Do you know what “leaky vaccines” are? There’s a good chance you don’t because discussion about them has been mostly shunted to the fringes of the web, with videos on the subject even excised from Youtube. The subject is treated as though it is something only tinfoil hat-wearing loons would take seriously.
But leaky vaccines have been an established concern in the medical community for years. A paper discussing the potential problems with them was published in a reputable medical journal by experts well before anyone had heard of Covid.
In brief, leaky vaccines don’t offer full protection against the virus they are designed to deal with. Such vaccines don’t stop you from catching the virus. They work in the sense that they are likely to reduce your symptoms and lessen the chance of transmission to others.
That’s a good thing, but researchers have worried that leaky vaccines can have potential drawbacks, possibly very serious ones. If a vaccine erects an imperfect barrier against a virus, one the virus can sometimes breach even if weakly, the virus persists and has every incentive and opportunity to adapt. That is, it is encouraged to grow stronger.
Over time, variants of the virus are likely to find a way past the immune system’s defences mounted by the vaccine. Because the new variant has an evolutionary advantage over the original strain of virus, it comes to dominate – until a new variant supplants it in turn.
Endless arms race
In short, a leaky vaccine is at risk of becoming less effective over time. New vaccines may be needed in an endless arms race against the virus that encourages it to keep adapting and evolving to become ever more potent.
Most of us should be able to understand this problem because we have heard about it in a closely related medical context: so-called “superbugs“.
Antibiotics were invented nearly a century ago to put an end to deadly bacterial infections. They proved highly effective and saved many lives. They were so effective that doctors were encouraged by profit-seeking pharmaceutical companies – as well as the public’s desire for a pain-free life – to prescribe antibiotics for every tickly throat.
Making things worse, farmers looking to maximise profits had every incentive to routinely use antibiotics on livestock – to prevent illness and deaths among animals they packed into warehouses in unnatural and unsanitary conditions.
This abuse of antibiotics led to the current situation where some strains of bacteria have adapted so effectively they can resist every antibiotic on the market. These superbugs put hundreds of thousands of Americans in hospital every year and are reported to kill 35,000 of them annually.
So what does this have to do with Covid?
As you may have already guessed, the Covid vaccines are all leaky vaccines. In fact, it appears they were known to be leaky before the first person was vaccinated with them. It’s just no one thought to highlight it to us – not our politicians, the vaccine-makers or the corporate media.
We can see quite how leaky they are in the current obsession with “booster” shots to deal with what are being called “breakthrough” cases – only months after most people received what they assumed would be their one and only round of vaccination.
The justification for these boosters is framed as dealing with “waning immunity” and the fact that the delta variant is more “transmissable”. But this medical jargon, though reassuring, may in fact be concealing something significant about the direction the virus is heading in – something that was evident in earlier vaccine research.
‘Nastier’ viral strains
Until Covid, the only way to research how leaky vaccines worked in the midst of a major epidemic was by studying their use in animals. These studies were carried out in part because of concerns about what the effects of leaky vaccines might be if used during a human pandemic.
We now have that pandemic.
In 2015, four years before anyone had ever heard of Covid, the scientific journal PLOS Biology published a paper titled “Imperfect Vaccination Can Enhance the Transmission of Highly Virulent Pathogens”. It examined what happened in the treatment of chickens for a virus called Marek’s disease, caused by a strain of herpes more virulent – if you’re a chicken – than Ebola.
As one of the researchers concluded: “Our research demonstrates that the use of leaky vaccines can promote the evolution of nastier ‘hot’ viral strains that put unvaccinated individuals at greater risk.”
In other words, once you start routinely using a leaky vaccine, the very leakiness of the virus in the vaccinated population risks putting the unvaccinated in greater danger by exposing them to turbo-charged variants of the virus their immune systems struggle to overcome.
Because the vaccinated are less aware of being ill – they don’t take to their beds – they can become the equivalent of super-spreaders.
So the solution is simple, no? Just ensure everyone gets vaccinated. (We’ll draw a veil over the issue of what to do with those who can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons.)
But there is a potential problem here too. Because if the leaky vaccines simply allow the virus to adapt and evolve, never putting out the fire, the virus keeps spreading and could get more deadly over time. As with those superbugs, we could reach a point where much nastier strains of the virus become resistant to all the vaccines we have. Delta may be an early indication of how this might happen.
