Vaccine explosion! Vaccine invasion! Temptations and Hesitations!
No more DNA…no more RNA…and just the good ol’ protein!
Where’s the twist in all this?
Here comes another COvax with its own peculiarities! For all we know, it doesn’t mess with our DNA! It doesn’t muddle with our RNA! In a nutshell, it’s about what we’ve always loved…our proteins! Is it about beef…pork…mutton…venison or alike? Well…it’s a protein alright! It is a spike protein that comes with the hope that it won’t evoke a hunger strike among vax-hesitators!
So far, it all looks awesome to me! Don’t give me the RNA or DNA jargon that are well above my paygrade … just give me the good ol’ protein! I love my protein shakes! There’re so many of them in the market these days! I recall back then in late 70’s and early 80’s that there was only one that I knew…SlimFast! Nowadays, when I look at the aesthetically stacked aisles of pharmacies or grocery stores, I see so many varieties of protein bars, shakes and the like that makes the choice of picking one among so many more difficult.
Notice: If you prefer to bypass the background information and just focus on the nuts and bolts of the Novavax vaccine, please scroll down to the following heading: “Here Comes the Fourth American Vaccine!”
Craving Protein Bars! For most of us who love protein bars, all that matters is that they taste good, are loaded with protein, low in sugar, low in calories, and big on bulk! Do I really care how they are made and what ingredients they have? Honestly…absolutely not! If it’s trendy…if I’m hungry or craving for sugar…who cares, I will eat a several of them with a good coffee!
Have you heard of these protein bar brands: Bite, Sens, Exo, Naak, and many more look a-likes? What they all may have in common is that they are mouthwatering delicious insect-based protein bars! Did you know that some people love these insect-based protein bars? I have heard that after eating them for some time they may turn into finger-licking delicacy for certain people! Did you know that in many countries people eat insects? Did you say “yucky”! Well, let me tell you something else: you will eat maggots, crickets, and grasshoppers if you’re starved and lost in the wilderness! Why? Because those are all that you can catch with your bare hands in the wilderness! If you have skills in capturing snakes and make a fire with what mother nature gives you, then you can have a lovely feast of rattlesnake kabob and use your maggots as a side dish!
Do you want to know why I have wrapped up all those evergreens in that burlap cloth (see the picture below)? The answer is to keep them safe during snowy winter months from mobs of deer that have been roaming throughout our neighborhood for the past 15 years or so! For centuries, my home was their homeland…but now their lands are mine and my neighbors’! Do they love to eat my evergreens? Believe me, they are at the bottom of their list of palatable greens! They shave the easily accessible lower parts of these trees just to survive another cold winter day. Did you say they are beautiful animals…we invaded their land…be compassionate…let them eat whatever pleases them! Well…over my dead body! This is easy for you, the-big-city-high-rise-dweller to say! They are invading my property! They are lucky that I’m not shooting and eating them for invading my property!
For now, let’s make this side story short and keep on moving…as we have a lot to cover! However, if you already have developed a craving for insect proteins, and you want to know more about it right now…you may check out the link #8 at the end of this article!
The COVID Olympiad
The COVID virus does not belong to us or them…it plagued the entire world! As such, from the onset, biotech companies of many countries wanted to have a stake in developing their own brands of vaccine(s) while showcasing their biotechnological power to the others. In the end it was an American company, the Pfizer, who made the first vax jab touchdown in the arm of a Briton grandma and secured the first-place position! Do you recall the date that this happened? I will give you a hint: ironically, it was on the anniversary of the day that John Lennon, the British music legend was shot dead in New York City! Well, it was on December 8th of 2020! What was so astounding was that the Pfizer did it against a hightide of vaccine hesitancy in our country. It’s not my intention to delve into the concept of vaccine hesitancy, but you will be surprised to know how permeating this outlook has been, all along, in our country and so many other countries across the globe. If you’re interested to know more on this, I suggest the two articles that I have numbered “2” and “3” at the end of this blog for you.
