Dispelling some COVID vaccine myths

Here's a little insight into what COVID vaccines are and are not, from Father James Ferrenburg, an Orthodox deacon and certified Clinical Laboratory Specialist in Molecular Biology who is a senior laboratory quality assurance associate at a biotechnology company.

Okay, this is long. I realize some of you are fully onboard with a variety of conspiracies regarding the current pandemic. I do not expect anything herein will convince you of anything so, carry on. However, I've had numerous people send me things and honestly ask about the veracity of what is being posited as "exposing the truth." Examples of such "truths" are: the mRNA 'vaccines' aren't vaccines, but actually Gene Therapy. That the vaccines are largely untested. That SARS-CoV-2 doesn't actually cause COVID-19. Etc. I've heard all the arguments and none of them pass the muster. A podcast and a video were sent to me recently and here is my lengthy response. All of this will tie into the deaths of over 300,000 South Africans who believed a lie….the very same lie now being touted by COVID-19 conspiracy theorists.

mRNA Vaccines and the Conspiracy Theorists

I’ve had several people send me two different links, one to a podcast and another to a video regarding the mRNA based vaccines (at least in part). The podcast came from Wise Traditions and is entitled “It’s Gene Therapy, Not a Vaccine” which interviews a gentleman named David Martin who apparently appeared in one of the “Plandemic” films, the first of which was not something I’d recommend as some of you know from past posts I’ve made. The second vaccine related item is a video from “The New American” which interviews a physician named Lee Merit(t?).

The Merit(t?) interview seems to be MOSTLY about the virus being a Chinese bioweapon – apparently a really crappy one since she also keeps dismissing its danger…not sure how you can have it both ways. This conspiracy about the virus being man-made has long been dismissed by the infectious disease community. I can recall the height of this conspiracy was when people were reporting about a “paper” in which scientists claimed to find HIV genes within the genome of SARS-CoV-2. Of course, no such genes are actually there and the paper was a complete fabrication. So I won’t dig into that further except to suggest that whether this bug was man made or not has little bearing on the reality of it being here and the reality that it is killing people. But, Dr. Merit(t?) says two things about the vaccine that I will take issue with and she offers them both in this discombobulated sentence: “It’s [mRNA vaccines] really not a vaccine, but whatever this thing is, you want to tell what they’re call this Pfizer this Moderna vaccine – this RNA thing – it doesn’t prevent transmission by their own admission.”

Similarly, Dr. David Martin in the Wise Traditions podcast says the same thing in his interview which begins with the interviewer giving a brief bio for the doctor: “David received his undergraduate degree from Goshen University, his Master of Science from Ball State University; and his doctorate from the University of Virginia. He is an innovator, a professor, and a man with experience in the medical field.” Note what is missing? Of what subject matter is he a professor? What subject matters were his degrees in? What science is he currently doing and where? What are some of his peer-reviewed scientific journal articles? Is his specialty in Oncology? Maybe virology? Perhaps Vaccines? Nope. If you are being interviewed on a very specific subject (e.g. vaccines) and they run through your bio without mentioning anything that remotely connects you to the topic and in fact you deliberately obscure your field of expertise, then you should pause to wonder what is going on. You have to dig around to find it, but Dr. Martin makes a career as a financial analyst and a “patent researcher.” What precisely makes him – as opposed to any of us – “a man with experience in the medical field” is unknown to me? Now look, I’m not one to get wrapped up in credentials (letters behind a name), but you should start off with SOME degree of skepticism when a financial analyst is going to educate you about mRNA vaccines. Now, if you did no examination into who this doctor actually is, you’d be led naturally by the introduction to assume he was a medical doctor or scientist, not a finance/economics expert. I was unable to find any details on his education and only found how he made his living – this strikes me as being quite odd for someone who is making such exhaustive claims about virology and vaccines. Rest assured if he held degrees in Biology, biochemistry, or molecular biology – Wise Traditions would have told us so. Now, of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean the man is wrong in what he says, what proves that he is wrong in what he says is the fact that he is wrong in what he says.

