavirus today, it’s much more relevant to listen to the actual scientists who use PCR on a daily basis in their labs (as I did when I was doing my PhD), who have confirmed its value, than to listen to the concerns of the inventor based on technology as it was 20 years ago. To be honest it’s pretty appalling that the people in the video are making spurious claims based on Mullis’ words at this time, when he isn’t even around to correct them. 

As a colleague said to me the other day, it’s rather like the inventor of electricity saying in 1900 that electricity should never be used to cook food, when of course he had no way of knowing that electric ovens and microwaves would come from his invention.  

 

Q: I’ve seen a video from mask experts saying that masks won’t work against coronavirus as the virus particles are too small to get trapped by the mask, that masks cause harm by stopping carbon dioxide from escaping, and that they can actually cause infections. So how come we’re still being made to wear them? https://thehighwire.com/videos/mask-whistleblowers-tell-all/

A: Firstly, before believing any so-called ‘experts’ on the Internet, it is really important to check out who they are and whether they might be biased. The link to the video takes you to an Instagram site for a well known Covid denier and anti-vaxxer. He has no interest in seeking the true or correct answer and he has his conclusions pre-written. 

quick Google search will reveal that ‘mask expert’ Kristen Meghan showcased in the video is actually a professional whistle-blower, having claimed to blow the whistle on chem trails through her job in the military. She has never been able to provide the proof she says she had on chem trails and is now a member of health freedom activists groups that are against mask wearing and social distancing. Meanwhile the other ‘mask expert’ Tammy Clark is a director of Stand Up Michigan, a group that protests against lockdown and was involved in organising protests during the US election, trying to get people to stop the vote counting.

Neither of these women are either credible or unbiased and in spite of claiming to be ‘Government-trained OSHA masks experts’ their comments are not supported by OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) which in fact totally denies what they say about unsafe oxygen levels with masks.

So what about the points that these ‘experts’ make in the video? Are they correct in their arguments for why masks don’t work? 

Well they’re certainly right to say that virus particles are too small to get trapped by masks, but that’s completely irrelevant. The way that the virus is passed from person to person is through the fine water droplets that are sprayed out every time a person breathes, speaks, sneezes or coughs. If a person has Covid-19 – even if they don’t have symptoms – the water droplets they spray out may contain thousands or even millions of virus particles, and the tiny virus-containing droplets can stay suspended in the air for hours, even outdoors, just like mist on a cold day. Anyone else passing by can then breathe them in. The point is, these droplets are thousands of times bigger than the virus particles themselves, big enough that they can get trapped by the cloth or paper materials that most masks are made from. So it is these virus-containing droplets that masks protect us from. For evidence on the effectiveness of mask-wearing see these articles:

Reuters Link

University of California Link

As for what the two ‘mask experts’ say about masks causing harm – there is absolutely no evidence of this being true, even if you look at people like surgeons and nurses who wear masks for prolonged periods of time. Indeed, there have been many claims made that there are studies showing that masks deprive your body of oxygen, cause carbon dioxide poisoning or harm the immune system, but ,as I said in one of my previous answers above, these have now all been throughly debunked.

Oxygen and carbon dioxide molecules, like virus particles, are much, much tinier than water droplets and so they simply can’t be trapped by any of the kinds of breathable materials that are recommended for masks (such as paper or thin cloth), they will just go straight through and around the mask. The experts in the video already carefully told us how masks don’t trap virus particles as they’re so small… well oxygen and carbon dioxide molecules are thousands of times smaller. This means that oxygen and carbon dioxide can move freely through and around masks, so there’s no possible danger of your body being deprived of oxygen, nor of carbon dioxide building up in your blood from “re-breathing your own breath”. Indeed surgeons regularly wear much heavier-duty face coverings all day without coming to any harm.

Here’s a selection of articles debunking some of the specific claims about masks being bad for our health:

Ohio State University Professor of Pulmonary Medicine Link

WebMD Link

BBC Link

What about the ‘experiments’ they did on the video to SHOW that masks trap carbon dioxide? That carbon dioxide experiment actually makes no sense at all: if oxygen can get in through the mask, then carbon dioxide can get out. Simple as that. Most people are already aware that vapour from a vape can escape a cloth mask (there are plenty of videos of this on you tube) and this vapour is massive compared to the size of carbon dioxide molecules. Also, if those levels of carbon dioxide are so dangerous, why are they using a child to demonstrate it? None of it makes any sense.

