Hello, this is Dr. Russell Kohl, chief medical officer at TMF Health Quality Institute with another installation of our Medical Minute. I’m joined today by Dr. Clifford Moy, TMF’s behavioral health medical director. In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about why we vaccinate. We know that when you get a vaccination, it stimulates the production of antibodies. When we talk about being specific to an infectious agent, one of the old ways we used to describe it is much more complex than this, but it is lock and key. We really need to be able to train our bodies to develop the lock that will fit the key to the infectious agent that we're talking about. Dr. Moy? DR. MOY: Yes, we also know that vaccination lowers the chance of significant illness compared to people who get natural an infection. I shouldn't say natural. It's just out there. But vaccination has a much better chance of a controlled stimulus of the body to develop antibodies to help lower the chance of a significant illness. You know, some people said maybe the vaccine doesn't work because I still got sick or an infection. That's not the purpose of the vaccine. The purpose of the vaccine is to help you from becoming seriously ill. Since the viruses are out there and germs are out there, we really don't have a way to prevent that. The most efficient way to do that is the exterior defense looking at personal protective equipment, or PPE, and environment. We know that the safety of the vaccines have been tested and reviewed specifically with the COVID-19 vaccine. The number of people who have been vaccinated is just tremendous, and we never really see the types of population in our numbers in our medication studies that we've seen in the vaccine. The reviews that we've had, the studies that we've had, have exponentially greater amount of statistical power than we usually see in most medication trials. And the vaccines help us to lower the community spread by decreasing the amount of virus out there. It has a lower chance of having mutations or variants. We've talked about this in the past, but the thinking is once you get infected, if you're not vaccinated, the virus is going to reproduce a trillion times in your body and send those viruses out looking for more host cells. We know that, and we also know that vaccination is safer than infection. You don't hear about people being in the intensive care unit because they got a vaccine. You hear about them being in the intensive care unit because they had COVID. So that's why we vaccinate.
DR. KOHL: I will tell you we've done interesting calculations looking at vaccine safety and certainly as Dr. Moy mentioned, this has probably been the most closely watched vaccine in history with regards to adverse events. Certainly, you know, in the health care community, we're very familiar with the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System or VAERS, which anyone can report to online. It doesn't have to be a physician's office, recognizing that the general public can report vaccine adverse events regarding the COVID-19 vaccine as well. It's truly astounding the limited number of serious events. Certainly everybody here knew one person who had X, but when you look at the numbers of people vaccinated, interestingly, your odds of dying or having a serious reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine are roughly 25,000 times less than your odds of winning the Powerball lottery. It's an interesting way to put it into perspective. I’ve heard feedback about media sources publishing articles about people dying from complications. The discussion that I have had with a number of folks who raise that question is if you have ever thought about purchasing a lottery ticket, then you're already comfortable with way, way worse odds than you are of getting COVID-19. Now, I want to talk briefly about the vaccine versus natural immunity. Before we had vaccinations, there was something called variolation, so we would actually get people sick with what we thought was a weak version of the virus. Smallpox is where this was largely used. You would take someone who didn't get too sick from smallpox and purposely infect other people. That created a situation where a certain amount of time, you were wrong and the person who you variolated ended up dying or had severe disease. That's what you get out of a natural immunity. The vaccine in and of itself though doesn't do that. It doesn't give you the full virus. So by controlling that, you're able to get the same level of immunity or actually a better level of immunity without any of those risks.
DR. MOY: That’s true, Dr. Kohl. The example that I like to bring up to health care workers is almost everyone had a hepatitis B vaccine when they started in the health care community. That's exactly the sort of viral vaccine that we've been dealing with.
DR. KOHL: We have about 400 years of history. Going back to the 1600s with that use of variolation that I described. Just a quick side note. The very first time that variolation was used on a royal was Catherine the Great. There was concern that she might develop a bad case of smallpox from it that they had stationed horses across Russia to be able to get the doctor out of Russia quickly before people would harm them if anything were to happen to Catherine the Great. So the idea that folks might be scared of vaccines is certainly not a new idea. Now let’s talk a little bit about the different types of vaccines.