The teaser at the beginning offers this from Dr. Martin:

“If I said everyone needs to take chemotherapy for the cancer they might get. Okay? That is exactly what is happening. We are being told to take a treatment – this is not a prophylactic, this is not helping us. We are being told to take a treatment for a disease we don’t have…” Pause. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been directed to sources purporting some conspiracy and within the FIRST paragraph or FIRST few minutes of an interview with “sciencey” sounding stuff, I find myself baffled as to what is actually being communicated because of how little sense it makes. I do not mean to come off as a jerk here, but what he says in that sentence (as well as the claim that this isn’t a vaccine, but gene therapy) is utter nonsense and communicates to me that he has absolutely no idea what he is talking about. He equates the mRNA vaccines (“EXACTLY” he says) to chemotherapy because he believes the mRNA isn’t a vaccine and then somewhere he saw that the same technology has been used to treat cancer. This leads me to wonder if he even knows what a vaccine is to begin with?

Yes, early work with mRNA was originally developed for cancer treatment…but as a type of immunotherapy very much like a vaccine except that you already have the disease when you receive the vaccine which will train your immune system to fight it. THAT is the very definition of a vaccine. There are many different types of vaccines, some are viral proteins (small portions of the virus), larger portions of a virus (like it’s envelope), inactivated whole virus and now mRNA, but they all have this in common: they are intended to elicit an immune response which will grant immunity to the patient. In the case of cancer the immunity ALLOWS your immune system to more readily detect and destroy the cancer cells. Now if it’s been ages since you learned anything about cell biology, here’s a VERY brief and simplistic explanation about protein manufacturing in your cells to help you understand how mRNA vaccines work.

Your DNA, which resides in the nucleus of your cells, provides a code (varied arrangements of the four base pairs that make up your DNA) from which proteins can be built. Messenger RNA (mRNA) is made from certain sections of your DNA which code for a particular protein in a process called transcription during which enzymes “read” the DNA code and then transcribe (make) an mRNA molecule which is modelled after that section of your DNA. The mRNA is then exported out of the nucleus and into the cytoplasm of your cell where Ribosomes are waiting to translate the mRNA into a functional protein based on the original DNA code. And now you have a new protein ready to do whatever job it is intended to do. Now as I mentioned, sometimes a traditional vaccine can be just a viral protein injected into your body which your immune systems recognizes as foreign, well mRNA vaccines act similarly except that the protein isn’t produced in a lab, but rather it is produced in your cells by introducing a synthetic bit of mRNA into the cytoplasm of your cells to make the protein needed to elicit an immune response. In the case of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, the mRNA codes for the now well-known spike protein and thus introduces the protein “antigen” (any molecule that is foreign to the body) by way of your own cells. Despite shrill warnings about the technology being untested, mRNA style vaccines have been extensively tested both in vitro (in lab flasks etc) and in vivo (animal models) over many years and have actively been used in clinical trials in humans since 2011. All the data from these indicate that the technology is both highly effective at eliciting an immune response AND that it is safe. The mRNA will eventually degrade (experimentally proven MANY MANY times) and cannot, despite all the verbal force in the world generated by anti-vaccination activists, enter into the nucleus and “infect” your DNA. mRNA simply does NOT do that.