In the video they also try to argue that the only reason that surgeons and nurses don’t pass out from wearing masks is that the work environment is controlled with higher levels of oxygen. Well I’ve spoken to several surgeons about this and this is simply not true. The wards in hospitals do not have increased levels of oxygen or controlled environments other than air conditioning (which is not allowed now due to Covid-19 anyway). In either case, the higher oxygen levels argument doesn’t work for nurses on the ward or district nurses as neither of those environments have higher oxygen levels, and there is no evidence whatsoever of nurses getting sick from wearing masks all day every day.

In terms of the argument that masks can cause bacterial infections, masks are far more likely to PREVENT bacterial infection than to cause it. Indeed, some of the people claiming exemptions, such as some asthmatics, have greater need of masks to stop allergens and pathogens getting in than the rest of us.

The bottom line is that there is a large body of science on masks which shows a modest but real effect – and no real downside. There are very very few people who should be exempt from mask-wearing, and this should be signed off by a doctor. It is probably not a coincidence that some of the countries that have done very well on Covid-19, with a fraction of the cases and deaths as the UK, have a high level of mask-wearing.

Here is a really good review of all the evidence on masks covering flow dynamics, animal studies, studies into masks for other diseases, comparative studies etc: PNAS Link

And here’s an overview of masks and face coverings for the lay public: APC Journals Link

And an article debunking some of the pseudoscience in this area: Psychology Today Link

 

 

UPDATE 3rd February 2021:

Important new information on delaying the second dose of the vaccine and on the vaccine reducing transmission of the virus:

New data from trials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in Brazil, South Africa and the UK confirm that there’s no reduction in protection from the virus by delaying the second dose for 12 weeks. Indeed, the trials show that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is highly effective with a 12 week gap between doses and that efficacy is in fact MUCH HIGHER with a 12 week interval than with a shorter gap. In addition, people who are vaccinated show a 67% reduction in transmission of the virus. This is fantastic news! It means that not only will the vaccine hugely reduce your chances of getting sick, it will also substantially reduce the chance of you being able to pass the virus on to people around you. See the full press release here: Oxford Link

Although this study was specific to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, given that ALL of the Covid-19 vaccines get your cells to make the same viral protein (which is then presented to your immune system in essentially the same way, triggering the same immune response), it is pretty reasonable to assume that the Pfizer vaccine will behave the same way, with sustained protection for the 12 week gap between doses and similar reductions in the transmission rates. Data for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines also support this idea. This is one of the reasons why the JCVI are fairly confident that the larger gap will be fine with the Pfizer vaccine too.

 

New Vitamin D study:

A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that taking regular Vitamin D supplements could reduce the risk of Covid infection by up to a third. See ITV This Morning: Interview with Dr Micheal Mosley  Don’t forget that the dose needed for help with Covid protection is 4000 IU / day – that’s 10 times the RDA – for healthy adults with no contraindications.

 

Q: I’ve seen a really worrying post on social media that’s being widely shared, claiming the CDC have said on their website that there have been thousands of deaths due to the vaccine. Surely this confirms it’s not safe?

A:  Actually no, there’s really no cause for alarm. The post is referring to the VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) self-reported database, which is indeed hosted by the CDC (the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). However, it’s important to realise that this database is open to absolutely anyone to add information to it and doesn’t require a person to input much information at all in order to have their ‘reaction’ to the vaccine recorded. Crucially, the information is not verified. In fact, the website itself carries this warning:

“VAERS can be used as an early warning system to identify rare adverse events. However it is not possible to use VAERS data to calculate how often an adverse reaction occurs in a population.”

What this means is that literally anyone can add a reaction to the site, regardless of whether it’s true, making the site ripe for abuse. It’s highly possible that there are in fact a lot of anti-vaxxers populating it with fake stories. It’s also worth noting that the site arranges things into categories that are not very helpful if we want to get a real sense of the severity of a reaction. For example, someone who felt hot and breathless for 15 minutes and ‘felt they were going to die’ is down in the ‘Life Threatening’ category.

