Routine vaccinations have been a part of preventative medicine since the first smallpox vaccine was officially created in 1796 based on African discoveries brought to the west by a slave named Onesimus. Vaccinations used en masse can halt an infectious disease’s spread through herd immunity. This has been shown historically in regards to smallpox, tuberculosis, polio, and typhoid fever, just to name a few (8).
Vaccines are generally made of 3 main components: antigens, adjuvants, and preservatives. The antigen is used to introduce your body to the infectious agent so that your cells know how to respond if they encounter that antigen again. Adjuvants are used to stimulate the immune system and make the vaccine more effective. These ingredients can be cause for concern. A common type of adjuvant used in vaccines is aluminum, and a common preservative is thimerosal, which contains mercury (1). According to the CDC, other ingredients that live in vaccines include stabilizers like sugar or gelatin, and residual materials from production such as eggs or formaldehyde (9). Some may also wish to consider the ethical concern of using aborted fetal tissue (cell lines obtained from an aborted fetus) in vaccines, as this is another contentious aspect of vaccine use.
Just like all drugs, vaccines can have negative effects. The reason why this is cause for so much concern is that unlike medications, which are given to people who are not well and are willing to take such risks to get better, vaccines are given to generally healthy people in preparation for a possible exposure in the future. This nature of vaccines has led to understandable widespread mistrust and hesitancy. Also, considering the massive nationwide campaigns and propaganda used to sell pharmaceutical companies’ products, many people are hesitant to inject themselves or their children with these medical interventions.
Vaccines and Autoimmunity
The most major concern regarding negative effects of vaccines is the well-documented correlation between vaccine administration and the onset of autoimmune disease. Autoimmune disease requires a perfect storm of 3 factors in order to develop: genetic predisposition, leaky gut syndrome, and environment. Vaccines affect the body’s environment. Because the individual would have to have the other two factors in order for the vaccinated environment to trigger an autoimmune response, this ‘side effect’ of vaccination is relatively rare (but also very hard to track since according to VAERS, the vaccine tracking system, only about 10% of vaccine reactions are actually reported or connected to the time of administration).
Rarity does not mitigate the cause for concern, though. Someone presenting as generally healthy could have a genetic predisposition for autoimmunity that they are unaware of. Besides, the scale by which vaccinations are administered means this ‘rare’ bad outcome actually happens to large amounts of people. There are many studies that have shown the presence of auto-antibodies (antibodies that attack self-tissue) following vaccine administration, though sometimes the autoimmune response may not happen until years after the vaccination (2). This makes it difficult to prove a connection. A vaccine can be proven to work effectively relatively easily, but proving it’s safety, especially long-term, is a much more difficult endeavor.
Depending on the disease being vaccinated against, the safer method for acquiring immunity might actually be to contract the disease (please don’t go to a Covid party until you talk to your doctor first!). This is a natural way of acquiring immunity. One great example of this is the immunity one has to shingles if they got chicken pox as a child. These two diseases are caused by the same virus, so the immunity that was acquired in childhood can protect the person for their whole life. This is the concept behind “chicken pox parties”, where parents purposely infect their children with the virus in order to strengthen their immune systems (note that I’m not endorsing this but it is commonplace).
The COVID-19 Vaccine
Vaccines are a hot topic right now because the new COVID-19 vaccine is just now reaching the public, and many people have many questions about it. Without stating a recommendation regarding getting this vaccine, our office would like to help educate the public about the pros and cons so that everyone can make an informed decision.
This particular vaccine is unique in that it is the first mRNA vaccine to be licensed for human use, and on a huge scale nonetheless. For most of us, this is where the questions start.
When a cell is going to make a protein, the instructions for doing so are copied from DNA in the nucleus to messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules. The mRNA is used to build these proteins in the fluid space of the cell, the cytoplasm. It is important to note that the mRNA molecules are never at any point inside the nucleus and do not have the ability to alter DNA. They are simply blueprints for building a protein.
Our bodies have built-in mechanisms for controlling the production of proteins: how many, how often, and what to do when one is malfunctioning. The new COVID vaccine injects our cells with synthetic genetic material that our bodies do not have built-in regulations for. This is an area of concern for many immunologists (and yes, me!). I think extra caution is warranted in those who have family with autoimmunity or currently suffer from some form of autoimmune disorder. The long term safety and efficacy of this vaccine has not been studied due to the emergent need for it’s release (it is incredibly hard and rare to obtain an Emergency Authorization which was granted for both vaccines on the market).
