True or false: the arguments of Covid-19 anti-vaccines scrutinized

“Vaccinated people die from Covid-19”, “messenger RNA modifies our genetic code”, “we can transmit the virus even by being vaccinated” … The arguments of anti-vaccines against Covid-19 continue to be diffuse, and the pace of vaccination slows down. But are these arguments well founded? Antoine Flahault, epidemiologist, answers the most widespread of them.

Some still hesitate, others rejected them a long time ago. More than six months after the start of the vaccination campaign, vaccines against Covid-19 still arouse passions. From skeptics to the most recalcitrant antivax, the arguments against them are tough. They would be ineffective, even dangerous … While even scientists say they are anti-vaccine, many French people no longer know which way to turn.

However, today, the Delta variant threatens, and the slowdown in the pace of vaccination raises fears of the surge of a fourth wave of coronavirus in France at the end of July, according to Olivier Véran.

“They are ineffective against the Delta variant”, “messenger RNA vaccines modify our genetic code and will cause cancer”, “their side effects are more serious than Covid-19 itself” … These arguments, qu ‘they are imbued with mistrust or rejection, abound in discussions and on social networks, but are they founded? Contacted by France 24, Antoine Flahault, epidemiologist and director of the Institute of Global Health at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Geneva, responds to some of them.

“The antivax only represent a very small proportion of the French population, since it can be estimated at less than 3.5%”, he wishes to clarify in the preamble. Do not confuse antivax that nothing will change your mind, and those who wonder, insists the epidemiologist. “There is, besides antivax, a much larger proportion: they are people who ask themselves questions which can be very legitimate, and which I will now answer”.

• True or false: “The vaccines against Covid-19 have been developed too quickly, we cannot trust them”

Yes, it is true that they were developed rapidly, and it is also true that they are new, innovative vaccines, in particular for messenger RNA vaccines. However, what has been squeezed are the administrative phases of implementing clinical trials, not the ethics phases. The ethics committees were consulted quite normally and gave their opinions and responses as normal. What allowed the acceleration of recruitment is the pandemic.

A vaccine is in development for the Ebola virus, but there have never been so many opportunities to recruit patients. Indeed, to recruit 30,000 people, and to see that there is a difference between the placebo group and the vaccine group, there must be a hell of an epidemic: if the virus does not circulate, or only little, that becomes very difficult.

I remember doing a clinical trial on chloroquine as part of chikungunya, because it was thought to have an effect, and we had to stop it for lack of fighters.

The conditions that have benefited from the rapid development of the Covid-19 vaccine are linked to epidemiology.

• True or false: “A certain number of people vaccinated are among the positive cases or the hospitalized patients. The vaccine is therefore ineffective, in particular against the Delta variant”

Just look at what is happening in Israel or the UK experiencing a wave related to the Delta variant. When we take the links between cases of contamination, hospitalizations, intensive care and mortality, there is precisely an absence, for the moment, of associated mortality. While at the same time, in Russia where the population is much less vaccinated (around 15% received the first dose, compared to more than 65% in the UK), you have a significant wave of mortality with nearly 800 deaths per day and a real wave completely coupled, as in South Africa where we see an increase in the number of positive cases and deaths.

In Portugal, which is closer to other European countries in terms of vaccination (beyond 50%), if there is perhaps a small increase in hospitalizations, it seems to be very attenuated, or in all case not in the same proportions as in Russia.

Thus, there is almost a living demonstration that the vaccine, from a certain threshold, begins to work. This does not mean, however, that there will be no hospitalizations: in the United Kingdom, there is still a fraction of unvaccinated people, and it is precisely these people who enter hospitals, and not the vaccinated.

Either way, there are of course vaccine leaks, and a few vaccinated people who contract the virus. There are even some who can cause serious complications and die. But there is always marginal vaccine ineffectiveness, it is very low for vaccines against Covid-19, but a vaccine is never 100% effective. Vaccines against Covid-19 are very close to 100%.

Apart from very rare cases linked, for example, to immunosenescence, that is to say where very old people can lose their immunity to the vaccine, when you are vaccinated, you are excluded from the risk of hospitalization. We are really dealing with very effective vaccines.

