While walking our dog recently, we encountered another couple “our age” (somewhere between 65 and 90) also walking their dog. While the two pets sniffed and frolicked, we chatted with them (at a safe distance, of course). And, as might be expected during a lengthy pandemic, one of the first questions we asked them was, “Have you had your shot yet?”
Shockingly, they both answered, “No! And we’re not going to get one.”
My first thought when I heard this, “We’re doomed.” These are people we’ve spoken with before while our dogs met. They aren’t friends, merely acquaintances. Yet before this recent encounter, they seemed normal, easily enjoined in conversation, and equipped with reasonable intelligence.
But here they were, saying they weren’t going to become “guinea pigs” and that they wouldn’t get a shot until the “FDA approved it, maybe in 2023.” And then warned that it was not just an “RNA vaccine” but an “M! RNA” vaccine as if that “M” carried some secret connotation (mRNA simply means “messenger RNA: a synthetic molecule used “to trigger the immune system to produce protective antibodies without using actual bits of the virus.”)*
I get it: the science behind vaccines is a bit opaque for many people, but it’s not a conspiracy nor is it magic. Microbiology, molecular biology, virology, genetics, epidemiology are cutting edge, sure, up there with quantum physics and cosmology, but even on the internet you can find reasonable explanations of how they work that laypeople can grasp.*
When we politely suggested that in future we’d all probably need annual booster shots, “like the flu shot,” they boasted “We don’t get those, either.”
My optimism for the future of humanity dimmed considerably.
It’s one thing to be leery of a new drug, but for a senior not to get the flu vaccine — the result of years of testing and study and proven to help reduce the spread of a virus that is harmful and even lethal to other seniors — is gobsmacking in its arrogant stupidity. It’s bad enough that younger people are selfishly pro-disease and refuse to be vaccinated, but I had hoped people “our age” were more considerate of others, more aware of both the consequences and their responsibilities to others.
If people “our age” clearly have no concern for the wellbeing and safety of others, we’re doomed.
And by now, in mid-2021, there’s enough evidence to show that the few who suffer adverse effects, such as chills, sore muscles, fatigue, and headaches, only have these for a very short duration, and are treatable with over-the-counter medicine.
If for no other reason, one should get vaccinated to protect others, including family and friends. Vaccinations help prevent your own self from being a carrier of diseases and viruses that could harm, even kill, others. You get vaccinated for the same reason you drive on the correct side of the road and not along sidewalks: to maintain the civic standards that keep us all safe. You do it because you’re not a selfish prick and you actually care about others.
Well, they don’t. And, sadly, I know others of my generation who refuse to care about how their refusal affects the welfare of others, too. Doomed, I tell you.
Apparently, I have over-estimated my generation’s wisdom, maturity, and compassion by several degrees.
As for FDA (the American agency) approval, currently all COVID-19 vaccines are approved for “emergency” use (EUA) which is not a rubber stamp, but rather a fast-track that still requires evidence for approval. Both Pfizer and BioNTech have recently requested full FDA approval, and the other manufacturers will follow shortly. Given the vast amount of data now available since the vaccines were first used (a biologics license application only requires six months of data), it’s likely they will get it quickly.
In Canada, the agency for drug approvals is Health Canada, which has followed a similar approval process as in the USA to fast-track approvals during the pandemic, but “Health Canada will always make treatment authorization decisions based on the best scientific evidence.” To think otherwise is to sink into the quagmire of conspiracy claptrap. And Canada has 400 million (yes, that’s the right number) of vaccines on order that will arrive between now and late 2022 or even 2023.
If seemingly sane, intelligent, normal people our age — people we would hope are old enough their lifetime of experience should have given them some sort of common sense — can buy into the petty, scurrilous conspiracies about vaccines like this, and refuse to get a shot even knowing the danger they pose to themselves and others, then we’re doomed. **
Maybe, with that sort of selfish thinking, we don’t deserve to escape from this pandemic. Or maybe I am simply overestimating the intelligence of a few, inconsiderate and selfish people who don’t represent my generation at all.
* While some of this science is cutting edge, other parts, like basic cell biology, is from high school science. But some of it is probably new to people “our age” because it has been discovered since we went to school. So here’s some easily-accessible information for skeptics who remain leery of the science. First, here’s the lowdown on RNA:
Genes tell the body what to do. But if their code is garbled or incomprehensible, disease will get the upper hand. RNA—present in every cell in the body—is the messenger of these important instructions. These messages (RNA transcripts) can be edited to achieve a substantial therapeutic effect, and this has implications in a wide range of degenerative diseases…
Unlike gene therapies or gene editing, RNA can be made to function the way conventional drugs do. It can achieve a therapeutic result without making a permanent change to the patient’s cells.
…messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) is a single-stranded molecule of RNA that corresponds to the genetic sequence of a gene, and is read by a ribosome in the process of synthesizing a protein
From the Quebec Government (which also lists the ingredients in each vaccine):
The virus that causes COVID-19 is composed of a strand of genetic material, RNA (ribonucleic acid), surrounded by an envelope. On the surface of the virus, there are proteins, including the S protein (spike protein) which gives it its crown shape, hence its name coronavirus. The S protein allows the virus to infect cells in the human body. COVID-19 messenger RNA vaccines block the S protein, preventing the virus from entering and infecting human cells.
From the National Human Genome Research Institute:
Messenger RNA (mRNA) is a single-stranded RNA molecule that is complementary to one of the DNA strands of a gene. The mRNA is an RNA version of the gene that leaves the cell nucleus and moves to the cytoplasm where proteins are made. During protein synthesis, an organelle called a ribosome moves along the mRNA, reads its base sequence, and uses the genetic code to translate each three-base triplet, or codon, into its corresponding amino acid.
And from Technology Review:
Unlike traditional vaccines, which use live viruses, dead ones, or bits of the shells that viruses come cloaked in to train the body’s immune system, the new shots use messenger RNA—the short-lived middleman molecule that, in our cells, conveys copies of genes to where they can guide the making of proteins.
The message the mRNA vaccine adds to people’s cells is borrowed from the coronavirus itself—the instructions for the crown-like protein, called spike, that it uses to enter cells. This protein alone can’t make a person sick; instead, it prompts a strong immune response that, in large studies concluded in December, prevented about 95% of covid-19 cases.
The article adds this about the future of mRNA drugs:
In the near future, researchers believe, shots that deliver temporary instructions into cells could lead to vaccines against herpes and malaria, better flu vaccines, and, if the covid-19 germ keeps mutating, updated coronavirus vaccinations, too. But researchers also see a future well beyond vaccines. They think the technology will permit cheap gene fixes for cancer, sickle-cell disease, and maybe even HIV.
The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, by the way, does not use a lipid-encapsulated mRNA, but instead uses an adenovirus (a non-replicating viral vector). However, it affects the cell’s mRNA. As Wikipedia notes:
The adenovirus is called replication-deficient because some of its essential genes were deleted and replaced by a gene coding for the [coronavirus] spike protein. Following vaccination, the adenovirus vector enters the cells and releases its genes, which are transported to the cell nucleus; thereafter the cell’s machinery does the transcription into mRNA and the translation into proteins.
The difference between these two vaccine types was explained on CTV News:
Viral vector-based vaccines, such as those developed by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, use a harmless virus, or adenovirus, as a delivery system to trigger the immune system to create antibodies to fight off an infection by SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19. The adenovirus is not SARS-CoV-2 itself, but rather a different, harmless virus that has been manipulated so it’s unable to replicate and cause illness…
…messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA)… is a molecule that provides cells with genetic instructions for making proteins that are needed for numerous cellular functions in the body, including for energy and immune defence. In a lab, scientists develop synthetic mRNA that is able to instruct the body’s cells to develop that same distinctive spike protein from the SARS-CoV-2 virus that the viral vector-based vaccines also target. After the piece of protein is made, the cell breaks down the genetic instructions and gets rid of them. Both Health Canada and the CDC stressed that the mRNA never enters the central part of the cell where a person’s DNA material is located, which means the vaccine does not affect or interact with DNA in any way.
** Okay, you’re going to raise Donald Trump and point out the madness of so many gullible and unthinking people “our age” who supported him despite his lies, his corruption, his narcissism, his treason, his ignorance, his hypocrisy, his Russian ties, his utter incompetence, his illiteracy, his nepotism, his incestuousness, and his con games. Their support of Trump indicates if nothing else does in this century, that people “our age” have conceded any claim of generational wisdom, common sense, intelligence, or reason.
The Trump phenomenon was in all aspects a religious cult: an infectious, personality cult complete with religious-style rituals and chants, based on lies and superstition. It was a severe psychological illness very similar to the Jim Jones cult. It seems to have abated somewhat since his resounding electoral defeat, but the infection he caused will take many more years to cure. Some Repugnicans, like those in Congress (Moscow Mitch McConnell comes to mind), may never be cured of the disease.
Max Beerbohm once wrote something so very prescient of the Trump phenomenon:
“You cannot make a man by standing a sheep on its hind-legs. But by standing a flock of sheep in that position you can make a crowd of men.”
Back in 1841, Charles Mackay published his study of crowd psychology, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, and it’s still applicable today*. The anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, tourists-not-insurrection, Trump supporters, and QAnon believers are merely modern versions of the crowd madness that Mackay described. The recent binge buying of cryptocurrencies is another example of crowd madness.
This book is not to be confused with the recent book The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity, by Douglas Murray. This latter title, as the Guardian review tells us, is little more than a “rightwing diatribe” against issues that the right like to deny or downplay or against social movements where conservatives see themselves as victims instead of taking responsibility to affect change.