Vaccine hesitancy is a real problem in the control of mortality from COVID. It is true that we know very little about the safety of these new generation mRNA vaccines. However, we do know that mRNA vaccines are safer than previous generations of nucleotide vaccines that were based on DNA and therefore could be integrated into our genome.
Anything we take into our body has the potential to alter our immune equilibrium. That is why we have an immune system in the first place – to co-ordinate our response to foreign invaders. We do know that the responses of our immune systems are idiosyncratic and not dose dependent. Anyone with a severe peanut allergy will attest to the minute quantities of peanut that can cause a full blown life-threatening allergic reaction. The same is true for the very small numbers of people who experience severe reactions to the COVID vaccines – still less than the incidence of severe adverse reactions to the influenza vaccines.
Vaccines always deliver much more COVID-like material than a person might be exposed to in normal life. It is a trade-off that favours accepting usually mild adverse reactions in exchange for immunity or at least reducing the severity of future disease.
One area where parents are particularly concerned, fuelled by internet misinformation and anti-vaxers, is about COVID mRNA vaccines and fertility.
Scientific investigation into women’s health is always a poor relative when it comes to research. Despite the paucity of research looking into women and mRNA, recent work has postulated that mRNA may actually be therapeutic for women in their reproductive years. RNAs have been found to modify pregnancy-related diseases, gynecologic cancers, polycystic ovary syndrome, aging, gamete, and embryo development.
It takes time to conduct observational research on the long-term effects of any medication, let alone vaccines. However, we now have evidence about a similar inoculation given to young adolescents, the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine. There is no evidence of increased infertility among women who receive the HPV vaccine.
From birth, our bodies are at risk from the environment and what we ingest. That hasn’t stopped nearly half the population of middle-income countries from taking dietary supplements, which are largely unregulated. We down supplements despite the absence of any long-term research to support their safety. There are certainly no studies on their potential long-term adverse effects – especially on fertility.
These products are largely unregulated because foods, as opposed to drugs, are considered safe until proven otherwise. The products don’t even have to be effective. They just have to avoid making medical claims such as they cure cancer or halt dementia. Often, they are labelled as “natural”, potentially making us think that, because they are natural, they are not harmful. In the case of green tea extract, ginseng, and black cohosh, the opposite is true. They all have been shown to cause serious damage to the liver.
Before anyone turns down the opportunity to be vaccinated against COVID, they should consider the relative risk. At least pharmaceutical products have to identify all the ingredients and quantities and are under much greater scrutiny from regulators, the public and the press.