You have the option to click on this and get in the mood before you go on:
The recent explosive entry of the covid vaccines into the market after a year or so of dormancy is both awesome and worrisome! Awesome because it shows that all along the biotech companies have been working on brewing their own vaccine brands, and these products have not sprouted off the ground like weeds at the sight of the COVID opportunity. Prosperity of the pharmaceutical companies depends on the sales of their health-enhancing products. Health enhancing products make no sense if there aren’t that many unhealthy and/or health-conscious people out there to use them. Now imagine that the whole world is sick with a deadly disease. Wow…this is the dream come true for the first one who develops the elixir for it! When the entire world is afflicted with COVID, the vax-holder becomes the king!
Happy Consumers of American Vaxes! Having several options to choose from, makes the price tags for consumers much better. More importantly, competition among the vax producers makes the quality of their products in terms of safety and efficacy, progressively, better. Afterall, if any of the vax brands comes with significant side effects, the words of it will exponentially be broadcasted by the social media within a short time across the globe. I have already started hearing rumors that people in other countries trust the American brands of vaccines more than the others. This is not an uncommon phenomenon as our country is the archetype of “checks and balances” and a role-model for drug-safety and enforcementof minimal preventable harms to consumers.
On March 15, and as I was thinking about writing this article, I heard that Germany, France, and Italy have halted their AstraZeneca vaccine plans due to rumors of thirty-something cases of post-vaccination blood clotting incidences in women under age 55. However, a few days later the World Health Organization (WHO) and the leaders of several European countries voiced their defense of the AstraZeneca vaccine by stating that the overall lifesaving merits of this vaccine cannot be dismissed with a handful reports of adverse reactions. Are they correct in saying so? Of course, they are! It all boils to the answer to this question: “which one would you rather not get…death by COVID…if you get COVID, or death from the clotting effect of the vaccine…if you get the COVID’s vax”?
Fact, Fiction, and our Rapidly Changing World
With so many conspiracy theories and fictitious information out there it’s definitely so hard for many of us to sort out fact from fiction. I understand that it’s utterly cumbersome and extremely worrisome to question every bit of information that is presented to us. With all my lifelong passion of learning the nuts and bolts of health and medicine, I have come to realize that no matter how hard I try I cannot catch up with the exponential growth of the biosciences in general, and genetics and immunology, in particular. There was a time that I used to believe that I have acquired a reasonable level of skills for understanding the underlying mechanisms of most biomedicine related concepts. However, as a result of exponential growth of these sciences in recent years, I am increasingly finding myself having to struggle with them. To make a confession regarding this matter to you; I had to revise my medical immunology review notes and books several times within the past almost 40 years of my career as a medical board prep coach. Why did I have to do this? Because immunology happened to be one of the most fast-paced advancing disciplines of the biomedical sciences. I wrote my last immunology review book just a few years ago. But, before I say, “I’m done with it”, the science of immunology was advanced far beyond my reach again! If you’re interested to know about medical immunology classics, I have a gift for you! I have assigned number “7” to the PDF of the book and associated videos of it. You may see the links among the references at the end of this blog. Why did I assign number “seven” to this reference? Because…it rhymes with “heaven”! Just kidding! But how can you be so sure that I was kidding unless you keep reading!
You may be curious to know where I am planning to take you with all these background information! Why did I say all this, and how are they related to stories of our COVID vaccines? Well, lately I have started telling myself “hey…you…the old dude…just trust our bio-scientists and trust that they’re doing their jobs according to high moral standards of the biomedical sciences! Give up on your curiosity of knowing how this vaccine has come to be as is…and just accept it for the purpose that it serves for you”. When I listen more attentively to the echo of my latter question, I start thinking that maybe there is an awesome lesson in it…maybe it’s about time for me to do just as I said I should do! There is a time that an old schooler like me should let the younger ones to do the mental and physical part of the job! What can I be doing instead is…to attend to the moral and spiritual aspects of these sciences, as they suit my age better! What is my advice to my fellow professors of any science, physical or biomedical? Let the younger fellows do the leg mental-physical work! You have another important role to play now! This is a role that it will take them until reaching your age, to profess! Be the soul of your science! It is only then that you can truly claim that you’ve excelled in your academic aspirations!
