Why vaccination is right and the anti-vaxxers are wrong: a layperson's guide

STUFF
The Whole Truth Covid-19 Vaccination: How does an mRNA vaccine work?

OPINION: Amongst the chaos of our Covid world there lies a serial offender who is holding our country to ransom.

Social media is that offender, the bastard spawn of US technology and Asian manufacturers, which has empowered and entitled a new world of village idiots, and given each of them a voice – a very loud voice – and a source of unlimited disinformation about vaccines and the perils thereof.

The anti-vaxxers prevail, whether it be on social, or at the Saturday rallies in the Auckland Domain. They’re making the noise out there, they’re loud, and they’re wrong, very wrong.

Vaccination technology certainly isn’t new. It dates back to the late 1700s, and many a life has been saved since, from smallpox through to rubella, polio and tetanus, simply by using a variety of tricks to stimulate the immune system of the vaccinated so that pathogens are rendered harmless.

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For reasons known only to themselves, the tinfoil-hat wearing “internutters“ detest mRNA technology, the basis of two of the most popular Covid vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer. mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) technology has become the subject of paranoid conspirators across the globe.

Auckland mayoral hopeful and waterfront bar owner Leo Molloy has followed the development of Covd-19 vaccines closely and has no time for those who oppose them.
LAWRENCE SMITH/Stuff
Auckland mayoral hopeful and waterfront bar owner Leo Molloy has followed the development of Covd-19 vaccines closely and has no time for those who oppose them.

It has been around about 30 years now, but no useful application existed for it back in the 90s. Their clinical trials, which never made it to market, were around melanoma vaccines and the like.

That said, two companies embraced it as the future of vaccinology, and thus ModeRNA ( later Moderna ) and BioNTech were born, in the USA and Germany respectively. Notably, both companies were founded by immigrants – ModeRNA co-founded by Noubar Afeyan, an Armenian humanitarian born in Lebanon, who immigrated to Canada at 13; BioNTech by Turks Ugur Sahin​ and Ozlem Tureci​.

Fats, salts, sugar and mRNA: These are the only ingredients in the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine. The vaccine uses a chemical messenger (the mRNA, or messenger ribonucleic acid) to teach the immune system to recognise and attack the virus.

It is fragile in the extreme, and once injected it lasts only hours as a perceived pathogen before your body “eats it up”.

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Once it’s destroyed it leaves an antibody profile, so that when the real pathogen attacks, your body has the immunity to fight back and save your life.

The coronavirus pandemic gave the technology a commercially viable application, and hence the marriage of big pharma with little biotech – Pfizer, meet BioNTech.

It’s important to note that both companies mentioned had been undertaking advanced clinical trials with mRNA, for other uses, including melanoma prevention, and hence when Covid struck the vaccine could be rolled out expeditiously

Seven billion Pfizer doses later we’re well on the way to saving the planet from this pandemic.

For those who don’t understand epidemiology or the spread of highly contagious infectious disease, a simple metaphor might help.

The virus is like a car with a bad-arse villain in it, speeding down a motorway being chased by the police.

If there was no vaccine, the car could escape via any off-ramp, side street, overpass, any junction or roundabout. But once the vaccine takes effect, every off-ramp and every side street becomes a cul-de-sac, the virus runs into dead ends, and the cops catch up.

It’s that simple. You get the jab and the virus can’t replicate, because unlike bacteria, viruses need you, your intercellular cytoplasm, to steal your protein to replicate.

We may as well talk antigenic drift now. That’s the accumulated viral mutations that mean you may need to be getting vaccinated for the rest of your life.

Every time the virus finds a host, it can morph slightly and this is much more likely to happen in unvaccinated people where it has more time to replicate.

The unvaccinated host risks becoming an incubator to help the virus become more deadly by changing its shape.

So the race is on, human versus the virus: who can morph or reinvent the fastest to bring the other to its knees?

Covid-19 vaccine doses for children, at a Pfizer facility in Belgium.
Pfizer/AP
Covid-19 vaccine doses for children, at a Pfizer facility in Belgium.

My money is on the human because we are an amazing species.

There will be new vaccines coming on stream over the next year, some using old technology, such as Novavax; and some using new methods, DNA plasmid vaccines like ZyCoV-D, an exciting Indian vaccine that won’t even require a prick in your arm, but rather uses a simple three- dose spring-powered jet that delivers the vaccine painlessly through your skin.

So my message is, don’t be a dick, just go and get the prick. It’s not even about you, it’s about those around you.

That kid down the road recovering from chemotherapy because he had leukemia, the old dude at the bowling club with asbestosis, your granddad who smoked 40 Rothmans a day, your Aunty Betty who gets asthma, your family, whānau, your workmates and your playmates ... It’s about them. Don’t be the asymptomatic vector that carries the deadly virus to them.

As for some of the bizarre conspiracies: there is no metal in the vaccine. You won’t glow in the dark after you’ve had it. You won’t grow another gonad or breast. Bill Gates won’t be tracking your movements.

That’s all just paranoid rubbish spewed by internutters. Ignore it.

Trust the science. Seven billion doses say vaccination is the business, and if you want this country to return to normality for summer, to enjoy an unbridled lifestyle again, with your friends and whānau, then do the right thing, do what decent caring people do.

Be a hero. Go and get that little prick and save some lives.

Leo Molloy is an Auckland businessman and mayoral aspirant with a close interest in vaccination.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story described the Pfizer vaccine as “a 4000 amino acid single-strand protein with a lipid (fat) coat”. That’s not quite right. The BNT162b2 [Pfizer] vaccine is made up of engineered mRNA molecules encapsulated in a lipid nanoparticle capsule. (Updated: November 9, 2021 at 12.50pm).