Of course there will also be many genuine stories on the site, from people reporting things that truly did happen to them after receiving the vaccine. But even then, the point is that it can’t be verified whether their reaction was actually DUE to the vaccine or whether it would have happened anyway. This may seem like an odd thing to say, but think about it – people get randomly sick all the time. Sometimes people even die for seemingly no apparent reason. In a population where literally millions of people are receiving the vaccine, it’s entirely reasonable to expect that some people (probably quite a few actually) will randomly happen to get sick, or even die, at around the same time as they had their jab.

The ONLY real way to understand what side effects are actually CAUSED by the vaccine is through clinical trials, where any reactions can be compared to those in people given a harmless placebo instead of the vaccine. These trials have been carried out and the results have been made public. If there were any concerns at all in those trials the vaccine would never have been accepted by the scientists, let alone approved by the independent regulators the MHRA and the FDA.

The bottom line is that if there IS genuinely something to be concerned about with the vaccine it will get picked up pretty quickly, just like it was when a small number of people had an anaphylaxis reaction to the Pfizer vaccine. Here is the UK this is achieved through the MHRA Yellow Card scheme. This scheme is designed for anyone to report side effects of anything (it’s similar to the CDC VAERS scheme in the States but not specific to vaccines), and then if any patterns emerge the MHRA takes action. They also update the information on the medicine’s leaflet. So if you hear of anyone who is suffering from adverse effects that they think might be due to the vaccine (other than the sort of mild reactions that are expected after any vaccine), please do make sure they report them to the MHRA via the Yellow Card scheme. But again, this system is ripe for abuse and misinterpretation so please be wary of any raw data released from that scheme before it has been analysed by the MHRA to look for patterns.

 

Q: Is lockdown working?

A: Yes, the latest ONS/Oxford random survey confirms that the lockdown is indeed working. See this article: ONS Survey Link

 

Q: I’ve heard people saying that the Pfizer vaccine is dangerous as it puts mRNA into our cells which can change our DNA, and that we know that mRNA does this in other types of viruses such as HIV. Is this true?

A: Luckily the anti-science propangada flying around about mRNA vaccines being dangerous or “gene therapy” makes no sense at all. There is no plausible way that mRNA vaccines are going to alter your DNA. It would violate basically everything we know about cell biology. 

Pieces of mRNA are constantly being made by the cell, used and then destroyed. Each one is essentially a copy of a part of the cell’s DNA (a gene) which is transported out of the nucleus to be used as a recipe for making a specific protein. Once the protein is ready, the cell then destroys the mRNA recipe.

The Pfizer vaccine inserts a small piece of viral mRNA into the cell that caries the recipe for the coronavirus spike protein. This spike protein is then made, and as soon as this has happened the mRNA it is destroyed. The protein on its own cannot cause a Covid infection, however it does trigger an immune response to coronavirus, which is what the vaccine is required to do in order for it to be effective at protecting you from Covid in the future. At no point can the viral mRNA enter the nucleus where your DNA is, nor can it affect your DNA even if it could get in there. For more info see this article: Deplatform Disease Link

So what about this idea that other viruses can change our DNA? Well that’s true, but not relevant. Certain ‘retroviruses’ like HIV also contain RNA, but the HIV viral RNA is a long string of RNA that codes for many different proteins. The HIV virus also contain some ready-made proteins, some of which are there to help carry the viral RNA to the nucleus of the cell that the virus is infecting. There, the viral RNA is ‘reverse transcribed’ to something known as cDNA using an enzyme called reverse transcriptase, which is also supplied by the HIV virus. The cDNA is then integrated into the the infected cell’s genome (its DNA), which requires an enzyme called integrase – a third protein that is supplied by the virus. 

So can this same process happen with the Pfizer mRNA vaccine? Absolutely not.