That’s the theory anyway. No one can be sure whether that is what will happen with the Covid pandemic for two reasons.
First, because – from what I can tell – a leaky vaccine has never before been used in the midst of a global pandemic. This is uncharted territory.
And second, because in the case of those chickens, the spread of the disease could be halted, in addition to vaccination, through the culling of infected animals. That – I should hope – is not a solution anyone is contemplating for dealing with Covid.
Now for the disclaimer. I am not a doctor. I don’t know what the most likely outcome of using leaky vaccines against Covid is, and I don’t claim to. In any case, I doubt most readers care what I think on the subject.
What I am concerned about – and I would hope most other people are too – is that experts in this field be allowed to have a medical debate about these issues in public.
Which is exactly what isn’t happening at the moment. Corporate media companies, from the New York Times and BBC to Facebook and Youtube – many of them invested in pharmaceuticals themselves – are deciding that you shouldn’t even know that the Covid vaccines are leaky, let alone the potential pitfalls.
Maybe that wouldn’t be so serious if we could trust the medical establishment and regulatory authorities to be doing that job for us. But it seems clear we can’t.
The truth is that most doctors, even eminent ones, are little better placed than you or me to judge the dangers of leaky vaccines. This is a very specialist field of research. Those qualified to have an expert opinion on the matter are mostly those doing advanced and very costly research for vaccine companies, especially those working on mRNA technology which has been so central to the Covid vaccination programme.
Difficult to whistleblow
But if there were really a problem with the leaky Covid vaccines, why isn’t this small group of experts not speaking up to warn us? Isn’t their silence proof that this is pure hyperbole?
Here we get to the rub.
Let’s take a comparable case. The first scientists to predict the current trajectory of climate change – to an extremely high degree of accuracy – did so back in the 1970s and 1980s and they worked for the oil companies. They kept their findings secret, as we now know many decades later.
This @exxonmobile chart from 1982 predicted that in 2019 our atmospheric CO2 level would reach about 415 parts per million, raising the global temperature roughly 0.9 degrees C.
Update: The world crossed the 415 ppm threshold this week and broke 0.9 degrees C in 2017 1/ pic.twitter.com/sLpOVkwzTF
— Tom Randall (@tsrandall) May 14, 2019
Exxon, BP, Shell and the others invested huge sums in modelling climate change so they would be the first to understand the risks to their industry. They needed to know how long they could get away with destroying the planet before the damage became so apparent they would be required to reinvent themselves as pioneers of green technologies.
The crunch moment those scientists predicted was reached a few years back – about the time the oil companies indeed did start reinventing themselves as pioneers of green technologies.
Similarly, the scientists who best understand the risks of leaky vaccines are those employed by the vaccine companies.
There is no more reason to believe that they will whistleblow on the pharmaceuticals industry than the scientists who worked for the fossil fuel industry, or the tobacco industry, or the car industry.
Any scientist who does have concerns about leaky Covid vaccines knows that by speaking out they will make themselves unemployable, they will be labelled a crazy conspiracy theorist by the media, and in any case they will be unable to reach large audiences because social media companies will censor them either directly or through changes to the search engine algorithms.
Captured by the elite
So what is needed if we are to learn about scientific concerns relating to leaky vaccines in general and leaky Covid vaccines specifically, and not simply the talking points of Big Pharma, is for the odd expert to step forward as an industry whistleblower. Any who do are almost certain to be mavericks – those who have little to lose, those who have retired, those who already hold grievances with the way public health policy is made.
And these are precisely the people who have been raising their voices.
A few disgruntled, former insiders are speaking up – while most of their colleagues keep their heads down. Is that because their colleagues think that they are wrong? Or is it because their colleagues have more to lose – like all those scientists who worked for Exxon and BP and never got round to telling us about the evidence for climate change they had unearthed.
The problem is we just don’t know. And we don’t know because our system of information dissemination is entirely captured by corporate interests. The wealth-elite that profits from rapacious, conscience-less, profit-driven, consumption-led capitalism is also the elite that buys our political class, owns our media, funds our regulatory authorities.
Playing with fire
One expert whistleblower is Dr Robert Malone, who was given a platform this week by Jimmy Dore to express his fears that what happened to the chicken virus may also happen to Covid.