COVID-19 is a flu-like virus that has been shown to inflict long term organ damage in some individuals. Damage to the heart, lungs, and brain has been documented in recovering COVID patients (5). The possible long-term effects of contracting the virus must be weighed against the possible long-term effects of getting the vaccine when making this decision. This vaccine, unlike others, does not contain toxins like mercury. It doesn’t contain the live virus so adjuvants aren’t needed. Pfizer published the ingredients in this vaccine at the end of December: mRNA, a mixture of lipids (nanoparticles), sodium phosphate, sodium chloride, and sucrose (7). Besides the long-term autoimmune concerns regarding mRNA, the lipids in this cocktail pose another (especially relating to allergic reactions).
The mRNA molecules are quite fragile, so they are coated in a fatty layer of PEGylated lipid nanoparticles. This coating both protects the mRNA and hides it from our bodies so that it isn’t destroyed by our immune systems. PEGylated lipid nanoparticles have been used in other drugs before and have been documented to instigate allergies and autoimmune diseases (6).
Another question you might ask is “what exactly does the vaccine prevent”? If you read through this study you will find that surprisingly, preventing contraction of the disease is not what it will do. The vaccine’s main objective is to prevent the serious complications from COVID-19 and it does so at a 90% effectiveness – how long this lasts is not known. If it will be effective on mutated strains is not known just as influenza vaccines are constantly changing due to the shifty nature of the virus. What are other measures that could provide similar protection yet not have the side effects? Does that even exist?
There are measures besides vaccination that one can take to protect themself from complications resulting from COVID-19. For example, there is strong evidence that vitamin D supplementation can significantly reduce the risk of contracting the disease as well as reduce the risk of experiencing severe symptoms or complications if the disease is contracted (3). In one study, researchers used statistical models the researchers claimed they could prevent 89% of COVID-19 related deaths just by getting the most severely deficient vitamin D levels elevated into normal levels (4)! Keep in mind there has not been a randomized trial with a placebo and treatment group using vitamin D. Please also remember that dosing should be done with lab testing prior and maintained at a 45-60ng/dl level. Excess vitamin D supplementation can suppress the immune system as well. This is why we call it a “Goldilocks Hormone”; too little or too much could harm you, so you have to get it just right.
Vaccines are all very different in their necessity, risks, and efficacy. Herd immunity is extremely important in a population in order to protect the vulnerable, but the way to achieve it does not only involve vaccination. Our immune systems need to meet a variety of microbes in order to be able to tell the difference between self-tissue and harmful antigens (for more on this read about the hygiene hypothesis). Acquiring immunity naturally through the contraction of the disease is the way humans have maintained a varied and robust response to most infections we have and will be exposed to. Vaccines, like any medical intervention, need to be examined under the light of informed consent – will this harm or will this help and what information is there on both sides to help make this decision? Blindly accepting dogma and those already indoctrinated into the standard medical model does not necessarily lead to optimal health. Each individual needs to have information about whether they should accept the recommendations given and if the benefits outweigh the risks. Clearly time will tell as to which measures being implemented by our government actually helped with this pandemic, and which wounded the citizens of our incredible Nation.
Yours in optimal health,
Ian Hollaman, DC, MSc, IFMCP
(1) Adjuvants and Vaccines. (2020, August 14). Retrieved January 14, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/adjuvants.html
(2) Agmon-Levin, N., Paz, Z., Israeli, E., & Shoenfeld, Y. (2009). Vaccines and autoimmunity. Nature Reviews Rheumatology, 5(11), 648-652. doi:10.1038/nrrheum.2009.196
(3) Ali, N. (2020). Role of vitamin D in preventing of COVID-19 infection, progression and severity. Journal of Infection and Public Health, 13(10), 1373-1380. doi:10.1016/j.jiph.2020.06.021
(4) Brenner, H., & Schöttker, B. (2020). Vitamin D Insufficiency May Account for Almost Nine of Ten COVID-19 Deaths: Time to Act. Comment on: “Vitamin D Deficiency and Outcome of COVID-19 Patients”. Nutrients 2020, 12, 2757. Nutrients, 12(12), 3642. doi:10.3390/nu12123642
(5) COVID-19 (coronavirus): Long-term effects. (2020, November 17). Retrieved January 14, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coronavirus-long-term-effects/art-20490351
(6) Ickenstein, L. M., & Garidel, P. (2019). Lipid-based nanoparticle formulations for small molecules and RNA drugs. Expert Opinion on Drug Delivery, 16(11), 1205-1226. doi:10.1080/17425247.2019.1669558
(7) Korin Miller December 14, & Miller, K. (2020, December 14). Pfizer’s COVID-19 Vaccine Arrived Today-Here’s Exactly What’s In It. Retrieved January 14, 2021, from https://www.health.com/condition/infectious-diseases/coronavirus/pfizer-covid-19-vaccine-ingredient-list
(8) Timeline of human vaccines. (2021, January 11). Retrieved January 14, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_human_vaccines
(9) What’s in Vaccines? Ingredients and Vaccine Safety. (2019, August 05). Retrieved January 14, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/additives.htm