For a response to this article, please view “Response to mRNA Concerns“.
Any medical procedure that involves risk is preceded by informed consent. This is where you are given a list of what could go wrong, along with the chances that you will be helped if things go as planned. You then accept the risk and go ahead, or you re-think your decision.
The two current vaccine candidates set to be distributed are mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. These work by injecting mRNA coding for parts of the virus. The mRNA is taken up by your body’s cells, and is incorporated into the cells’ protein-making machinery, which then starts producing, essentially, pieces of the enemy. The immune system then recognizes these foreign viral proteins and produces antibodies against them. Later, if the person becomes infected with the real virus, it is pre-armed with antibodies ready to go, and the person doesn’t get as sick. A brilliant idea, really. Until now, vaccines worked by either injecting weakened strains of virus, or killed or partial viruses along with adjuvants (code for toxins) to better stimulate an immune response.
Please know that no vaccine using mRNA technology has yet been brought to market. We have no experience with the long-term effects. I will present just two of many concerns.
- The cells continue making the virus parts for as long as the cells live. If the mRNA is incorporated into the cells’ DNA, then the next generation of cells will also produce the virus parts. (If reproductive cells become affected, the DNA can be passed to the person’s offspring.) The concern here is that eventually the immune system will become tolerant of the foreign proteins, because they persist for so long. Then, when a real virus enters the scene, the response is suppressed, allowing the virus to replicate unchecked while the immune system takes extra time to realize it is under attack. It may be too late by then. The current studies are too short-term to know if this will be a problem.
- Since the body’s own cells are making and putting out the foreign proteins, there is a very real concern that the immune system will make antibodies against the cells themselves. This is known as autoimmune disease. These diseases are often triggered by viral infections. If the genes end up translated into the cells’ DNA, the immune system may make antibodies against DNA, a condition known as Lupus. Other common auto-immune diseases include rheumatoid arthritis (including juvenile), psoriatic arthritis, multiple sclerosis, transverse myelitis, inflammatory bowel disease, type I diabetes. These diseases may not show up for several years after the vaccine. Safety studies of only a few weeks will not pick up these life-changing diseases.
A bit further behind in the pipeline is the AstraZeneca vaccine. It uses a weak common-cold virus (adenovirus) to transport the protein into the cells. A piece of the Covid-19 virus (the spike protein) was spliced onto this adenovirus. It may not have the concerns listed above, but only time will tell. We do know that during the AstraZeneca human trials, 2 subjects developed transverse myelitis, a condition that causes paralysis from the waist down. Two cases is a lot, but they were later reassured when one of these volunteers turned out to have undiagnosed multiple sclerosis. The transverse myelitis was therefore attributed to the MS.
Know also that the vaccines have not been shown to decrease transmission of the virus. So, if a person gets the vaccine and is later exposed to the virus, he will still silently spread the virus to others. Since young people do so well when they catch this virus already, it seems it is all risk and no benefit. In older age groups and people with comorbidities, perhaps the risk of getting sick from the virus justifies taking the unknown risks of a vaccine. But only for that person.
In summary, there are many potential very serious risks of these vaccines which we will not know about for years. They may paradoxically increase risk of serious coronavirus infection. They may trigger an epidemic of autoimmune disease. Does the risk from the virus outweigh these potential risks? V’nishmartem meod l’nafshoseichem isn’t a mitzvah to take every new medicine. It’s a mandate to think carefully about our actions and be sure they are truly in our best interest.
Eli Fink, MD
Cleveland Heights, OH
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