By Orville Williams
“It doesn’t give you the full disease; it gives you an immunological response to the disease and that’s where you develop your immune resistance,” said renowned urologist, Dr Dwayne ‘Baba’ Thwaites yesterday.
Dr Thwaites was seeking to dispel widespread misinformation about the development and application of the Covid-19 vaccines.
Similarly, a poll of healthcare professionals in Antigua and Barbuda may reveal that their biggest issue with the rollout of the vaccination campaign so far, will likely point to vaccine misinformation being the bane of their existence.
One of the more popular beliefs within this scope of misinformation is that people who take a Covid-19 vaccine are actually injected with the coronavirus itself.
This is a belief that could be contributing to the vaccine hesitancy that has stalled inoculation efforts in this country, as well as several others, but it is simply not accurate.
Vaccinated people are not ‘injected with the virus’ in the simple sense, but the virus does enter the body in controlled, precise ways. Sometimes, elements of SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes Covid-19 – are used along with a harmless virus to create a vaccine. In other cases, the virus is killed so that it becomes inactive, before being introduced into the body.
In the case of the Sputnik V and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine – that is being used heavily in developing countries like Antigua and Barbuda – a harmless virus, similar to the one that causes the common cold, is altered so that it can infect one cell in the body, but can’t reproduce and infect other cells.
The DNA sequence for the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 is then woven into the DNA of the virus and the altered virus is used to transport the gene for the spike protein into the body, giving it the genetic instructions on how to make the spike protein on its own.
When the cells encounter this altered virus carrying the instructions, they read the gene that it carries and start producing the spike protein, which allows the immune system to launch a defence against both the protein and the viral vector.
For vaccines like the Chinese-manufactured Sinopharm and Sinovac, a more traditional method called the inactivated vaccine is employed, where batches of the virus are grown and then ‘killed’ in such a way that the structure of the virus is maintained and it can trigger an immune response when injected into the body.
As part of his “civic duty”, Dr Thwaites explained — during an appearance on Observer AM — how diseases like smallpox and polio were controlled, using methods not dissimilar to those used with Covid-19 vaccines.
To treat smallpox more than 200 years ago, he said, the cowpox infection – that primarily affected dairy cows – was used by extracting fluid from the pus-filled blisters of someone infected with cowpox and introducing that fluid to someone else via the skin.
The results were that the person who was given the cowpox fluid did not get infected with smallpox, despite exposure. That, Dr Thwaites said, “gave us the first vaccine”.
Similarly, he added, polio has long been treated using the Sabin vaccine, which contains attenuated versions of the three serotypes of poliovirus.
That vaccine – which was designed to be ingested orally, rather than injected – would replicate in a person’s intestinal tract, similar to a natural poliovirus infection, prompting an immune response in the tract and also in the bloodstream.
Considering these historical facts, Dr Thwaites asked the question: “Is there much of a difference to what we are doing today with the vaccines?” He answered himself in the same breath, “[There’s] absolutely not much of a difference between what we’re doing now [and what we did then].”