• True or false: “You can transmit the virus even if you are vaccinated”

The vaccine decreases the risk of transmission, probably between 60 and 80%, it is not 100%, but at the level of public health, very substantially reducing the risk of transmission contributes to reducing the risk of the virus spreading. So the more people are vaccinated the more we will create a barrier to this virus, and the more difficult it will be to sneak into the population. However, this cannot be done completely: there are few vaccines which are completely sterilizing and which allow absolutely no risk of transmitting the virus. Covid-19 vaccines can let some transmission pass, but they protect us against severe forms, and that’s what we were asking them to do.

• True or false: “Messenger RNA vaccines modify our genetic code”

This is an argument we hear a lot. When you have Covid-19, a huge strand of RNA (which is 30,000 bases and not just the spike protein code), enters cells, takes on the role of messenger RNA and produces proteins from it. our cellular machinery.

Infection with a virus, whether it’s influenza, dengue, chikungunya, or Covid-19, is the injection of messenger RNA. And when it’s due to a mosquito, it looks a lot like a messenger RNA vaccination. So there is nothing very new, but above all there is no genome modification with these viruses. The only genome modification that exists is with retroviruses, such as the AIDS virus which can get into the genome, but this is not the case at all with messenger RNA viruses.

I can’t understand how we can be afraid that a vaccine could do something that would be worse than the virus we want to fight against. Especially since the vaccine’s messenger RNA is destroyed in a few hours to such an extent that a second dose must be made. There is no sustenance of messenger RNA in cells beyond a few hours.

• True or False: “Messenger RNA vaccines, like Pfizer, can cause cancer”

This argument is difficult to oppose because cancers, which can be caused by carcinogens, do not occur in the weeks or months that follow, but years later. These are cancers that would arrive later and there would then be an epidemic of cancer in several years. It is impossible to thwart this argument: if a former Nobel Prize winner (reference to Professor Luc Montagnier, today scolded by an overwhelming majority of scientists for his anti-vaccine positions, displayed in particular in the conspiratorial documentary “Hold-Up”, Editor’s note ) says ‘there will be a cancer epidemic in thirty years’, how can I say he’s wrong? I do not know.

On the other hand, what we can say is that with everything we inhale, swallow and inject ourselves, we can risk being exposed to a carcinogen. We know that the fine particles that we breathe in the atmosphere on days of peak pollution are proven carcinogens. Maybe we will develop cancer from the air we breathed this winter at the time of these pollution peaks in our cities. That this vaccine causes cancer, I think there is no model that has ever shown that, so there is no reason to think so.

• True or false: “The side effects of the vaccine are more dangerous than the disease”

As an individual, if you have severe cavernous sinus thrombosis as a side effect, which is a very serious adverse event, or myocardia for which you are often hospitalized, if you are young then yes, maybe in this case , you can have a side effect that is more serious than what the Covid-19 would have risked to you, young without risk factor. However, this is extremely rare, and so rare that health security agencies believe that the benefit far outweighs the risk.

We experienced this at the time of smallpox. The vaccine was sometimes very dangerous since it could kill one person for every million vaccinated. But when smallpox was rampant and killing two million people a year around the world, no one questioned the value of the smallpox vaccine. However, once the risk had disappeared, smallpox having been eradicated from the planet, vaccination was stopped because of these adverse effects.

Likewise, even if it is not deaths, the Covid-19 vaccine can cause serious effects from time to time, and these effects are often difficult to frame. We can just say at what age and under what circumstances (age, sex) these occur, which has allowed us to regulate the prescription of some of these vaccines, all of which do not give rise to the same serious side effects.

There are serious side effects to all health products and, unfortunately, this is almost the counterpart of any effective health product.

• True or false: “With a healthy lifestyle, the immune system can defend itself on its own and does not need a vaccine”

Indians, mostly vegetarians, have an excellent lifestyle, and they have had absolutely devastating waves of Covid-19. So, the healthy lifestyle that would allow you to fight against such aggressive viruses, if we knew it, we would have experienced it or we would have observed it. However, I do not observe it.

Being in good health allows you to resist the attacks of the virus longer and valiantly: when you are in intensive care, it is better not to be too thin, not to be in too bad health, to pass the course. But this is unfortunately all that will allow the fact of having had, beforehand, a good hygiene of life.

Afterwards, it can also be a good protection: if you never meet anyone in closed and closed places, if this is what we call a healthy lifestyle, it can be a way of protecting yourself, of not not be under conditions of virus infection. But apart from this pattern, which remains quite rare, the immune system cannot be sufficiently boosted to be spontaneously resistant to the virus.

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