Vaccines – Who Needs Them?

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It’s a serious question that few have asked, and there’s no clear answer. Up till this point in the Coronavirus play, discussion on vaccines has been limited to one perspective – how effective might they be, and how long before one is available. Thanks to the rigors of lock-downs and upending of society necessitated – we are told – by the need to avoid the virus and “save lives”, interest in a vaccine that might save us from this hell has been intense, not least amongst the shareholders of pharmaceutical companies vying for a share of the global market.

This massive financial interest, hardly denied even by those who claim philanthropic concerns are their real motivator, has nevertheless led to some perverse outcomes and corrupt manipulation. The suppression and distortion of the true worth of Hydroxychloroquine is the greatest crime amongst these, as its leading advocate – Professor Didier Raoult of Marseilles – continues to observe; a worth that has been demonstrated globally by those countries where it has been approved or prescribed.

It now appears almost beyond doubt that the campaign against the use of HCQ, driven by pharmaceutical companies and their agents in governments and institutions, is because of its efficacy in treating COVID 19 infections, and so taking away the market for both other drugs and for vaccines. Prof Raoult has made this claim – and allegation against the French government of serious negligence that has cost many lives – since April. But just last week the case has become a nationally significant conflict following the prohibition against Raoult’s Mediterranee Infection Institute on using Hydroxychloroquine/Azithromycin treatment for COVID patients.

Not only is this prohibition quite contrary to principles of care and the doctor-patient relationship, but Raoult’s record of success in treating patients with the protocol is undeniable, and proven by his results – out of nearly 9000 patients attending the Marseilles hospital, of which 5,800 were treated with the HCQ/AZM protocol, just 30 deaths were recorded. A regional health official and regional MP have now made official protests in support of Prof Raoult’s right to continue the treatment, as described in this interview as well as in a rather bad English translation.

Prof Raoult, who repeatedly notes that he cannot predict the future behaviour of the epidemic and the changes in the virus, but has unfailingly correctly forecast its progress and likely developments, has recently also made some highly pertinent observations on vaccines. Unlike many of those who are sceptical or opposed to vaccines, Prof Raoult’s reservations on a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 are based on purely scientific observations of the behaviour of this virus and the particular characteristics of the infection it causes. Of these the most important feature is in the vastly different susceptibility of different age groups, which may be seen as a fatal weakness in the virus that can be exploited to defeat it.

The ability of younger people to “suffer” SARS-2 infection unscathed, and often without any symptoms – immunity effectively – forms the basis of the “Great Barrington Declaration” – a proposal for the safe development of natural immunity amongst the younger part of the population while older and more vulnerable people are isolated and protected. Although most sections of the health fraternity and mainstream media persist in wilfully ignoring this feature, instead emphasising all the cases of young and healthy people suffering serious illness or “long-Covid”, the statistics are unambiguous and unchanging since the start of the pandemic.

While sidestepping the claims in some quarters that no-one has actually died of COVID, because 99% of deaths are of people with some other serious illness, it is an incontrovertible fact that those who die from or with the Virus are overwhelmingly very old – and the majority in their eighties. The proportion of younger people developing serious illness or dying may be higher in some countries – notably in the US – where those age groups normally have greater morbidity from the diseases of affluence and indolence – diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

Importantly however, and regardless of these varying conditions, the apparent immunity of children to SARS-CoV-2 infection is most striking, and another “weakness” of the virus that may well play a part in limiting its dangers. This is yet another area on which Prof Raoult has focused in the past, when looking for an explanation for the relative immunity to the virus in adults under 50. He considers that children act as reservoirs or carriers of respiratory viruses and so may encourage generalised latent immunity in their parents to related Coronaviruses.

And it is the existence of this natural resistance to the novel Coronavirus which has important implications for the use of a vaccine, and whether its use will be justified or advantageous for some sections of the population, or even contra-indicated. The latter possibility, raised recently in a conversation with Prof Raoult, comes about because of the extremely low mortality from COVID 19 amongst younger people – rated at around 10,000 times lower than in those in their mid 80s – the predominant group of those dying with or from COVID. 

Considering this feature of the epidemiology, he concluded that for a vaccine to be safe for younger people, it must be shown to cause lower mortality than the untreated viral infection. Clearly this applies to all age groups and all vaccines, if preventing deaths is their main function. And it is an ever more important consideration with many different types of vaccine now being developed and trialled, and with the possibility of unusual or unpredicted side effects.

Raoult concludes that if a vaccine is to be considered suitable for all, and including younger adults with a minimal chance of serious disease or death, then it must be safety tested on tens or hundreds of thousands of people, which is way beyond the limits currently imposed on potential vaccines thanks to the relative urgency and speed of their development. It is an exquisite irony that the prohibition of the literally life-saving drug Hydroxychloroquine has been based on claims of serious but extremely rare side-effects.

So what if the vaccine is only given to those at greater risk of death from SARS-2 infection, where the danger of vaccine side-effects is outweighed by the life-saving benefits? This may seem sensible, and is rather the practice with current flu vaccines, available free to the over 70s – but here a different factor comes into play. Vaccines mostly depend on the body to produce an immune response that will combat a subsequent viral infection, but this immune response gets weaker as you age. Consequently the benefits of vaccination are far less for older people, and marginal for those over 80 and with weakened systems – the very ones most likely to die following viral infection.

While this relative ineffectiveness of vaccines for the old gets little attention, it is often enough said that a vaccine may only be 50 – 60% effective, as if to avoid raising peoples’ expectations, but this is hardly a minor point. Who would drive a car whose brakes couldn’t always be relied upon, even if they knew it?

So I repeat the question – who actually needs a vaccine to protect them from contracting this not very dangerous respiratory virus? We can rule out anyone under the age of 30, whose chance of dying as a result of CV19 infection is less than 1 in 20,000. For those under 50 this chance may be around 1 in 5000, so a vaccine showing no deaths amongst 10,000 volunteers will have a marginal benefit for this group. In fact the only real benefit of vaccination against SARS-CoV-2 might be amongst those in their sixties and seventies, particularly if they have other serious health issues, or are more exposed to infection – as is the case for older health-care workers. 

But there is another factor that comes into play here. In order to protect the most vulnerable sectors of the population from infection, a significant percentage of the whole population must be made immune, either from vaccination or from their natural immune reaction to infection. The current path being pursued is to prevent infection and natural immunity developing, so such levels of herd immunity can only be achieved by mass vaccination, subjecting half the population to unnecessary dangers from vaccine side effects.

It would seem hard to make a sound scientific case for such a policy, or an economic one – the cost of vaccinating millions or billions of people around the world is barely calculable. But what is a cost to governments and the taxpayers who support them is a benefit to the pharmaceutical industry and private health industry, and it appears as though they will be driving policy to suit their interests.

There is one last aspect to this question, which only further emphasises the point; the significantly lower death rate associated with the currently circulating strains of the virus. Whether the escalation in positive-testing case numbers is partly due to oversensitive tests, or previously unaccounted asymptomatic cases, associated deaths have barely risen, and remain below 1% of total infections – roughly one tenth of the mortality rate during the “first wave” in Europe.

If science were allowed to prevail, then it would follow the prescriptions of the Great Barrington Declaration, abandoning the great vaccination project and allowing “nature to take her course”. But clearly she will not be allowed to, in a way epitomised by the Indian Government’s announcement last week that all citizens will be vaccinated. This was accompanied by news that India’s rapidly climbing infection rate was levelling off – most probably because herd immunity levels are now being reached.

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