DR. MOY: Thanks, Dr. Kohl. I'm sure that many of our vaccine experts are feeling the heat from over the past couple of years, like the doctor for Catherine the Great. Some things don't change. We have a number of types of vaccines, and I just wanted to talk a little bit about them. So measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox are altered or attenuated live viruses. There's a live viral particle that's injected, but it's been changed so that it's not going to be as harmful. That's pretty standard. We've been doing that for 40, 50 years now. We have inactivated viruses where the virus is actually killed and portions of the viral particle are injected, the killed virus are injected, and that causes the body to produce antibodies to that portion of the virus that still exists. It doesn't reproduce in the body. Examples are polio and hepatitis A. Let's move on to what is probably more interesting to you today, which are the latest vaccines, the messenger RNA vaccines, which are Pfizer and Moderna. They are the most widely used in the United States. In this amazing technology, which has been under development for over a decade now, this is the first major illness that we've used to deploy these vaccines. We have a small portion of RNA that is injected and causes our cells, your cells, my cells, to produce a portion of the spike protein that we then form antibodies against. Instead of injecting a part of the virus necessarily or having to harvest viruses, we've copied part of the messenger RNA that's used in reproduction to cause our cells to produce that small portion of the spike protein which is not harmful. Then our body produces antibodies for it. When those spike proteins from an external COVID-19 infection enter our body, those antibodies are then able to lock onto it and work on destroying that virus in the early stages. It's a really fascinating technology, and I think we'll see more messenger RNA vaccines come out over the next several years. They're going to be highly efficient, just producing the volume of vaccine that we've been able to produce and distribute for COVID-19 is just amazing, amazing technology and scientific advance. Regarding the concern some people have that the COVID-19 vaccine alters your DNA, it absolutely does not alter your DNA. The messenger RNA from the vaccine is incorporated into a cell, and then your cell only produces that little portion of the spike protein on the COVID-19 virus. That is it. There is no alteration of your DNA. There is nothing else that happens. That portion of the spike protein is not harmful to you. In that, it produces an inflammatory reaction at times when your body starts to produce those antibodies. Therefore, yes, I think there's a chance that you may experience a mild illness. I did. But it's a lot better than potentially having a serious illness that puts you in the hospital or the intensive care unit. What are we trying to do with the vaccines? We're trying to decrease the potential for serious illness that causes a hospital admission, that overtaxes our health care system, and to prevent additional strains or mutations from occurring because we're going to be able to reduce the reproduction of the virus in an infected person's body. But it absolutely does not affect your DNA.
DR. KOHL: Regarding the concern about the use of fetal cells as a part of the production of the vaccine, that's a topic we had lots of discussions about early on. To clarify for folks, there is a cell line that's used to test vaccines and assorted drugs. That cell line actually goes back many, many, many years ago, back to the late '60s, early '70s, and was a kidney cell out of an aborted fetus. However, that is not part of the vaccine. That's not used in the vaccine. It's simply a standard research line that exists in order to test the vaccine. Now, some of the other things that are tested or that were tested on that exact same line, Tylenol was originally tested on that same line. Ibuprofen, Naproxen, Lortab, propofol, and fentanyl. It's a standard research tool for us as part of the safety studies to know exactly how a human cell will respond. This is actually something that the Catholic Church looked very closely at for years and has funded quite a bit of research to try to develop other stem cell lines that would let us test these things before testing them on humans. That's under development. As of now, by a papal ruling, if you follow such things, the decision of the Catholic Church was that it would be inappropriate for us to put people at risk without taking advantage of this opportunity to give people the safest test possible. So is there any relationship at all? Yes, there is, but that same relationship exists for Tylenol, ibuprofen, and Lortab. There is no fetal cell used in the development or in the production of the vaccine. So, we hope you find this information helpful. Please listen to our two other podcasts that give more information about the best ways to protect yourself against viruses and an explanation of herd immunity. With that, once again I’m Russell Kohl, chief medical officer and family physician at TMF Health Quality Institute. Keep up the good work, and don’t forget to keep making the world a better place. – END –