Firstly, the Pfizer vaccine contains a short length of viral mRNA which codes for one single protein – the viral spike protein – with none of the additional carrier proteins or enzymes. It is not possible for this mRNA to be reverse transcribed to cDNA, and even if it could be, there is no reverse transcriptase enzyme around which would be needed to make this happen. Secondly, even if somehow it WAS possible to make cDNA from the viral mRNA (it’s not), that cDNA wouldn’t be able to interact with your own DNA because the vaccine mRNA is not targeted to the nucleus, which is where your DNA lives. And there are no proteins hanging around that could take it there either. Thirdly, even if the vaccine mRNA could magically make cDNA and magically get that cDNA to the nucleus, the cDNA wouldn’t be able to integrate with your DNA anyway as there is no integrase enzyme.

So whilst there is the occasional genuine expert out there who has said that there might be a TINY *theoretical* risk that the genetic material from the virus could be integrated into our DNA, this is virtually impossible. The bottom line is that mRNA is constantly being produced by the cell, translated into proteins, and then destroyed. If it could do any of the magical things being described above… to put it bluntly, we’d all be screwed.

 

Q: I saw a scary article called “COVID19 vaccines will destroy our lives”. It says the mRNA vaccine is not really a vaccine at all it’s ‘gene therapy’, that it contains PEG which can cause anaphylaxis, and that the mRNA can drive inflammatory diseases of the immune system and brain inflammation. What’s your view on this?

A: Thankfully this is all scaremongery nonsense. Each of these claims has been thoroughly debunked, using clear and simple language and citing sources, by epidemiologist Dr. Katelyn Jetelina in this blog: Your Local Epidemiologist Link

Dr Jetelina has a Masters and PhD in Epidemiology and Biostatistics and works as an Assistant Professor at a School of Public Health where her research lab resides and where she teaches – with a secondary appointment at a medical school. It’s really worth following her page “Your Local Epidemiologist” on Facebook.

 

Q: If you have the vaccine does that mean you can test positive for the virus or infect others? I’ve heard about something called vaccine shedding…

A: No. None of the vaccines contain any live virus so it is totally impossible to test positive or to pass on the virus as a result of having had the vaccine. However, no vaccine will give you 100% protection from CATCHING the virus so you may still be able to catch it and pass it on after having your jab, especially in the first few weeks. This is why it’s important to keep taking precautions (social distancing and mask wearing) until as many people as possible have been given both doses of the vaccine.

 

Q: Won’t delaying the second dose make the virus more likely to mutate and become resistant to the vaccine, just like how bacteria get resistant if you don’t finish your course of antibiotics?

A: This concern might sound reasonable but fortunately it makes no sense scientifically. You see, this is not at all how vaccinations work. Vaccines are about teaching your immune system to recognise something IN ADVANCE, whereas antibiotics are about killing off an infection that you ALREADY HAVE.With antibiotics, if you don’t quite manage to wipe an infection out by not finishing your course, there’s a possibility that the bacteria that do manage to survive will be those that are resistant to that antibiotic. In other words, not finishing the course SELECTS for resistant bacteria. However, the vaccine situation is very different. Once you’ve had the first dose of the vaccine you’ve already taught your immune system to recognise the virus, you’ve just not got quite as many cells ready to fight it as you would do after the booster. So the first dose simply doesn’t select for virus mutations that are resistant.

Viruses do mutate, but not nearly as quickly as bacteria, so even if new mutations DO show up in the mean time, it’s highly likely the same vaccine will still be effective against them. This is because it’s pretty unlikely any new mutation will randomly happen to impact the “spike protein” on the surface of the virus. It is this spike protein that the vaccine teaches your immune system to recognise, so as long as the new variant has the same spike protein, your vaccine-primed immune system will still fight it. Indeed, in the virus variants we’ve seen so far this spike protein is not generally mutated.

In fact, it is very unlikely that variants with mutations in the spike protein would survive anyway. These spike proteins are the only way that viruses can get into our cells, so if a virus mutation disrupts the structure of the spike protein the virus won’t be able get into our cells, won’t be able to reproduce, and will be an altogether pretty useless virus. Such a virus is liable to die out before it can pass its mutation on to more viruses. Indeed, it’s been observed that the virus spike proteins are not mutating particularly fast, so the current vaccines should hopefully stay effective even against any new strains that happen to arise.

Having said all this, the longer viruses are in circulation the more they mutate, so the quicker we get rid of it the better – and the vaccine is our best hope of doing that. This podcast has a helpful discussion with experts on this topic: BBC Link

 

Q: How worried should we be about the arrival of the new variants? 

A: Although the arrival of new variants is certainly concerning, is thought that the current vaccines will be effective against the Kent variant, and probably also the South African and Brazilian variants. New data show that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine seems to be effective against the South African variant as well as the original strains. In their trials, not a single person who received the vaccine and then went on to catch Covid-19 – including the South African variant – ended up in hospital and/or died.

Preliminary data indicate that Pfizer vaccine is likely to be effective against the B1.1.7 variant of SARS-CoV-2 and also the the E484K mutation first seen in the South African variant. However, it’s important to note that for variants with the E484K mutation, the amount of antibody required to prevent Covid infection was substantially higher. For more information see this article: Cambridge Link

 

Q: I’ve seen lots of posts and videos talking about something called VED, which apparently means that the vaccine will cause millions of people with underlying health conditions to start getting sick and dying over the next few months and years. Is this something to worry about?

A: What they are talking about is something called Vaccine-Associated Enhanced Disease (VAED), also known as Antibody-Dependent Enhancement (ADE). The video that has received the most coverage about this issue was made by Professor Dolores Cahill from University College Dublin, who sounds like she ought to know what she’s talking about. However, a quick Google of her name (it’s always important to do this before blindly trusting anyone who says they’re an expert, even if they appear to be pretty credible) reveals that her views are not backed by science or the institutions she says she represents, and she’s been asked to resign. For example, see this article in the Irish Times.

In terms of what she claims about how millions will soon start dying as a result of ADE, the original vaccine studies published data showing that they looked carefully for any evidence that ADE could be a risk and ruled it out. Specifically, they saw no evidence of it in the immuno-assays they did, even though they looked specifically for it. We also know that the independent regulators (the MHRA and FDA) were absolutely aware of checking for the possibility of ADE, because it is mentioned by them as a theoretical risk. If those independent regulators, whose primary role is to ensure the safety of the public, seriously thought that ADE was something to be concerned about there is no way they would have allowed the vaccine to be administered to literally billions of people during a pandemic.

This video contains a simple explanation of why we don’t need to be concerned about ADE: Zdoggmd Link

 

UPDATE 6th February 2021:

Q: This study was shared with me which promotes some questions. My understanding from reading it is that the use of the vaccines was successful in creating an immune response in the first period, but the effect is time limited and if the subject comes into contact with SARS-CoV “after” the effect of the vaccine has ended, they suffer much worst consequences than had they not taken the vaccine to begin with. The natural conclusion I come to, is that a subject that starts to take a Covid vaccine then has to continue to take a jab at regular intervals or be exposed to a much higher risk should they come into contact with the disease. Can you comment on the study, in case I misinterpreted the results or you are aware that there is something wrong with this study?

A: This is again to do with Vaccine-Associated Enhanced Disease (VAED), also known as ADE, which I discussed in the answer to the previous question above.

Firstly, it’s important to realise that the ADE-type responses that are being referred to in this paper are for vaccines against SARS-CoV, which is a different type of coronavirus to SARS-CoV-2. Secondly, and more importantly, none of these vaccines made it as far as human testing, as the ADE-type responses you refer to were detected in the animal studies and the vaccines were withdrawn.

These findings with the SARS-CoV vaccines meant that when scientists began developing vaccines to SARS-CoV-2, they knew exactly what type of problematic antibody responses to look out for in the animals as they had seen them before, and thankfully none were found. Indeed, they deliberately looked carefully for any signs at all that ADE could be a potential risk, at all stages of the development of the new vaccines, and absolutely no evidence was found. These data are all publicly available in the phase 1/2 research papers. If they HAD found that there was any chance at all of ADE being a potential risk, the current vaccines would never have been approved by the independent regulatory bodies the MHRA and the FDA. I explain this in a bit more detail in the answer to the question above.

