At the risk of oversimplifying, let’s take a quick look at a complicated topic: vaccinations and infections. If you receive one of the vaccines for the coronavirus, how does that help you avoid getting ill, and how might it prevent you from being a carrier for the disease? Here are my thoughts:
When a virus or bacteria enters your body, sooner or later your immune system mobilizes a response to try and fight it off. By “sooner or later” we mean that the response takes time. If your immune system cannot catch up with the infection it loses the battle, and you get sick or possibly even die. If your immune system wins, you return to health and live, although you might be sick for a time while the immune system catches up with the infection and does its job. Regardless, it takes time for your immune system to detect the infection and respond. Simple, right? Well, no, it’s more complicated than that.
Think of your exposure to an infectious agent (viral or bacterial) as a dose. A dose is not simply the amount of virus you receive; it also reflects how quickly you receive it. Receiving a lot of the virus all at once would be more severe than the same amount spread out over several days because the longer time period gives your immune system more time to respond. A large enough dose overwhelms your immune system while a small dose might make you sick while your immune system responds and eventually prevails. And you might not notice any effects from an even smaller dose, since your immune system fights it off before it can cause any symptoms.
Statistically, the size of the dose required to generate symptoms (or the size of the larger dose required for lethality) varies from one person to another. The variability comes from our different levels of health, different qualities of immune systems, and pre-existing conditions such as other illnesses, and it can be substantial.
So how does vaccination help? In the case of coronavirus or other infectious agents, the vaccine increases your immune system’s sensitivity to the virus. In effect, it makes your immune system spring-loaded so that it responds more quickly and with better effect when you encounter the virus. It helps your body fight it off so well that you may never even notice. This is why reports on the coronavirus vaccines are usually careful to say that they prevent severe (rather than all) Covid-19 cases.
But can a vaccinated person carry enough coronavirus to infect someone else? Unless I am missing something, the answer is probably not, and here’s why: First, any coronavirus that enters a vaccinated person’s body will trigger an immune system response that impedes the virus in replicating itself. Coronavirus particles riding on your skin or in your nostrils are out of direct reach of your immune system, so they might be available to infect others under the right circumstances (e.g., a large, juicy sneeze without a mask). But this leads to the second consideration. Recall that it takes a statistically significant dose of virus to infect a person. Does the amount of virus you launch with a sneeze create a large enough dose? Well, there have to be enough particles launched, they have to travel far enough, and the other person has to breathe in enough of them to receive a dose large enough for infection. It might be hypothetically possible, but a vaccinated person is not replicating a lot of virus, so it seems unlikely that a vaccinated person could infect an unvaccinated person. We need additional research (already in progress) to confirm or correct this understanding.
There are a lot of things we still do not know about the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, or about coronaviruses in general. However, experience with infectious viral and bacterial agents helps us understand how the new vaccines can protect us. If you have a chance to get the Covid-19 vaccination, I encourage you to take it.
2 thoughts on “Vaccines and Infections”
Interesting thoughts. Where to start. First, viruses do not replicate themselves. They enter living tissue cells and cause the cells to produce virus protein. Once the cell has reproduced the viral proteins, it ruptures and releases the proteins to spread to and infect other cells. The process is exponential. One can imagine the size of a virus and limited efficacy of facial masks when envisioning a virus entering a cell and that cell subsequently releasing multiple viruses (though that cell may be destroyed when the viruses are released.
Second, the virus may or may not be intact. In some cases the viral protein may be modified to reduce its virulence before use as a vaccine. With some viruses they are so virulent that a totally manufactured protein is used as a vaccination. I believe the latter is the case of the virus that came out of Wuhan. More on the Wuhan virus in item four.
Third, some viruses, sometimes referred to as retro viruses, camouflage themselves as human protein. Several that come to mind are HIV-Aids and Lyme. Because the human immune cannot differentiate human tissue and the invading retro virus, auto, or self, immunity cannot be achieved. Treatment of retro viruses puts human cell protein an risk much the same as cancer chemo therapy is damaging to human cells. It is fortunate that the social community so significantly suffering from HIV-Aids had the political influence to prompt rapid research response and drug development. The same has not been true for Lyme disease as many victims are denied insurance coverage for Lyme disease treatment.
Fourth, and this is somewhat of a spin-off from three, there has been some nefarious origin attributed to Lyme disease that iss attributed to Lyme County, Connecticut as a point of origin. It seems that the US Army had a biological laboratory on an isolated, small island off the coast of Connecticut. On this small island the Army was supposedly conducting research on biological weapons. A retro virus, because of the camouflage from the auto-immune system, would be an ideal biological weapon. Government and insurance company denials seem common place today.
Fifth, and here we get personal, I have an academic background in microbiology and immunology. One of my classes was on viruses, primarily the amino-acid make up, identifying properties of specific pathogens, culturing, vaccination and, most important, mutation and modification. This was almost 60 years ago when researchers were first beginning to see actual viruses using electron microscopes (visible light waves are too large to define the molecular-sized viruses). A few years later I taught biological warfare defense while in the US Navy. It’s real. It goes back to Biblical times when drinking water resources would be intentionally contaminated with the bodies of diseased animals. Thanks to the Geneva Convention, chemical and biological warfare have been outlawed by most of the industrialized nations. Of the two, biological is the most insidious because is can not only be undetectable, as with chemical, but it can spread from a single target to multiple targets through direct contact and through the air (think Legionaire disease).
Finally, my last point for now, virology labs, like that in Wuhan, China, develop vaccines for immunological protection. Annually, a new vaccine variant is developed and deployed for world-wide protection from the seasonal influenza. So vaccines are more effective than others. It’s like trying to hit a moving target. You cannot aim at the same place each year. In anticipating the new target, older, known viruses must be modified then new, effective vaccines developed. The risk is that a modified, highly virulent virus will escape containment before the associated vaccine can be developed. The process of developing new, target viruses would also equate with the development of military biological weapons, violation of the Geneva, Convention by the signatory nations. Hence the reason that this research in the USA was discontinued by President Obama and secretly funded by Fauci in China. Right, wrong, intentional spread, I don’t know but only have a personal opinion.
How does the foregoing apply to this blog? The virus that originated in Wuhan, China, is extremely contagious, more so than the common flu. And this virus, being identified as part of the Sars family is also very debilitating for those exposed to high doses or weakened immune systems. But the injections being used are not the virus. The injections are amino-acid complexes designed to convey immunity without the associated debilitating disease. The material in the injection is intended not to be contagious. The Virus will continue to exist as long as unimmunized targets and carriers exist. As a rule, viruses need carriers and will not exist for long in the environment. Another factor related to delayed injections, premature social gatherings and those exercising personal privilege of noninjection over social responsibility is the development of variants which can defeat all prior efforts. I don’t mean to be fear mongering here but everyone needs to listen to immunity professionals (Fauci excluded as his personal agenda may be conflicted) and stop listening to politicians and neighbors. ENOUGH!!!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jason. One of the interesting and unusual things about Livermore is how many people here have expertise in biowarfare sciences, technologies, and countermeasures; expertise in how aerosols, smoke particles, and smaller things behave; and expertise in the environmental and health effects of these things. All of it useful, and sometimes in surprising ways.