SARS-CoV-2 has infected more than 444 million people and killed an estimated six million.
The rollout of the world’s largest vaccination programme in history since December 2020 has largely been successful in mitigating the scourge of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The unvaccinated is 43 times (to quote the Malaysian Ministry of Health, or MOH) and 97 times (to quote the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC) at risk of dying from Covid-19 compared to the vaccinated.
Boosted patients are 90 per cent protected from being hospitalised or dying, thus sparing health care facilities from being overwhelmed, as what had happened during the Delta wave.
97.4 per cent of Malaysian adults have had two doses, and 63.5 per cent have been boosted. This fact has enabled Malaysia to build a very powerful immunity wall to face the threat of the Omicron variant.
It has also empowered us to experience some form of normalcy in terms of our day-to-day activities, and a resurgence of the national economy. There is even talk of reopening our borders.
Despite the extraordinary efforts and major advances made to make the nation safe and secure, there remains a fraction of disgruntled anti-vaxxers who are generating misinformation about the safety of Covid-19 vaccines, in particular mRNA vaccines.
This group has been emboldened with the recent publication of a study that purportedly claims that the mRNA vaccine can be converted to DNA inside a human cell, via a process of reverse transcription.
This laboratory study from Lund University, Sweden has generated excitement amongst the anti-vaxxers, who claim that the BNT162b2 (Moderna vaccine) can be reverse transcribed to DNA in a liver cell line known as Huh7.
The idea that vaccines can “permanently alter your DNA” is actually not new. It dates back to the time of the first smallpox vaccine in 1796.
Soon after its introduction, cows were caricatured growing from the human anatomy, suggesting that the human body had been altered by the vaccine.
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines work by instructing our own cells to produce viral proteins, in this instance, spike proteins, which are then recognised by our immune system as foreign.
This in turn triggers the production of long-lasting antibodies, B and T cells that form a defence against any future infection by SARS-CoV-2.
SARS-COV-2 is an RNA virus which does not have the means to produce a DNA transcript, nor can it integrate itself into a host’s genome.
Likewise, it is not biologically possible for the mRNA from the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to be reverse transcribed into the human DNA.
Secondly, the vaccine mRNA and the human DNA reside in two different compartments of the cell. Our DNA stays in the nucleus, while the vaccine mRNA is only delivered by the nanoparticle into the cytoplasm, thus never entering the nucleus. There are no transporter molecules that can direct the mRNA into the nucleus.
Thirdly, the petri dish experiment used cancer cell lines (Huh7 was derived from a liver cancer) that behaves very differently from normal cell lines and are not representative of normal human cells.
The Huh7 cells used in this laboratory experiment produces an enzyme called the LINE-1 enzyme, which is a reverse transcriptase that converts mRNA into DNA.
Although normal human cells do contain the LINE-1 gene, it is not expressed. In other words, regular human cells do not produce the LINE-1 enzyme to perform the reverse transcription necessary to convert the RNA to DNA.
Furthermore, a laboratory study is not a clinical study, and cannot be extrapolated to make any conclusion about what would happen in a human body.
Fourthly, the Swedish investigators used abnormally high amounts of vaccine in their studies, which is non-physiological. They injected two micrograms for 200,000 cells, which is very excessive, when the physiological dose in the mRNA vaccine is 30 micrograms for the entire human body (30 trillion cells, or 30,000,000,000,000)
Finally, a close analysis of the study shows that the investigators did not provide any evidence of genome integration as claimed. No test was undertaken to confirm integration into the cell DNA.
In fact, in concluding the study, the authors pointed out that their study does not show that the Pfizer vaccine integrates with the liver cell DNA, or alters it in any way.
A pattern observed with anti-vaxxers is their propensity to be very selective, and cherry-pick bits and pieces of research to weaponise their unfounded claims.
A second issue that has created a lot of fear and confusion, particularly with regard to vaccinations for children and adolescents is the occurrence of serious side effects.
The latest and largest dataset from the CDC on Adverse Events Following Immunisation (AEFI) related to the use of mRNA vaccines in children aged 5 to 11, following the administering of 8.7 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, shows that the only major AEFI was myocarditis, which was reported in 11 reported cases. All the children recovered fully within two to seven days.