 

Q: I’ve recently seen an article written by biologist who seems to know his stuff. He goes over reasons why there’s a chance that mRNA vaccines *could* alter DNA and be passed down to children… I’d appreciate you having a look at it and letting me know your thoughts. 

A: Ok so before trusting anything you read on the Internet it is really really important to first check out who wrote it to see if they have any biases – no matter how credible they may sound. Sadly, there more and more so-called ‘experts’ out there who are taking advantage of scared and vulnerable people by jumping on the opportunity to make money or boost their profile by spreading misinformation. These ‘experts’ are exploiting the fact that scare-stories and reasons not to trust the vaccines are exactly what people are looking for right now, so it’s an easy way to gain followers. 

A quick Google search of the author, Dr James Lyon-Weiler, reveals that he is a prominent figure in the anti-vax movement with a very definite agenda. In fact, he has already been pulled up by several credible websites for deliberately spreading misinformation – such as making a Facebook video claiming that the risks of side effects from the new Moderna vaccine are 40 times higher than they actually are, and making what microbiologists have called an “appalling online statement” saying that coronavirus was created in a laboratory – a claim that is not backed by any scientific evidence.

Politifact Factcheck Link

Emerging Microbes and Infections Journal Link 

Not only that, but Lyon-Weiler was caught on a hidden camera speaking at a big anti-vax event in Washington D.C., admitting that his actual AIM is to confuse people – to “keep their heads spinning.”

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Link

In terms of the article itself, Lyon-Weiler certainly does SEEM to know his stuff, which is what makes people like him so dangerous. But actually he doesn’t, he’s just really good at taking things that SOUND plausible (and have grains of truth in them) and them amplifying them into hysteria. 

What he’s also doing is cherry-picking certain scientific studies whose conclusions suit his agenda, rather than looking at the vast scientific consensus which shows these studies to be outliers and therefore not credible. This is a well-known anti-vax tactic. It’s like saying that you’re going to start avoiding people called Fred on the basis that one study showed that people called Fred were more likely to be murderers, despite the fact that countless other studies have shown that they’re not. The sensible thing to do would be to instead conclude that the connection between the name Fred and being a murderer, as found in that one single study, must have been a coincidence. Perhaps in that one study they only picked a few murderers to study, and they all just happened to be called Fred. Or perhaps the person who did the study was biased and was looking to give Freds a bad name. 

This is exactly how the spurious claim made by Andrew Wakefield – that there is a link between the MMR vaccine and autism – was debunked. An overwhelming number of other studies (for example this one in the Annals of Internal Medicine) have shown there to be no link at all between the MMR vaccine and autism, so as Wakefield’s study goes against the scientific consensus it should not be given any weight. Indeed, Wakefield studied only 12 children who had had the MMR jab (as opposed to the 660,000 children looked at by the study I mentioned above, to name but one example) so there’s a very good chance that some of those children could have just randomly had autism – rather than it being anything to do with the MMR vaccine. Plus Wakefield had a very definite agenda to show that the MMR vaccine causes autism, so it is highly likely that his results were biased and that he was not fit to do fair scientific research.

Wakefield’s research paper was subsequently retracted and he lost all scientific credibility. In 2010 he was struck off the UK medical register for misconduct. Yet some people still try to use Wakefield’s spurious theories as a reason to spread fear around the MMR vaccine, and indeed all vaccines. Such people promote Wakefield’s unfounded idea that it’s the presence of mercury in the MMR vaccine – in the form of a preservative called thimerosal – that causes autism. But this makes no sense at all. Whether or not autistic people have more mercury in their brains (a matter that is still being debated) is totally irrelevant here. The absolutely minuscule amount of mercury present in the thimerosal that used to be used in the MMR vaccine has been shown to be eliminated harmlessly by the body, and many of us are exposed to far far higher levels of mercury than that in our everyday environment.

