Last week I got a call of a long-standing elderly client; his adult son was…
From time to time some people have told me that I have a unique way of explaining things – so I thought I’d have a go at using an analogy to explain why people need not fear the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine used in New Zealand.
The Pfizer vaccine is what’s called an mRNA (or “Messenger RNA”) vaccine. Fun fact: mRNA vaccines have been around even longer than digital pianos (60’s vs late 70’s).
Digital pianos consist of parts like a keyboard – a pair of speakers – a power supply – and a motherboard with a processor on it. mRNA vaccines consist of parts too – like sugars to protect the vaccine whilst it’s in storage (like a preservative) – salts (to get the Ph where we need it so it doesn’t sting) – fats (to protect and carry the mRNA to our cells) – and of course the messenger RNA encoding SARS-CoV-2 spike protein itself.
It’s this messenger RNA encoding the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein that’s key (literally. It’s a unique key) – this bit is a 4000 amino acid long single strand protein “message” with a lipid (“fat”) coating on it. The equivalent of “a 4000 amino acid long single strand protein” in digital pianos parlance would be “the unique notes that make up a particular tune”.
Quite a few people to date have chosen not to receive the Pfizer vaccine because they don’t feel that it’s been tested enough; they fear that in 30 or 40 years it might “cause cancer” (or something like that). In that respect the components of the vaccine (the fats, salts, and sugars) are like the keyboard, speakers, and power supply of a digital piano that have remained unchanged and been in use for 40 years; if they were going to cause a problem then we would have discovered that problem already sometime in the past 40 years.
All that’s changed with the Pfizer vaccine is the message – so being hesitant to have it is a bit like having a digital piano and having no hesitation in playing classical music (because that’s been played on digital pianos ever since they were invented), but not wanting to play the latest pop-tune because it might “cause the digital piano to blow up in 30 or 40 years”. It just isn’t a valid concern.
As with any fat, salt, or sugar our bodies break down and metabolise the components; there’s no trace left of them in our bodies after a couple of hours. All that’s left is the message (“a memory of the notes of the tune”).
But wait – there’s more. Because this message is going to be spread to a lot of people, it – of course – needed to be tested … and they did that with phase 1, 2, and 3 part trials … MORESO than with many other aproved mRNA vaccines because so many people are being exposed to the COVID-19 virus thus testers aren’t having to wait long periods (ie “years or decades”) for people to be exposed to the virus that a vaccine candidate is trying to protect against.
The testing that we need to do (in terms of how well the vaccine is tolerated) in-essence comes down to how well people tolerate the fats, salts, and sugars used — and that’s something that doesn’t take a long time to get good reaction data on; reactions/symptoms will appear often within hours — days at the most — if they’re going to. We don’t need to wait 40 years to see if we’re going to get a reaction from the components any more than we need to wait 40 years before testing of a certain song is declared safe to play on digital pianos. After all, we don’t avoid eating a new product from the supermarket for 40 years when it contains the same fats, salts, sugars (etc) that we’ve been eating for decades.
I’m proud to say that the first dose of Pfizer vaccine was in my arm less than 24 hours after getting the text to say that I was now eligible (it would have been sooner but there were no appointments available for the rest of that day). And I received the 2nd dose exactly 8 weeks and 1 hour later (I’ve read credible peer-reviewed data that suggests that the sweet-spot for maximum antibody response against the Delta variant is 8 weeks). I also have a reminder set for exactly 5 months after my 2nd shot to see where we’re at with regards to booster shots; the protection against catching the disease drops from “in the 80’s” to “in the 40’s” over a period of about 6 months, but our ability to fight the virus if we do catch it remains high (our bodies remember how to make the specific antibodies – it just takes 2 or 3 days for it to “restart production” if/when we get exposed … so it’s “on to it” before we get sick).
So – how’s the vaccine working in practice? … short answer is very, very, well. As I write this there have been a total of 276 people admitted to hospital since the start of the current outbreak. Of those only 7 have been completely immunised (meaning at least 2 weeks since their 2nd shot) – leaving non-fully-immunised accounting for the other 269 people. It really doesn’t get more starker than that. The percentage of vaccinated people being hospitalised WILL increase over time though — simply because they will represent a far greater number of people (or as someone put it “far more right handed people commit crimes than left handed people … because there are far more right handed people in the world). But as of the time of writing, over 50% the population is fully immunized – and yet that group represents only 2.54% of those hospitalised (ie “20 times less likely”).
Current data shows that if you’re fully immunised then not only will you be about 10 times less likely to catch it, you’ll also be only about 1/2 as likely to pass it on to someone else (although you may have read that peak viral loads are often similar between immunised and non-immunised people, the length of time that people have that viral load is much shorter with fully immunised people (because the anti-bodies are ramping up and killing the virus) – and of course the shorter the time one is infectious, the less opportinuty there is for them to infect others).
I’ve often read things from the vaccine hesitant like “I don’t need the vaccine because there’s only a 0.008% chance I’d die from it if I caught it”. Maybe – maybe not (usually these folks don’t have any formal qualifications in statistical analysis) but even if they were right, why is “death” the line that’s drawn in the sand? For every one who dies there are many more who end up in hospitals on a ventillator in an induced coma – fighting for their lives. And they can be there for months. Many others end up with permanant lung deficits. None of these are “walks in the park” – and the odds of suffering one of these events is far far higher than death. Is it seriously worth it for the sake of avoiding a painless & safe injection that takes (literally) less than 3 seconds?
“Is it seriously worth it for the sake of avoiding a painless & safe injection that takes (literally) less than 3 seconds? ” I ask (again); below I’ll link to a list of 6733 named New Zealand doctors who think not. These are all trained professionals with a (conservative estimate) of 67,330 YEARS of collective training and experience – and they ALL recommend getting vaccinated ASAP. Are peope with no medical knowledge really trying to say that they can make a better decision regarding vaccination safety than a group with (conservatively) of 67 thousand years of collective training and experience? As I’ve said read elsewhere, “that’s about as silly as getting an X-Ray and choosing to believe the opinions of a pastry chef, taxi driver, and librarian over a group of trained and experienced diagnostic radiologists when it comes to interpreting the results.
I hope this helps someone. Because of the seriousness of the disease – once it gets to Nelson – I’ll only be allowing fully immunised people on my premises.
Some good links for further information – I especially recommend the first one: