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Vaccines - your body, your choice

As world leaders continue to hinge the hopes of their economies on a vaccine for COVID-19, reports from the human trials are becoming alarming. Let’s not forget that vaccines often take many years to develop. However, when it comes to COVID-19, we are expected to believe that anything produced by a drug company will be safe. So, how does the time frame compare?

The eradication of smallpox through a vaccine is seen as one of the biggest achievements in public health history – but it took several centuries to get there. The origins of smallpox are unknown, though scientists believe it dates all the way back to the Egyptian Empire of the 3rd Century BC. By the 18th century, colonisation spread the disease across the globe. It had a devastating mortality rate of up to 30%.

In 1796, Edward Jenner in the UK created the first successful smallpox vaccine, but it wasn’t until the 1950’s that vaccine treatments began to effectively eradicate the disease in some parts of the world. Then, in 1967, a global effort that provided a higher level of vaccine production and an advancement in needle technology eventually led to eradication of the disease by 1980. To date, smallpox remains the only disease to have been completely eliminated around the world through vaccination efforts (although small quantities still do exist in research labs in the US and Russia). In the past (and perhaps in the future if war turns biological), smallpox was used as a weapon of biological warfare. In the 18th century, blankets contaminated with smallpox were distributed among the Native Indian population of North America by the British. Sadly, this resulted in the death of 50% of affected tribes.

Primary varicella infection, commonly known as chickenpox, was misdiagnosed as smallpox until the end of the 1800’s. In the 1950’s, scientists distinguished varicella from the herpes zoster (shingles) and subsequent research led to the development of the first vaccine for chickenpox in Japan in the 1970’s. The vaccine was then licensed for use in the US in 1995.

Hepatitis B is a more recent virus and was discovered by Dr Baruch Blumberg in 1965. Just four years later, he created the first Hepatitis B vaccine using a heat-treated form of the virus. Twelve years later, in 1981, the FDA in America approved of the first commercially available Hepatitis B vaccination, which involved blood samples from infected donours. Then, in 1986, a new synthetically prepared vaccine that does not use blood products replaced the original model. Since Hepatitis B can cause liver cancer, the vaccine was also considered the first anti-cancer vaccine.

Measles, Mumps and Rubella are viral infections that have each caused widespread, deadly disease outbreaks. Measles was the first of the three to receive its own vaccine in 1963, followed by Mumps in 1967 and Rubella in 1969. Two years later, in 1971, Maurice Hilleman of the Merck Institute of Therapeutic Research developed a combined vaccination that would provide immunity for all three.

As demonstrated from history, it usually takes up to 10 years and $500 million to develop a safe and effective vaccine. Even then, as we touched on last week regarding the vaccine-derived polio outbreak in Africa, the disease can still take hold. Additionally, the failure rate of vaccine development is extraordinarily high. Dr Jerome Kim, Director-General of the International Vaccine Institute claims that 93% of exploratory vaccines fail after the animal trial phase.

Aside from the statistics, time, resources and money it takes to develop a vaccine, you also have to convince the population to accept them. And herein will be the struggle with getting the COVID-19 vaccine into the populace. Many people (including myself) are deeply distrustful of the relationship between the World Health Organisation, vaccine alliances and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. In fact, the French seem to be the most distrustful of vaccines. In a 2018 study, it was shown that 33% of the French population disagreed that vaccines were safe. A poll in the US recently concluded that 35% would not take any COVID-19 vaccine provided.

So, what has caused alarm concerning the proposed COVID-19 vaccine?

Luke Hutchison woke up in the middle of the night with chills and a fever after taking the COVID-19 booster shot in Moderna’s vaccine trial. Another coronavirus vaccine trial participant, testing Pfizer’s vaccine, similarly woke up with chills, shaking so hard he cracked a tooth after taking the second dose.

In a more detailed description, one participant said he felt a little under the weather for several days with a low-grade fever. He got his second shot at a clinic on September 15 and eight hours later, he said he was bed bound with a fever of over 101 (38.3 Celsius), shakes, chills, a pounding headache and shortness of breath. He said the pain in his arm, where he received the shot, felt like a “goose egg on my shoulder”. He hardly slept that night, recording that his temperature was higher than 100 degrees for five hours. Another participant reported a fever of 104 (40 Celsius). Fevers are extremely dangerous once they reach above 40 Celsius.

High fever, body aches, bad headaches and exhaustion are just some of the symptoms five participants in two of the leading coronavirus vaccine trials say they felt after receiving the shots. Yet, the drug companies claim the side effects are “unpleasant but not dangerous”. Perhaps not dangerous to the fit, healthy and young participants, but what about children, the elderly, people with chronic illness and women who are pregnant? Some participants spoke anonymously to media organisations, fearing backlash from the drug companies. Does that sound like a trial which is open and transparent? Drug companies stand to make a fortune from selling the vaccine. Of course they have a particular bias towards making anything work.

This article is not about being anti-vaccination. Its intention is to promote a rigorous examination process regarding anything that the whitecoats or politicians ask you to put into your body. A pandemic does not suspend human rights and the fundamental human right for everybody to be protected from experimental vaccines is enshrined in the Nuremburg Code, which Australia is a signatory to.

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