The bottom line is that, not only has it been shown categorically that autism is no more common among vaccinated than unvaccinated children, it is also no LESS common in parts of the world where thimerosal WASN’T USED in vaccines. Plus autism diagnosis has continued to rise since the removal of thimerosal from US childhood vaccines in 2001. A recent review of this topic by the Institute of Medicine, looking at over 200 DIFFERENT STUDIES, confirmed once and for all that there is no causal link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

See these articles for further reading:

Review by the Institute of Medicine Link

Nature: The Discredited Doctor Hailed by the Anti Vaccine-Movement Link

Nature: Silencing Debate over Autism Link 

Public Health: Vaccines Myths Debunked Link

WebMD: Vaccine and Autism Myth Link

CDC: Vaccine Safety Link

WHO: Vaccine Myths and Facts Link

Science: Vaccine Myths Link

Anyway, back to Lyon-Weiler’s article and the mRNA Covid vaccine: the initial premise of the article is based on a paper that’s not even published and has lots of problems with it, he then cherry-picks a load of studies that suit his agenda but that go against the vast scientific consensus (which is that the chance of an mRNA vaccine being able to alter our DNA and absolutely minuscule) and he then draws dubious conclusions based on a ridiculous number of assumptions. Basically, he’s managed to create a bogus argument out of selecting random things.

The bottom line is that – as with many of these claims that are made to make money, push an agenda or gain prestige by exploiting vulnerable and scared people – if there was ANY TRUTH AT ALL in anything Lyon-Weiler says in his article, there is absolutely no way that the independent regulators (the FDA and MHRA) would have approved the vaccine. These independent bodies consist of large groups of very highly-skilled human beings, whose main job is to keep us safe. They meticulously check and recheck everything, they think of all the possible outcomes and side effects – however unlikely they may be – and they weigh up all the risks. They have done all of this and have concluded that the vaccine is safe to take. 

 

February 10th Update:

Q: I am really worried about the Oxford jab not working on the new variant which undoubtedly will spread as it’s more contagious and the government again aren’t doing enough to stop it.I know it probably stops severe disease which is great but my personal concern is long covid as everyone I know in their forties who’ve had covid (which is about 20) has long covid. What are your thoughts on the Oxford jab and the new variant?”

A: As explained by Jonathan van Tam at the Press Conference last night, this is really not something to worry about. The South African variant isn’t at all common in the UK, and even if it becomes more prevalent, the Oxford vaccine will still offer protection against it as it is similar to all the other vaccines. The scientists may decide to tweak the vaccine a bit in response to new variants, but even if that happens you’ll just get a booster some time down the line. There is absolutely no reason to need to wait for more information or to not get the vaccine, and there is no good reason to think that the Oxford vaccine is any worse at stopping you dying or landing in hospital than any of the other vaccines. See this twitter thread for more information.

 

END of answers 

 

Further reading:

For some other useful articles debunking Covid-19 myths, written by Molecular Biologist Emma Monk who lives in the New Forest, see here: West Country Bylines Link

And this site below does a fantastic job of clearly and simply debunking a whole load of common claims made by ‘Covid Sceptics’, as well as highlighting specific journalists, writers, academics, online activists, and others who have made prominent Covid Sceptic arguments – explaining why those voices should not be trusted: Anti-Virus: The Covid-19 FAQ Link

It’s also worth following Your Local Epidemiologist on Facebook.

 

Other Comments:

Kranti Anne Henriksen I have read in the I paper that as we get older, the vaccine might not give protection for so long. Do you know anything about this?
Jenny Williams Doctor Emily, you are one of the good ones! When I see some of the rubbish being spread on social media, sometimes I despair! No doubt you won’t win them all over, but what you are doing is what is needed to counteract the misinformation. Every time I go to an article about Covid in the local papers, there is one who calls him/herself Onelife-liveit who is one of the worst! I have tried to answer this person but it is hopeless.

I am Australian living in the UK, and some of the people I knew there as friends now seem to have been totally brainwashed by the anti-vaxxers. Interestingly, many of them seem to be associated with the wellness industry – particularly natural healing practices.

Keep on doing what you have been doing – we need people like you! Best wishes, Jenny xx

Ella Hi Emily,

I can’t help but feel nervous about the vaccine, being bombarded with differing opinions..
Please could you describe if there’s any long-standing vaccine it could be compared to? I have the flu vaccine each year for my asthma.
Is there any way of knowing long term effects? What might they be?
Can vaccines weaken the immune system? How does the body bounce back/ incorporate the vaccine as a support rather than challenge, as it were?