Now, is this gene therapy rather than a vaccine? Well, it elicits an immune response (like a vaccine). It is intended to do so BEFORE you catch the virus for which it is intended to offer protection (like a vaccine). In the case of cancer it is intended to elicit an immune response AFTER you get cancer so that your immune system can attack the cancer cells. The narrative to brand this as Gene therapy and not a vaccine is a monstrous attempt to earn clicks and likes by playing on the fears of people in the general public who understandably know nothing about mRNA vaccines. Gene Therapy is understood to be a therapy in which scientists are able to correct a genetic defect or provide a functional copy of a gene that is defective in an individual. In other words: Gene Therapy DOES seek to change your DNA. mRNA vaccines do NOT and indeed CANNOT. And so Martin is either being disingenuous or he is simply ignorant (I’ll assume the latter out of kindness and knowing he has no experience in actually using science professionally) in saying this is NOT a vaccine. “Gene therapy” sounds frightening, doesn’t it? That certainly drives hits and likes I would imagine. Somehow, in this man’s simplicity he assumes that the technology surrounding mRNA therapeutic uses must all work in precisely the same manner….they most certainly do not (e.g. cancer vs. a viral disease application). I can forgive someone without a scientific background for not understanding this for themselves, but I will NOT forgive someone for preying upon others who are not scientists, by pretending to be an expert and speaking with authority and knowledge on subjects for which he has neither.

In the video, Dr. Merit(t?) suggests in her convoluted statement that “by their own admission” the vaccine does not prevent transmission. This is a grossly simplistic and asinine way to explain the details of what is really at play with regards to post-vaccination transmission. It again plays on the general public who have only the simplest understanding of vaccines and immunology: I get the shot and therefore I don’t get the disease. And so Dr. Merit(t?) comes along to say it doesn’t prevent transmission! So what does that mean, exactly? How can a vaccine have 95% efficacy and yet I can still transmit the virus to others? Doesn’t that mean the vaccine doesn’t work? Of course not. This doctor is deliberately dumbing down the real science here in order to raise fear which is very easy to do when you are dealing with something as complex as the human immune system. I won’t delve into the details, in the interest of time, but it is important to know that vaccines are NOT magic force fields that instantly protect you. They are intended to TRAIN your immune system over time and while all the data we have suggests that after the second dose we see ~95% efficacy (this is determined in the lab by running immunogenicity assays on the blood of participants who have received the vaccine and we are able to see many of the details that are involved in a full immune response.), what this means isn’t that you can’t “get” the disease, what it means is that your body is able to swiftly respond to an infection often long before any clinical symptoms arise and certainly before any serious symptoms arise. So we KNOW the vaccine is protective of the individual from developing full-blown disease, but details of possible transmission are not proven yet – those take additional studies and this is why the current recommendation is to continue with all the social distancing and masks. As more and more people receive the vaccine we will be able to relax these precautions because we have confidence in the vaccine’s ability to protect those who receive the vaccine. In time, we will know more about the other likely benefits of the vaccines, but we reasonably should err on the side of caution. Of course, those whose business (yes, business) to raise doubts and fears will always capitalize on these details to frighten you. It’s frankly criminal in my mind for them to say things like this knowing full well that it IMPLIES that the vaccine doesn’t work and this IS their modus operandi: take very complex scientific concepts and simplify them into something that is untrue by easier to understand than the complexities needed to be known in order to understand the reality of the situation. This is how they can take the complexity of how mRNA works as a vaccine and come up with: “it’s like chemotherapy.” These people, it seems to me, are deliberately trying to mislead you.

As if this were not enough I continued listening to hear Martin explain that COVID-19 isn’t caused by SARS-CoV-2. That COVID-19 is simply a bunch a symptoms (maybe flu or a cold he suggests!) but not connected to the infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. I am profoundly concerned about this level of deception. Do you know where we have heard this before? HIV/AIDS. While not as common as it had been around 20 years ago or so, some still cling to the outrageous claim that AIDS is not caused by HIV. Their arguments are EXACTLY the same sort of nonsense I am hearing today from folks like Martin with regards to COVID-19. As far as I know, none of these true believers have lined up to be injected with HIV virions in order to prove they won’t get AIDS. Of course this is no joking matter, in South Africa around the turn of the millennium, then president Thabo Mbeki was a huge proponent what came to be known as HIV denialism and his government established a variety of policies with this “science” informing them. People began to be persuaded to neglect taking their anti-retroviral drugs (ARV’s) and the government instituted overt policies that encouraged such denialism. South Africa’s health minister, promoted the use of unproven herbal remedies such as ubhejane, garlic, beetroot, and lemon juice to treat AIDS. Stop and think about that for a moment – it’s for a lack of beetroot that millions were dying in the 80’s-90’s? Clinics prescribing life-saving ARV’s were literally defunded. These policies have been blamed for the preventable deaths of between 343,000 and 365,000 people from AIDS. Hundreds of thousands of people dead because someone somewhere watched a YouTube video of some rogue doctor trying to enlighten you to the “truth” of the AIDS “Plandemic.” Let that sink in for a minute. I am a big fan of liberty and lean libertarian on many issues, but if you are out there selling ideas that are the equivalent of snake oil for treatable diseases, then you are culpable in the deaths that will follow.