Just Do it! When I dial my iPhone and when I’m stepping into a Boeing 747 plane, I don’t ask about the details of how my cell phone works or how they raise this monstrous metal bird into the skies! I just trust the knowledge of our physical scientists and engineers on those matters! Incidentally, let me make another confession! Don’t you love it…you get a blog alongside so many firsthand privately held confessions! Just tag along with me, I have many more confessions to make for those who walk along longer with me. The beauty of life is all in the shared paths that we walk alongside each other while brewing our own brands of shared experiences. Whom does that experience belong to? Its only for me-N-you, and now you know the real meaning of “I love you”! Pardon me for another sidetrack…blame it on my age if you desire! Let me get us back a few lines! Just remember how many times in the last few weeks have you rewound videos and no one had said anything to you? I was saying…I love to trust our geneticists, immunologists and our bioscientists as much unconditionally likewise our physical scientists and engineers. But these poor fellows always get the harshest slaps of my Socratic doubts! May be its because I know a little more about the world that they thrive to know compared to the world that the physical scientists desire to know! But both are doing the legwork that any other scientist in their shoes at their position and age would have done! I slap biomedical professionals a little more only because it hurts more when it comes from the one who knows about their whereabout! But wait a minute… I trust that they have their own check and balances too! I believe that there are many out there who know some about the physical sciences … and I trust that they will keep on asking critical questions to keep our younger physical scientists on the right paths in their own fields of expertise! One final note for you to see what happened to me with all my doubts and delving into so many pros and cons: I already got my two Pfizer shots!
Our Rapidly Changing World: I recall back in late 60’s during my college time, that I could raise the hood of any car and figure out something about the ailment of the car. It was also cool and somehow, macho to see girls looking at you and say: he’s the man…the real man! These days, I am starting to think that maybe girls were smarter back then…because I was the one who was diving into the engine’s grease for them! They used to give me the cheapest thing that a woman could have given a man: Twinkle in the eyes with a sweet Mona Lisa smile…and that would have made me the wealthiest man ever! These days many girls like to be a macho-woman! You know what! For as far as I am concerned, I don’t mind if in the name of feminism, a girl dives into the car grease for me! I can give her my best twinkly eye alongside a big smile that covers my entire face!
Before I get much off the track, let me tell you another secret: For all I know, these days it is no longer cool for me to pop any car hoods up! Even if I do so, all I can recognize is the battery, oil filler cap, and windshield washer’s reservoir. Why is it so? Because these few engine parts have been my main concerns for my own road-side survival within the past several decades! Well, what am I supposed to do? I guess just trusting others who make a living off these, is the only way to go by…as what’s beneath the hood of cars changes so rapidly, and there’re so many brands of cars that I’d just trust the guy who pops the hood of my car! Oops…sorry…I’m sorry…that was such a sexist comment! I meant the “person” who pops the hood! This reminds me of one last short side story related to our rapidly changing world and how we cope with it! I promise that after that we will relate it all to our novel vax story. If you like to stretch out a little, grab a coffee or tea! It’s about the best time to do it now, as we are about to tie all the lose pieces together now! The Novavax story is just a few short paragraphs ahead!