Thank you

Dan H Thank you for putting all this information together in a clear and accessible manner.
Maria I’m really worried about having the vaccine, the scaremongering on social media is unreal and it just petrified me. I have kidney disease so this is even more reason for me to be scared. But Im also worried for my 13 year old son. I’ve read things that said we are being injected with a substance that can cause AIDS? But my most worrying thing is. Also I’ve read that Australia have refused the vaccines and so has other parts of the world. There was also a documentary on the tv a couple of weeks ago and an MPs words were, “ we need to reduce the population, and in order to do this we need to get rid of life, and the vaccine is doing this. That was from an MP! It’s not just so called scientists scaring us the government are doing it as well…..Also WHY IS CHINA NOT BEING HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR THIS. Nothing adds up
Bob Shopped in Greenlife in Totnes and over half the people were not wearing masks in there. When I asked why they are not challenging people coming in who are not wearing masks they said they feel it’s discriminatory to ask someone if they have a medical condition. They also said government advice is not clear on the subject. Seems pretty clear to me:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/face-coverings-when-to-wear-one-and-how-to-make-your-own/face-coverings-when-to-wear-one-and-how-to-make-your-own

richard Thank you so much for the time and effort you have put into creating this great resource.
There are social media memes claiming that vaccines aren’t needed because the World’s scientists have somehow over looked either an existing pharmaceutical drug or some natural miracle remedy. One that is doing the rounds at the moment is Ivermectin. This has not gone through regulatory approval for Covid. Are you able to do a section on some of the claims made about this or other therapeutics?

 
Simon Williams One of the things I don’t understand is asymptomatic Covid. I obviously know it means a person has the desease without showing symptoms, but don’t understand the mechanism of that. Does the person have natural immunity and, if so, has that been investigated as a means of mitigating Covid in others?
 Simon Chater You are doing a wonderful public service, Emily. Thank you!!!

May I invite you to get in touch with the company I founded, Green Ink: http://www.greenink.co.uk? We are science communicators in environment and health. WHO is among our clients. The company employs science writers, either on staff or as associates. You would fit wonderfully with its ethos.

The fight for evidence-based decision making was never more important than it is right now and science writers have a vital part to play. Words are the best weapons we have in this fight and you use them exceptionally well. But we are at our most effective when we join forces. So, please, apply to become part of a team of like-minded souls.

Writing this from my bed, a case of mild fever after my first vaccine, for which I am eternally grateful to our brilliant NHS. Keep well yourself!

Tim Hall This was shared with me that promotes some questions.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22536382/

“……an April 2012 study of 4 types of SARS-CoV vaccines conducted by a group of Researches at the University of Texas (Medical Branch)
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22536382/

My understanding from reading the study is that the use of the vaccines was successful in creating an immune response in the first period, but the effect is time limited and if the subject comes into contact with SARS-CoV “after” the effect of the vaccine has ended, they suffer much worst consequences than had they not taken the vaccine to begin with.
The natural conclusion I come to, is that a subject that starts to take a Covid vaccine then has to continue to take a jab at regular intervals or be exposed to a much higher risk should they come into contact with the disease.

I would like to ask the medical people in chat if you could comment on the study, in case I misinterpreted the results or you are aware that there is something wrong with this study.”

I would love to hear any evidence- based , data driven responses to this.

Simon Robinson Wow EMILY! What incredibly helpful information and your answers are so clear and reassuring! I hope they will be shared widely with many others as you are doing the public a great service!
Nick The inventor of the pcr test kerry mullis said it is not designed to detect viruses. Also there appears to be info suggesting that thr test is actually looking for a sequence if dna present in all humans. .i may be able to find the links to this. To continue this discussion. Have you seen this info yourself ?
Sonja Morgenstern Wonderful work, Emily.

 

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Cornelia Davies Hi, This is a very useful article. Thank you for publishing it.

This is not a criticism, but I think you have an autocorrect typo in the answer to Q: How do we know that the people who the media say died within 28 days of having a positive Covid test actually died OF Covid?

In the first sentence you have ‘Cold-19’

All best, Cornelia Davies

  26 comments for “Covid 19 – Have you got questions?

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