How do these people so easily convince others to buy into their conspiracy theories? Well, to start they capitalize on people’s fears (such as in this time of a pandemic and fear politics) and their distrust of the government. Let me say from the outset: I generally distrust the government, so I get that. However, in this case, I also happen to be VERY familiar with infectious disease science, laboratory methods and assays, the process of working through filing IND’s (application to perform clinical trials on Investigative New Drugs) to the FDA, and the performance of clinical trials once IND’s have been approved. And so, as people are making claims about these aforementioned processes to try and convince people that the government is lying to them (for whatever reason), I am able to read these claims and see them in a light that the average person who does not make a career in them, does not. Let me provide ONE example of how these folks are able to manipulate information to suggest it proves something that it most assuredly does NOT prove. I will add, I have seen this type of manipulation MANY times.

Several months back numerous social media posts and videos began to suggest that the CDC in some colossally stupid accident, showed their cards by stating in one of their own documents (readily available online) that the SARS-CoV-2 virus does not actually exist. In one video the narrator OMINOUSLY says: “They’ve designed tests to detect something that hasn’t been isolated and isn’t available to test” and “What the CDC organisation is admitting here is that it has no measurable amount of the ‘convid’ [sic] that every psychopathic authoritarian has used as justification to shut down the world’s economy…They are saying its unavailable. They are saying they don’t have it. They can’t prove its existence. They also use the word ‘isolates’, which means no isolated virus is available.” As you can see, were it not for these people, the CDC would be pulling the wool over your eyes, but somewhere someone in the CDC screwed up and wrote the following in the validation report for their assay to detect the virus:

“Since no quantified virus isolates of the 2019-nCoV [this was clearly written very early in the pandemic because they are using the older name for the virus] were available for CDC use at the time the test was developed and this study conducted, assays designed for detection of the 2019-nCoV RNA were tested with characterized stocks of in vitro transcribed full length RNA.”

Now, assuming most of you reading this have never validated a Real Time RT-PCR Assay for the detection of viral RNA, I would expect you really have no idea what that sentence means. But the conspiracy theorists are here to help and tell you what it means. They share the exact quote and even offer a reference and link to the original document, and in so doing we can say it looks fairly convincing…I mean why would they link to it if it doesn’t really say what they say it says? They clearly did their research so I don’t have to. Of course the conspiracy theorists know VERY well that you probably won’t click through and read the validation report and even if you did read the validation report you probably would STILL have no idea what the CDC’s sentence means. But since the conspiracy theorist’s have told you what it means and it kinda’ sounds like that is what it means, then I guess it’s true: the CDC somehow screwed up and revealed that the virus doesn’t exist.