So…I had my first course in feminism: In 1979 I took a graduate level course in feminist philosophy. Back then I used to work as a post-doc teaching assistant for a professor whom I dearly adored. She happened to be the chairperson of the department of community health sciences at my University. One day I had to draft of a letter for her signature. To show off my expertise in feminism, I changed the title that she always used to use, from “chairman” to “chairperson”. To make the story short…she became disappointed in me for tampering with her title…and immediately corrected me…she did it very nicely, courteously, and authoritatively, that I felt sweat flooding my socks! She told me that “chairman” is the proper title for a woman who leads a bioscience department…as women and men alike can assume any high-level biomedical management positions! For any young woman who hears this story today, it may sound so astounding! But remember this: back in 1979 there were not that many women with chairpersonship positions in biomedical science departments in our entire country. Any woman who could have led a university biomedical science department would have stood out among men and women alike! To sum it up…I guess one way for us to know that we’re getting old is when we recall paradigms that most people can learn about them in the history books!
Here Comes the Fourth American Vaccine!
The first three vaccines that were introduced in USA were in order of emergence: Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. The last one to arrive soon is Novavax vaccine! This is the first of its kind in the market! It is the first protein vaccine in our country! The following table introduces you to the top COVID vaccine contenders of our world as of mid-March of 2021:
If you are interested in a quick review of the currently available COVID vaccines, I have an awesome YouTube video for you! This is an easy to understand and artfully animated and narrated video produced by Alila Medical Media. Please click on this link and enjoy: Alila Medical Media – YouTube. If you are interested in using this video for educational or any other purposes, please feel free to contact them. If you are interested in a short introductory article about the mechanism of COVID vaccines, you may like to check out this general public friendly article with its awesome sketches produced by the WHO organization: https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/the-race-for-a-covid-19-vaccine-explained
Dr. E’s Personal Choice of COVID-Vax
I have already gotten my two shots of the Pfizer vaccine. Why? Because it was the first one that was made available to me! What had I liked to have if I had the choice to get any of the above vaccines? I personally prefer a well-established full-spike vaccine like the Novavax! I don’t want a partial spike defense; I like it the whole nine yards. But by looking at the above table can you guess what is my ideal vaccine? Here’s the answer: Sinovac or Covaxin! Why? Because they get me closest to training my immune system to fight back against the entire COVID rascal! I will talk a little more on these matters as we walk along just a little farther together.
What is the Novavax vaccine?
It is a protein vaccine alright! More specifically, it is a recombinant version of the coronavirus spike protein, produced in the cells of a surrogate living organism, and thus represents a relatively conventional technology that differs from prior American COVID-19 vaccines. To better understand how Novavax works, let’s begin by listening to what the producers of the vaccine have to say about it! Here’s my suggested introductory and cinematographically well-done video, “Novavax Platform Technology” for you:
If you are interested in another easy-to-follow article developed by Novavax company, here is another one for you: https://www.novavax.com/our-unique-technology.
What does it mean that Novavax is a recombinant vaccine?
A recombinant vaccine is a vaccine that is produced through recombinant DNA technology. This technology identifies and blends DNA molecules of a few species together. After recombination of genetic materials, the recombined DNA molecule is inserted into a host organism to produce new genetic recipe that is of value to biosciences. More specifically, with respect to the COVID virus, this technology involves inserting the DNA that is encoding for the spike protein (viral antigen) into bacterial or more evolved organismic cells. These cells will then act as a factory for expressing replicas of the spike antigen. The final step will include harvesting these proteins and using them as a vaccine. It is apparent that this technology causes hesitation and much resentment among people who fundamentally oppose recombination gene technology.
The Full Spike Advantage! What in my opinion places the Novavax vaccine above all other spike vaccines is this: in contrast to all prior ones that have been using a small segment of the spike protein, the receptor binding domain (RBD), that is responsible for attaching to the ACE-2 receptors of our bodily cells, the Novavax targets the entire spike protein. What is so fascinating about this? If a variant of COVID mutates the structure of its RBD, antibodies and our defense T-cells that are trained with the Novavax, can still knock down the rest of the spike protein. I am suggesting that my medical inquisitive students read article number “6” cited at the end of this blog for more COVID-spike protein information.
