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In Search of a Vaccine for COVID-19

Aras Konjhodzic

2020-11-01 18:05:40

It has been over half a year since Covid-19 swept across the world and forced many countries into quarantine. Hopes of a quick resolution of the disease in many countries have since been, unfortunately, proven to be wrong, and it is evident that the virus is here to stay for a while [1]. The virus is so difficult to deal with considering it can be transferred from person to person even if the carrier does not outwardly display symptoms. Even animals, ranging from mice to tigers, can contract and transmit it to humans [2, 3], and we cannot quarantine or force them to wear facemasks. The virus will eventually hit each person; it is just a matter of time. The virus may additionally arrive in multiple waves, as it is possible to be reinfected [4]. COVID-19 will most likely have a lifespan of a few years, much like other major virus outbreaks of the past such as the swine flu in Hong Kong or Spanish flu. It will probably come and go like a common flu in never ending waves. So, each of us need to be ready until a successful vaccine is developed, and the wisest action for each person to be ready would be to boost our immune systems and practice effective social distancing and sanitation measures, while we deal with this virus for however long it may last.

Vaccines are critical for stunting the development and spread of viruses; however, they can be costly, time-intensive to develop, and not always perfect. It is worth exploring alternative methods to help protect our bodies from these pathological invaders while vaccines are being researched. As it so happens, the best method of prevention to date for HIV infections is not a vaccine, but is instead a tradition that is as old as thousands of years: male circumcision [5]. To give a comparison, the current widely popular and heavily promoted influenza vaccine is considered “50% effective against influenza B/Victoria viruses and 37% effective against influenza A(H1N1)” [6]. On the other hand, according to an article published in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, circumcision is up to 88% effective in preventing heterosexual transmission of HIV [7]. Male circumcision does not have any medicinal side effects, and the only risks that are involved are those related to any minor surgery – bleeding and infection.

In the 1980s, when I first heard of HIV, I remember reading articles which claimed, quite arrogantly, that vaccines and cures for the condition would be found within two or three years [8]. Forty years later, and after spending many billions of dollars on research, we are still nowhere near an HIV vaccine. At best, we found treatments which helped keep the HIV virus at bay [9]. To date, only two people have been fully cured with a method far too expensive to be applied to the general public [10]. In the meantime, at least 30 million people have died with more than half a million in the year 2019 alone [11]. While vaccines are critical for helping to eradicate viruses, putting all of our eggs into that basket alone can be a risky public health strategy due to how difficult and time consuming they are to discover, verify, and distribute. It is impossible to know for sure how long it will take to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus. In the meantime, communities should heavily consider following the instructions of their local health officials which often include social distancing, limited size gatherings, and frequent hand washing as these methods are already proven to help reduce the spread of the virus.

Development, and even the rushed development of a vaccine, is always a very tedious and dangerous process. The science behind them is exceptionally complex, and imperfect results can have disastrous consequences upon thousands of people. This is further complicated by the fact that phase 2 and phase 3 trials can have quite diverging results [12]. In the USA, AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine trials were stopped after trial participants fell ill [13]. Third phase trials, which encompass thousands of people [14], still can give little indication of the long-term side effects to any vaccine. Besides, even though there is human life at risk, the vaccine has already become an instrument for many political and economic disputes and conspiracy theories. Some governments claim they have already developed a vaccine, while others find them unreliable, or try to lure a foreign company to work for themselves [15]. In August of this year Russia rushed registration of an unproven Coronavirus vaccine and named it, in Cold-War-like fashion, the “Sputnik V” [16]. The announcement was made by none other than Vladimir Putin himself. It was offered to the USA, but was rejected due to safety concerns stemming from a belief that the drug was not adequately researched and developed [17]. In the meantime, Russia announced the development of a second vaccine [18]. Surely enough, it was dismissed and downplayed by the West as unproven and unreliable. On the other hand, a vaccine developed by a Chinese company Sinovac proved to be the most successful in its phase 3 trials in Brazil [19]. Sao Paulo Governor João Doria purchased 47 million shots of the vaccine. However, the transaction was stopped, arguably for political reasons, by the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro [20]. Bolsonaro’s comments when rejecting the purchase of the Sinovac vaccine on the basis that “the Brazilian people will not be anyone’s guinea pig” are not totally without merit. Recalls of “proven and tested” vaccines have happened in the past [21].

It is important for all people to continue exploring methods to develop their immune systems and prevent the spread of the virus while we wait for a vaccine. In an article I had previously published, I discussed the benefits of fasting, vitamin C, and Wim Hof breathing methods to help protect the body from disease [22]. All of these methods are well known and quite benign with respect to side effects, however they are unable to cure Covid-19 or prevent its spread. Additionally, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has heavily stressed practices included social distancing and the wearing of non-ventilated face masks. Our hope is that going above and beyond to protect ourselves and our neighbors will give scientists the time that they need.

One way of giving that time to scientists is fasting. Fasting, like circumcision, is a tradition that is thousands of years old. In recent studies, a three-day water fast has been shown to reset the immune system of elderly people to the level of a twenty-year old’s [23]. At this current level of emergency in the world it would be very easy to find thousands of willing volunteers to trial monthly three-day water fasts and/or to take extra doses of vitamin C, not as a cure, but as a shield against COVID-19. This kind of study would not pose much risk and would definitely be very cost-effective. We could dive straight into the third phase of trials, for any side effects of fasting are already well known. And finally, if proven effective, its uptake by the population at large would be basically cost free and readily available across the whole world.

Our world has been enduring a difficult and challenging period for the better half of a year now. Time has given us the ability to learn more about the virus, how it disrupts our bodies, and how it spreads. This knowledge has, in turn, allowed us to research it and develop effective social guidelines for limiting its spread. Still, there is much work to be done. Hysteria and haste are not conducive to producing a vaccine that is thorough, effective, and efficient. It should be the responsibility of every able-bodied citizen to do what they can to learn more about how they can protect themselves from the virus and thus prevent it from spreading even more while we wait for a vaccine.

  7. Halperin, D. T., & Bailey, R. C. (1999). Male circumcision and HIV infection: 10 years and counting. The Lancet, 354(9192), 1813-5. doi:
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