THE last few days have witnessed promising news about a potential vaccine for Covid-19. A collaboration between Pfizer and a German biotechnology company, BioNTech, has led to the development of the vaccine, with the latest clinical trials showing up to 90 per cent efficacy.
Scientists say the fast development of the vaccine, coupled with its high efficacy rate, is beyond belief as it would normally take more than three years to develop one. This may have something to do with the new way to develop vaccines.
This new way of making vaccine is what has been disturbing the common man. Is it safe, then, to take the vaccine? My Class of 66 WhatsApp group has been discussing this. A member from Terengganu, ex-Tenaga Nasional Bhd, first raised the issue. Anti-vaccine groups around the world have been having a field day on social media spewing conspiracy theories about the vaccine.
There have been lots of postings and talk about the danger of the newly developed Covid-19 vaccine. Some claim they can alter or even rewrite human DNA, citing the use of the mRNA in vaccine development as posing a danger, warning even about certain forces out to control the human mind.
A vocal member who hails from Jelawat, Kelantan, now living in Invercargill city, New Zealand’s South Island, offered some comforting words: “To me, those theories are unfounded. We need to trust science. The US, for example, snubbed the science of the pandemic. They now lead the world in Covid-19 cases.
“Those purported risks of mRNA getting integrated with our DNA, raised by the conspiracy theorists, are baseless. The claim goes against the basic knowledge of science… There is no risk at all.”
This colleague of ours is an accomplished immunologist.
Another colleague, an oncologist who studied at Putra English School in Perlis before joining Malay College Kuala Kangsar, elaborated: “Here is a simplified version of DNA and RNA science. We are all made of cells. All cells contain nucleus. In the nucleus is the stored genes. A human would have 23 pairs of chromosomes constituting all the genes in the individual, one set from the mother and one set from the father.
“In the genes are the nucleic acid DNA. This contains all the codes for the characteristics of an individual, describing every detail of one’s metabolism. The mRNA is a messenger RNA which decodes the information in the DNA and ‘gives’ it to the ribosomal RNA to be able to manufacture the required protein. In this case, the required protein is the antibody against the Covid virus.”
My colleague from Jelawat, who used to be vice-chancellor of University College Sabah Foundation, further explained: “The claim of the possibility that mRNA would be integrated with our DNA and cause harm is rather ridiculous. We consume cells of zillion types daily as food. They all have their specific mRNAs.”
Another issue raised with the new vaccine is the logistics. The vaccine requires storage at -70°C to remain stable.
I say this to my Kiwi friend, a diehard fan of the New Zealand All Blacks, that vaccine storage is not the problem. Developing a workable vaccine is the bigger problem. Designing and manufacturing containers and facilities for storage at that temperature is not insurmountable.
It may be problematic in some remote off-grid areas, like in the African continent. Even then, flying the vaccine to people is not impossible. The Navajo Nations (Arizona, Utah and New Mexico in the United States) are already looking at this. As to what to do with those used containers, there are thousands of laboratories that can use them later. I remember spending a big chunk of my research grants on special tanks to store my serum proteins at such temperatures.
The colleague from Perlis, who has been regularly hosting the group’s lamb curry retreat, concurred: “There is no reason to fuss about the low temperature storage. We just need to make it a priority and allocate the right funding . If they can store thousands of nuclear arsenals and warheads for 70 years now, transporting the vaccine, to me, is chicken feed.”
Professional comments from experts should put to rest the worries that have been shared on social media about this vaccine. As we are all in the 70s age group, and are considered vulnerable, there is nothing to lose. What is abundantly clear is that the vaccine brings promise to a troubled world.