His view is that we are playing with fire by trying to enforce a mass vaccination programme through a mix of mandates, incentives and social pressure . He believes only the most vulnerable to Covid should be vaccinated. Meanwhile, doctors should be working on developing an armoury of repurposed drugs for the small numbers of younger and healthier people who suffer serious ill-effects from Covid.
This, in his view, would have been the wisest and safest strategy.
I don’t know whether he’s right, but I sure would like to hear his and other experts’ concerns being addressed in public – and ideally refuted – instead of what is happening: their concerns are being brushed under the carpet.
I don’t know whether these concerns have been ignored because they are fanciful nonsense, or because the medical establishment has no good arguments to counter them and doesn’t want to frighten us, the children.
My worries have only been heightened – and yours should be too – by the fact that no one appears willing to engage in any kind of debate about the potential problems with leaky Covid vaccines.
There should be no doubt that Dr Malone qualifies as an expert. He describes himself as the inventor of the very mRNA technology that is the basis of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
But in practice, that authority to speak on the subject is being used against him. Which should set off alarm bells.
Here is one execrable attempt to discredit Dr Malone rather than address his concerns – this one from the supposedly prestigious Atlantic magazine. The article’s headline, “The Vaccine Scientist Spreading Vaccine Misinformation”, is designed to make us assume – as the author and editors doubtless hope we will assume without reading on – that the piece proves Dr Malone is peddling conspiracy theories.
That headline suggests that the doubts Dr Malone has raised about the safety of leaky Covid vaccines will be discredited in the article with countervailing scientific evidence, presumably from other experts.
The article, however, does nothing of the sort.
It is dedicated instead to painting Dr Malone as an embittered fantasist. It does so not with evidence but by quibbling over whether he can in fact be credited with inventing mRNA technology, as he says, or whether he was simply one of its leading pioneers.
Is Dr Malone the most knowledgeable person on mRNA technology or just one of a handful of them? Unless the first is true, the Atlantic implies, everything he has to say about the potential dangers of leaky Covid vaccines based on mRNA technology is worthless and can be safely discounted.
The Atlantic’s article is what we journalists call a hatchet job. It’s what journalists do when they have no evidence to make a stronger case. You play the man, not the ball. It is the very worst kind of gutter journalism.
Treated like child
I don’t know about you but that simply isn’t good enough for me. I want to hear what Dr Malone is saying and I want to hear experts who are as eminently qualified as him address his concerns. I’m not interested in having corporate journalists and editors no more qualified than me declare me a gullible fool for listening to him or for wanting to hear a scientific rejoinder to his arguments.
I also don’t want politicians and social media corporations deciding whether Dr Malone gets to speak, or the medical establishment pretending that he and the research literature he draws on don’t exist.
And I don’t want Pfizer and Moderna deciding for themselves – and without a proper discussion – whether I and my children should be made to take vaccines for the rest of our lives and whether that is a safe or wise strategy.
I can’t understand why anyone would not feel the same, unless they would prefer to be treated like a child, cocooned from taking any responsibility for their own and their family’s health, safe in the illusion that the establishment has never made a mistake or ever told a self-interested lie.
I want to be treated like a grown-up. I want Dr Malone treated like the expert he undoubtedly is. I want a conversation – before it’s too late to have a conversation.
The Twitter warriors have been out in force again, insisting to me that there has been no silencing of a debate by experts on the potential dangers of leaky Covid vaccines, while paradoxically also telling me to pipe down as I ask for the chance to be exposed to that debate. Disappointingly, none of these enforcers of discourse conformity seems to be an expert on vaccines.
Strangely, we have gone from being subjected to the Atlantic magazine’s discourse policing on the issue of leaky vaccines to the Twitter mob’s discourse policing. That wasn’t quite the progress I was hoping for.
I wrote this post for two reasons.
First, when concerns about matters relating to Covid start to go viral (sic) – whether prompted by experts, as in this case, or not – it is incumbent upon our political and media class to engage with those concerns, not pretend they don’t exist or imperiously berate those who repeat the concerns.
Rightly, levels of trust in politicians and media have been falling ever lower. Treating sections of the public who entertain doubts as gullible fools who can be safely ignored will prove entirely counter-productive and simply fuel more cynicism towards our already largely unaccountable, corrupt systems of power.