How is Novavax engineered? Well, they start by loading as many baculoviruses with the gene for COVID’s spike protein. Then they unleash the baculoviruses on moth cells. Where do the moth cells come from? Actually, they come from armyworm cells, that is the cells of the larvae or caterpillar that metamorphose to the armyworm moth! Why do they call it armyworm? Because during their larval stage they manifest a large-scale invasive behavior and damage and destroy a wide variety of crops. This aggressive propagating ability is the characteristic that is highly desired in vaccinology industry.
Read more on how Novavax employs recombinant nanoparticle technology and uses insect cells to produce a high volume of spike protein at this link: https://www.pharmaceutical-technology.com/features/novavaxs-vaccine-covid19-results/
What do then the armyworm cells do? Likewise, human cells that are infected with any virus, they express the spike proteins on their cell surfaces. Then, comes the harvesting time! In the bioengineering labs they pick up these proteins, and then they place them on holders (receptacles) or nanoparticles that each can grab up to 14 spike proteins. How do they do all these? Well, as I said earlier, I have come to the point in my life that I should put my trust in the hands of bioscience specialists in the field. All I hope is that they will follow, verbatim, the moral tenants of the biomedical sciences, and make the safety and health-promoting effects of their products their utmost priority.
What do the countries of Peru, Chile, and Bolivia have to do with the NovaVax vaccine? They help us understand the last piece of the puzzle for the touchdown of the Novavax vaccine into our arms! There is a tree known as the soaptree or Quillaja saponaria, that is commonly found in these countries. The bark of this tree has a high content of soap (saponin). You may ask what does soap have to do with these? Well, soaps have amphipathic effect. That is, they have non-polar and polar ends, and as such they are awesome molecules to join oil-soluble and water-soluble molecules together. Remember that our cell membranes are oily (non-polar) and the spike protein, is a negatively charged polar molecule. So, the soap tree elixir joins the two moieties together! But there is more to this: in addition to emulsifying and bridging effects, the soaps of Quillaja bark are shown to have antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties. But the property that has been fascinating to the vaccinologists has been their ability to modulate and enhance both the cell mediated and humoral arm of our immune systems. More importantly, it is shown that if saponins are added as adjuvant and supplement into the vaccine mixes, they tend to stimulate the cell mediated immune system, as well as the antibody production. This helps to reduce the dose size of these live-saving vaccines when the entire humanity needs it. It is also claimed that saponins strongly attract the first responding immune defense cells of our bodies to the site of vaccine injection. To sum it all up, and to avoid boring my readers with too much bioscience jargons: The Novavax vaccine is composed of COVID virus spike protein plus saponins to boost our immune response!
About the Baculoviruses: These are a diverse group of DNA viruses that are well-known for their ability to infect insects. They are extensively used as excellent tools for production of recombinant proteins in insect cells. They have a high biosafety index. They tend to mainly infect insects and they are non-pathogenic to humans. Most importantly, they have a high cloning capacity that allows them to act as biological factories for us! In this National Institute of Health article, “Baculovirus as a Vaccine Vector”: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3477694/, the authors write: “…due to their low human cell toxicity, and non-replication nature in the transduced cells as well as the ease of manipulation and production, baculovirus has been utilized as RNA interference mediators, gene delivery vectors, and vaccine vectors for a wide variety of applications…”
The Novavax Vaccine: The Dream-Come-True of the Antivaxxers!
Let’s have some fun while making the key notions of the Novavax vaccine humorously memorable
Well…have I already bored you with the above mind-boggling bioscience jargon? How about having some fun with what diehard antivaxxers may like to do with the above information! I should add that in that which follows my main goal is to make the key aspects of the Novavax vaccine more memorable for you! Let us see how a humorous antivaxxer who’s never trusted the pharm giants and has lived healthily for so many years has to say about what we’ve so far covered!
