The COVID Vaccines Protect You And Everyone Around You, Why Is This Controversial?
Let's walk through how the COVID vaccines work and come out the other side with confidence that, once we've gotten a vaccine, this is all over.
We’re getting to a point in this episode where I’m incredibly optimistic because we’re inching out way our of this horrible pandemic but also I’m trying to keep up my spirits and be encouraging and loving as I try to help people psychologically navigate through the last moments of this crisis.
For today though, the topics are:
Does the Vaccine Prevent COVID Spread? (Yes)
How Does COVID Infect?
Looney Tunes: Falling Hare
Does The Vaccine Prevent COVID Spread? (Yes)
Once more back into the fray on this topic.
I’ve a friend, someone I like, take this position and I want to sit down and think about it again because it’s starting to feel like a really big deal.
Vaccines aren’t designed to prevent catching or transmitting the virus. They simply prevent severe symptoms
I want to treat this position with the utmost sincerity because this is one of the most powerful misconceptions that exists around vaccines right now. There is this idea that vaccines are essentially symptom management and do not prevent viral transmission. This is not true, but I want to go through this with as much detail as possible.
I touched on some of this topic in my long post on vaccines and mask wearing. We will re-tread some of that ground, but also cover some new concepts.
First of all, some terms. When a vaccine protects from both illness and transmission, that is called “sterilizing immunity”. If you have sterilizing immunity, it means that the virus can enter your body and is quickly killed. It can’t replicate, it can’t spread, you are not a vector for transmission.
If a treatment does not provide “sterilizing immunity” then it provides what we call “partial protection”. Partial protection has been a real struggle in treatments for AIDS. There have been many treatments that suppress the effects of HIV by reducing the viral load, but they do not produce antibodies that can fight the virus at a point of preventing infection and, because they permit infection, they also permit transmission. HIV is an outlier in the world of viruses. It has proven frustratingly resistant to naturally produced neutralizing antibodies, so most treatments are about reducing the impact of the virus even if we can’t prevent its transmission.
When we say someone has “caught” COVID, I think we all mean that the person had the COVID virus enter their body and it is replicating itself. There is this resilient idea that vaccination only reduces viral load and therefore reduces symptoms, but still allows the virus to infect us and allows us to be vectors of transmission.
I’m going to be as gentle as I can to this idea: This is not how any of this works.
Ok, dammit, we have to back up more.
How Does COVID Infect?
This video about how COVID infects is nice and short, so please watch it. This is incredibly non-controversial information, no one disagrees that this is how COVID infects a host.
Watch that part 25 seconds in where the narrator notes that the spike protein latches onto specific receptors in our respiratory tract.
This is important information because most of the vaccines that are being distributed don’t actually protect us from the COVID virus itself. These vaccines protect us from the spike protein that allows the virus to enter our cells.
If our cells reject the spike protein (which, to be clear, is exactly what the vaccine teaches our cells to do) our cells are rejecting the binding with the COVID shell and not allowing the COVID virus into our cells to replicate.
This is the reason the vaccines are not partial protection. They protect through sterilizing immunity, they cause us to produce antibodies that fight any invasive cell that has the COVID spike protein. That means that, once you are vaccinated, you cannot “catch” COVID. It will not invade your cells, it will not replicate itself, your cells will not be hijacked to produce new copies of this virus.
But can you transmit it? Well… kind of.
Let’s say that you’re vaccinated and you meet someone who is not vaccinated. Let’s say that they recently coughed into their hand. Let’s say you shake their hand. Let’s say that, after shaking their hand, you shook someone else’s hand before you could wash your hands. If all these things happen, then it’s very possible that you can transmit COVID even after you’ve been vaccinated.
But this transmission scenario is only possible because getting vaccinated does not mean that you’ve been given a vaccine that produces a corrosive acid or potent alcohol out of your pores whenever it detects the COVID virus. It means that your cells shun the virus like a nerd at homecoming. It doesn’t infect, it certainly doesn’t stealthily replicate innocent and ineffective versions of itself without any impact to you that will nonetheless infect other people you meet.
The scenario in which COVID can infect and transmit itself while leaving it’s host (the vaccinated individual) unscathed is, quite frankly, a near science fiction scenario. It does not match any of our observations about how viruses actually work or any of our reports on the efficacy of existing vaccines.
The COVID vaccines are vaccines that protect against the possibility of the virus even entering your cells. If it doesn’t enter your cells, it cannot replicate. If it doesn’t replicate, you can’t pass it to someone else. The very nature of the vaccines tells us that getting a vaccine means you are not a transmission risk. The COVID vaccines prevent infection. They prevent replication. And, when an infection does occur (which is rare), they reduce severity.
Please, please, please, get your vaccine if you can. It protects both you and your loved ones. It absolutely reduces transmission. There is no evidence whatsoever that the vaccines allow you to either catch or transmit COVID to anyone else.
I don’t know how the messaging on this topic got so terribly skewed. Well, I have some ideas, but those are for another time. But for this moment, please get vaccinated. You are protecting yourself and those around you when you get vaccinated. There are no caveats to this, vaccines reduce every possible infection metric you may be worried about.
Looney Tunes: Falling Hare
This is probably my favorite war-time cartoon. There are plenty of good World War II cartoons, but this one is my favorite simply because of the whimsy in it.
We start out with Bugs Bunny reading “Victory Through Hare Power”. This is, in itself, an incredibly rich joke because “Victory Through Air Power” was an infamous Walt Disney film created for the military as propaganda for US strategy in WWII. But, as Bugs is reading about military air combat strategy, he discovers the existence of “gremlins”, little creatures who wreck planes for fun.
The remainder of the cartoon is about Bugs’ fight against a gremlin who consistently gets the better of Bugs until there is a spectacular and harrowing action sequence through a city in which Bugs takes control and is saved from death and destruction when the airplane is unable to crash because the gas rations for the plane have run out.
I don’t know why this short stuck in my head the way it did except that I remember it clearly as the short where Bugs absolutely does not win.