Unfortunately, I know exactly what the sentence means and the conspiracy theorists were either lying to you or they were just propagating their profound ignorance. Take your pick, but there is no option “C” in which they are actually right. The sentence is explaining about the validation process in which an assay’s lower limit of detection is determined. What I mean by this is that we want to try and see what is the lowest quantity of virus that can be detected by the assay? For example some of the most common assays for detecting HIV, can detect as little as 20 copies per mL of whole blood which is pretty amazing. In the case of this assay they wished to determine the same, however, at the time when this work was being done (very early 2020 – note the nomenclature they used for the virus) no one had cultured AND quantified any of the virus yet – because doing so takes a good deal of work and validation of its own. You can’t just go grab someone’s snot, count the viruses and use that – it’s NOT that simple….you have to culture it in ideal and complex environments under very strict safety regs requiring a lot of costly infrastructure. And so, they opted to use synthetic copies of the virus’ genome which are FAR easier to quantify. This is not the ideal means of determining the limit of detection, but given the circumstances it made all the sense in the world and they are being decidedly transparent about it because they know lab experts like myself would see no significant problem with this method of validation. Now, mine is a much more complex explanation of this sentence and you had to invest some time in understanding it. The conspiracy theorists just throw out: “it means the virus doesn’t exist!” See how easy that is? I hope in hindsight now you can see why I get frustrated with these folks saying things like this because the average person will have little means of finding out what these sorts of things actually mean and are thus fully at the disposal of people who claim to know what it means.

The conspiracy theorists with regards to medical science use this sort of technique ALL THE TIME. Many of these folks make a career out of doing this and they spend their days combing through medical journals and peer-reviewed journals looking for suspect sentences they can use to further their narrative. When they find them, they set them to 48 point font and splatter them across their pages and videos, and then they educate you about what the sentence really means. Sure, they provide you with the direct link or reference to the original paper or article knowing full-well two things: 1. You will not go read the journal article and 2. Even if you did, you would not be able to understand it. This is exactly what happened in the example I provided it and I have seen it countless other times.

And it is what happens in podcasts and videos like the two sent to me. I did not finish watching either, because there really is no point once you’ve seen two significant and dangerous lies within the first couple of minutes. And you know them to be lies because they are talking about what you do for a living. It’s like someone telling an electrician that volts and amps are actually just the same thing…of course the knowledge of the difference between volts and amps is quite widespread and one can’t make a career out of doing that….but knowledge of PCR assays, virology, and immunology (one of the most complex topics on earth) are far less widely known or understood and so they are RIPE for charlatans to make money. It is more than a little ironic and hypocritical to hear these conspiracy theorists use financial gain (Big Pharma) as the excuse for why these conspiracies happen. I must be missing out though, because I’ve yet to get my check for keeping the conspiracies of PCR, COVID-19, and mRNA Vaccines safely hidden.

Please be cautious about this stuff. Yes, SARS-CoV-2 is not nearly as deadly as HIV, but it spreads far easier – as in logarithmically easier – and if you are ingesting the sort of false information in these videos or podcasts or articles that end up convincing your grandmother, grandfather or other vulnerable loved one that they should NOT get the vaccine, then you may be propagating the same lies that killed over 300,000 South Africans. If the people who received one of the currently approved two vaccines during the clinical trials had actually caught the virus rather than getting the vaccine, we would reasonably have expected about 400 of them to have died (0.4% CFR – participants came from a wide swath of ages and so I used a very conservative CFR). If those participants had all been over 70 years old, we could reasonably expect around 25,000 of them to have died (25% CFR). Of course, ZERO deaths attributable to the vaccine occurred from the 100,000 people who received them. I believe in the long run, most of us will experience one of two things: either this virus and its disease, or one of these vaccines. The vaccine is BY FAR the batter bet…even for those of you who are young and spry, but certainly for those of us older folks with a couple of “issues” under our belts. I was very happy to receive my first dose last week. Sure, the odds are I would survive a bout with COVID-19, but the odds are I won’t die in a car accident on the way to the store this morning, but I’m still putting on a seatbelt. Odds are I won’t have a significant house fire, but I still have fire extinguishers and smoke detectors in the house. If you want to play the odds with SARS-CoV-2, that is certainly your right to do so, but please do not propagate the falsehoods of the conspiracy theorists and thereby skew the information people need to make their own decisions on how to play the odds. This isn’t about being “MORE” informed, it’s about being profoundly and dangerously misinformed. As far as I’m concerned Dr. Merit(t?) should lose her license and Dr. Martin should restrict his informed opinion to things like GameStop stock.


Fr Silouan Thompson

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