Before we proceed I like to make another confession: I got my Pfizer vaccine because it was the first one made available to me! As it turned out that vaccine was also one of the safest ones in the history of mankind! Had I had the option of choosing between Pfizer and Novavax, I might have been opted for the full spike coverage immune-insurance of the Novavax! The concept of making protein vaccines, and the technology that is employed to make them, in my opinion is one of the outstanding milestones of modern vaccinology. Personally, if I am given the option of getting another booster vaccine in the near future, and if the Novovax is being made available to the Americans, I will most likely go for it!
What virus did they say they load with COVID spike proteins? Did they mention something that sounded like Dracula-virus? OMG! Feeding COVID to Dracula is like feeding a rattle snake to a cobra to make the king of snakes even more vicious! The COVID was the dream come true for the pharm companies! Don’t you see…they don’t care for me and you! Can’t you see that they’re adding the Dracula-virus to the COVID to turn us into frequent vaxxer zombies!
Did you say that they feed Dracula to a fly! Didn’t I tell you watch for those poison-ivy league scientists? I don’t want them to poison me for a hoax pandemic! They have a grand plan for us all…they want to mix our genes with fly genes to wipe us all out! This is the conspiracy of the communist countries against us! They gave us COVID…and they now want to unleash those blood-sucking insects on us!
Don’t blend me with a fly! I just don’t like any spooky protein vax that injects fly genes into me! I have not forgotten my childhood nightmares after I saw that movie! I must have been about 9 or 10 at the time! The year might have been 1959 or 1960! My parents took me to see a blockbuster movie: The Fly! I don’t even remember if back then movies were rated or not. All I know is that going to movie theaters with one’s entire family was a cool way of bonding back then! The film was about a scientist who was transformed into a human-house fly hybrid by accident and after a fly entered unexpectedly into a molecular transporter with him. Well, you may click (https://youtu.be/kqYDRxdgnC0) and travel back in time with me! All I want to say before I let go of this is that I don’t want to be blended with any insects!
What our current science is doing for us is mind boggling! When I step into a humongous plane while dialing my cellphone to inform my family that I am about to board, I just trust our physical scientists and engineers that they can safely take me to my destination. I just trust that within a few hours I will get off the plane, and I will dial back my home to say, “I’ve reached to my destination!”. I don’t know much about my cellphone and plane mechanics, but thanks to those who’ve made them, they work for me! By the same token, I don’t know much about the bioengineering aspects of our COVID vaccines, but I trust in the American check and balance stories, and I believe or would love to believe that they will work for me!
One final food for your thoughts…until we catch up again! There are those of us, like me, who trust our bio-scientists and have gotten our vax jabs! There are also those of us who don’t trust the vaccines and they have their own strong reasons for it. What I believe is that all of us, the vaxxers and anti-vaxxers, can live healthily for much longer, if we master the art of infectious disease etiquette… and this is the issue that I would like to discuss at a later occasion for you.
Hope to catch you healthily down the road again!
Suggested Videos, Articles, and References
1. How the Novavax coronavirus vaccine uses moth cells?
2. Mapping vaccine hesitancy—Country-specific characteristics of a global phenomenon: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5355208/
3. COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy Worldwide: file:///C:/Users/User/Downloads/vaccines-09-00160-v2%20(1).pdf
4. Recombinant Vector Vaccine Evolution: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6668849/
5. Vaccines: https://www.vaccines.gov/
6. Structural and functional properties of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein: potential antivirus drug development for COVID-19: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41401-020-0485-4
7. Bare Minimum Immunology Review Book by Dr. E
Free ebook version: https://nmrtestbuster.com/download/bare-minimum-immunology-online/
Video lectures: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqI7SbudfN8&t=124s (Just click on the link for the first video, watch it, and the other 16 will follow sequentially)
8. Edible Insects as a Protein Source: A Review of Public Perception, Processing Technology, and Research Trends: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6728817/