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How to differentiate one COVID-19 vaccine from another

Many New types of COVID-19 Vaccines coming soon

     I write these articles about one month before they are published so my numbers may be out of date by the time you read this. Right now we have had 786,000 cases in Canada and just over 20,000 deaths. And yet in this desperate situation, the amount of people being vaccinated is less than 2.5 per cent of our population.

     As our nation anxiously awaits relief from the contagious outbreak, the delivery of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is but a trickle compared to our needs.

    Even if Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech and Moderna completely filled their obligation to our orders, it would still not be enough to vaccinate our population.

     It was announced today in the news, February 2 that our Canadian Government is going to start manufacturing another new vaccine made by Novavax Inc. It has already been tested by 30,000 volunteers in the United Sates. Although the formula is completely different from Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it still requires two shots.

     Dr.Fauci of the U.S. NIH (National Institute of Health) says that we would have to vaccinate 85 per cent of our population to have herd immunity and two vaccines are not enough.

     In the United States they have had over 26 million cases and 445,000 deaths as I write this article today. Of course Trump gave the vaccine program a great name, Operation Warp Speed and then proceeded to lie about the availability. Although our Federal and Provincial prime ministers cannot even come close to the idiocy of Trump, they have still put us in the same situation. Hopefully one day we will actually place people with extensive scientific backgrounds in Parliament and be able to get a hand on future pandemics.

     So let’s take a look at some of the frontrunners in the vaccine race.

Genetic Code Vaccines

So far the two approved vaccines, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are approximately 95 per cent effective against the original strain and recently have also shown almost the same effectiveness against the new mutant strains for the UK and South Africa. Europe is using both. In fact they are being so widely used there is a world-wide shortage.

     These shots are made with a brand new technology that injects a piece of genetic code for the spike protein that coats the coronavirus. That messengerRNA. Or mRNA induces the body to produce some harmless spike protein, enough to prime the immune system to react if it later encounters the real virus.

     Both vaccines must be kept frozen, the Pfizer shot at ultra-low temperatures that complicate its delivery to poor or rural areas.

     Additional companies are working toward their own mRNA candidates, including Germany’s Cure Vac, which has begun a large study in Europe.

Protein Vaccines

The Novavax vaccine is made differently, using a more tried and true method that requires only ordinary refrigeration. The Maryland company grows harmless copies of the coronavirus spike protein in the laboratory and mixes in an immune-boosting chemical for which they have a secret patent.

     Novavax already has enrolled 30,000 people in late-stage study in Britain and 8,000 in South Africa. The newest and largest study, funded by the US government, will recruit volunteers at more than 115 sites in the US, and Mexico and target high-risk older adults along with volunteers from Black and Hispanic communities, which have been hit hardest by the virus.

Trojan horse vaccines

Right now the new biggest breakthrough in vaccines is coming from Johnson & Johnson, which has a one dose COVID-19 vaccine. Made in yet another way, it uses a harmless virus—a cold virus called an adenovirus—to carry the spike gene into the body. In mid-December J&J finished enrolling 45,000 volunteers in a final stage study in the US and a half-dozen other countries including the UK and South Africa. A very similar vaccine made by Astra Zeneca has just been approved in the UK.

     Tests of the shots in Britain and South Africa which have the more transmissible mutant strains have suggested that not only are these two vaccines safe but they are between 55 and 70 per cent effective. Although that number is a lot less than the 95 per cent of Pfizer and Moderna, the studies show that especially in South Africa the vaccine prevented hospitalisations and deaths. Not one vaccinated person who received the J & J vaccine was either admitted to hospital or died. That means that even if you were among the 30 to 45 per cent of people who were vaccinated with the J & J vaccine and still became infected, you would only get a mild case and not have to be admitted to hospital. You should also take into account that when the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines were tested the more transmissible mutant strains from the UK and South Africa did not yet exist so if they had to redo their studies against these more mutant strains their percentage may be lower.

     The Russians have a similar vaccine called Sputnik V but it requires two shots, a booster 21 days later and although we will never see it, it has been approved in Mexico, India and a few other countries and is already in the arms of many people in those locations.

Killed Vaccines

Spike-focussed vaccines are not the only option. Making vaccines by growing a disease-causing virus and then killing it is a still older approach that gives the body a sneak peek at the germ itself rather than just that single spike protein.  That is how we make our influenza vaccines each year. China has three such “inactivated” COVID-10 vaccines already being distributed throughout their country. India also has a similar vaccine for its huge population.

     As of today, February 2nd, cases in the United States and Canada and going down. The virus seems to be running its course but that does not mean we should be lax about wearing masks, physical distancing and avoiding crowded gatherings. Hopefully with the reduction in cases and the eventual vaccinations of our population, we may be able to return to some kind of normality by next fall.

     Since this pandemic started we have all heard numerous recommendations and predictions about the COVID-19 virus. If you read my articles you will see that I have had to reverse my position many times. Remember when it started and the experts said we didn’t need masks? So remember this; scientific knowledge is simultaneously reliable and subject to change. So you must have confidence in scientific knowledge while also realizing that such knowledge may be abandoned or modified in light of new evidence and new discoveries. I know that’s confusing but try to be patient and open-minded as we learn more and more about this new virus.