And second, when potentially unjustified certainty on medical matters – especially by non-experts – translates into an attitude of rigid moral rectitude, as we are increasingly witnessing in Covid vaccine debates, we are in very dangerous, divisive territory.
When the majority is focused on finger-pointing, demanding that vaccine mandates and passports be required before fellow citizens are allowed to work or enter the public square, we ought to be pretty damn sure we know that the vaccines are absolutely essential for everyone and that they are the only safe medical option before us.
This is precisely not the time for lazy assumptions, group-think, censorship or standing back as the corporate media decides which experts should be allowed to be part of the public conversation.
One prominent web journalist led the charge against this piece, accusing me of being “disingenuous” in wanting an open debate among experts so we can all be clearer whether there are any potential dangers with leaky Covid vaccines.
But I think there are very good reasons to demand that debate.
If there is, in fact, genuine scientific uncertainty about where the enforcement of mass vaccination at the height of a pandemic might lead, then we ought to be a little more cautious and tolerant before directing our fire at those hesitant to vaccinate themselves or their children.
It might also be wise to demand a little more vociferously that other methods of treating Covid be developed, in addition to vaccines, and that public health care be properly funded rather than put all our eggs in the vaccine basket.
Whereas if there is certainty, then we can all rally enthusiastically behind these vaccines, our doubts assuaged.
My experience is, I suspect, common. I have been exposed on the web for many months to what may indeed be a “conspiracy theory” by dissident experts about leaky vaccines, and yet I haven’t been exposed to the pushback against this theory from similar experts in the “mainstream” corporate media. That shouldn’t be treated as my fault. It is a problem with the current, dominant, corporate media conversation.
If lots of experts know Dr Malone and others are talking nonsense, why did the Atlantic, for example, engage in a hatchet job on Dr Malone rather than quote some of those experts pointing out the glaring fallacies in his thinking?
I am a journalist, and so is my colleague-critic. We know that you play your strongest cards when you write a polemical piece. So why was the only card the Atlantic played the character assassination of Dr Malone? Any journalist happy with that approach is forgetting what journalism is there to do: inform public debate, not fuel hate mobs and prop up group-think.
When asked for links to the vigorous public debate on leaky vaccines that is supposedly taking place, my colleague declined to provide any. Instead he switched tactics and suggested that this be left to peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals.
But the concerns raised by experts that he seems so sure – as a complete non-expert – can be dismissed as quackery are out there on the web right now. They relate to public policy decisions that are being formulated right now. If they are indeed simply conspiracy theories, we don’t need to wait months or years for researchers to share their findings. We need these conspiracy theories engaged with and exposed right now.
You don’t put out a fire by turning your back on it. Those who prefer to silence debate, supposedly in the interests of science, only increase the division, they fuel the blame campaigns, they rationalise the demands for more censorship. And they drive those who refuse to accept the silence deeper into the opposing camp.
Interestingly, in response to my article someone did finally post a piece by an expert relevant to this debate – written, in fact, by one of the researchers behind the chicken study I cited above. It was published in a relatively obscure online publication, fittingly named The Conversation.
I will leave you to assess it as a response to Dr Malone’s concerns. Contrary to the certainty of the Twitter warriors, Prof Andrew Read appears to accept that the virus could adapt under pressure from the leaky Covid vaccines into nastier variants, though he also seems to think that this is not very likely and that there are ways to nullify that threat – mostly by intensifying the use of boosters and further refining the vaccines.
There are probably ways the available COVID-19 vaccines could be improved in the future to better reduce transmission. Booster shots, larger doses or different intervals between doses might help; so too, combinations of existing vaccines. Researchers are working hard on these questions. Next-generation vaccines might be even better at blocking transmission.
The fact that hardly anyone engaged in the social media “row” provoked by my post appeared to know of Prof Read’s rejoinder to the viral videos of Dr Malone underscores exactly the point I was making. It is the responsibility of corporate media like the BBC and New York Times to air these scientific debates through experts, not draw a veil over them.
We need less polarisation and more engagement with prevalent concerns or confusion about Covid and its treatment. And that surely won’t happen as long as the corporate media and Twitter warriors insist on policing the discourse.