In contrast, the risk of developing myocarditis in a child with Covid-19 is 36 times more than that due to mRNA vaccines, or approximately 450 per million with the cases being clinically worse than those caused by mRNA vaccines.
Covid-19 also causes a severe form of disease called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), often requiring intensive care unit (ICU) care, and may even cause deaths.
This complication occurs for one in 3,000 to 4,000 children who have been infected by Covid-19. If a child suffers from MIS-C, myocarditis is found in 75 to 100 per cent cases of MIS-C.
The National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Authority (NPRA) has also shown that the mRNA vaccine is safe for children aged 5 to 11. Until February 18, 2022, 383,000 doses have been administered, with only 37 non-serious AEFI reported.
The main AEFI were acute stress response, fever, rashes, and breathing difficulties. There was only a single report of a serious AEFI, and the child was hospitalised and discharged after recovering.
At the end of the day, it comes down to parents and guardians making informed choices. Unfortunately, it is not a zero-risk choice.
But the science and evidence have shown that a child aged between 5 and 11 is at the highest risk of developing myocarditis if he acquires MIS-C. Efficacy trials in children in that age group have shown that the mRNA vaccine is highly effective in preventing Covid-19, with an efficacy rate of 91 per cent.
To date, close to 80 per cent of the Malaysian population have received at least two doses of the vaccine, including 30 per cent of children between 5 and 11, who have received at least one dose of the mRNA vaccine.
Despite recording more than 30,000 daily cases in recent weeks, the number of severe cases and deaths have remained relatively low. However, we cannot be complacent, as progress with boosting the population has been relatively slow, with only 63 per cent having received a third dose.
We only have to look at Hong Kong, which is battling a surge of Covid-19 infections that is overwhelming their health care system. Severe disease cases and deaths in Hong Kong have been attributed to a relatively low vaccination coverage, especially amongst the vulnerable segments of the population, including the elderly.
Contrary to popular belief, mRNA vaccine technology is not new, nor is it only developed over the past two years. Research on mRNA vaccines for infectious diseases, including Zika, flu, and rabies, as well as for use in cancer treatment, has been ongoing for nearly two decades.
There are presently at least nine mRNA vaccines in trials at Phases 1 to 3, including influenza, rabies, varicella, human Zika and Nipah viruses. The most recent addition is the mRNA-HIV vaccine in Phase 1.
On the back of this voluminous research and scientific knowledge, we have witnessed the rapid and unprecedented development of two of the world’s most effective vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, made possible by global scientific collaboration and massive financial investment.
Both the mRNA vaccines underwent standard rigorous safety and efficacy trials prior to its approval for emergency use authorisation (EUA) by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Regulatory bodies (the US’ Food and Drug Administration, the European Medicines Agency, and the NPRA) have licensed EUA for selected high-risk groups.
To date, 10.8 billion doses of the mRNA vaccine and other Covid-19 vaccines have been administered, making it a significant historical milestone for science and medical research applications.
As health care professionals who are directly or indirectly involved in caring for those who have been infected and affected by Covid-19 since January 2020, we are extremely frustrated and disappointed by the antics of a few of our colleagues who are lending their voices to the anti-vaxxers.
It has to be said that some of these so-called experts are not even specialists in the field, nor have they been hands on in the management of the pandemic.
Their protest against the mRNA vaccines is devoid of any scientific rationale, but only serves to generate more fear and confusion among the members of the public.
The authorities must take stern action against the anti-vaxxers who continue to alarm the public with fear-mongering, fake news, and misinformation.
Their irresponsible actions will only derail the progress of our nation in combating the coronavirus, lead to more morbidities and mortalities, and frustrate the national interest to exit the pandemic safely and securely.
This letter is endorsed by the following organisations:
- The Malaysian Medical Association
- The Academy of Medicine of Malaysia
- Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya
- Academy of Professors Malaysia
- Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia
- Malaysian Pharmacists Society
- Malaysian Paediatric Association
- Malaysian Society of Infectious Diseases and Chemotherapy
- Islamic Medical Association of Malaysia
- IKRAM Health
- Medical Mythbusters Malaysia
- College of Anaesthesiologists
- Malaysian Health Coalition
- Association of Malaysian Optometrists
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.