Flat White

First, do no harm

3 May 2022

10:00 AM

3 May 2022

10:00 AM

As the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. This is because unintended consequences have no regard for even the most angelic of wishes. 

Take Thomas Midgley Jr, the bespectacled inventor key to the creation of leaded petrol, which stopped engine knocking, and of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) for refrigeration. Many believe he was single-handedly – and with the best of intentions – the worst environmental vandal in history. His discovery of leaded fuel poisoned multiple generations. Some speculate that the resulting lead poisoning lowered the IQ of children around the world, while CFCs destroyed the ozone layer, killing unknown numbers through skin cancer. 

Keep that analogy in your mind as we turn to Covid vaccines. With the accumulation of two years’ worth of data, is it time we ask whether these vaccines are doing more harm than good? This question is especially important for mRNA vaccines, which went from laboratory-to-arm at unprecedented speed and scale, with manufacturers cutting short the usual long term safety tests due to pandemic emergency exemptions.

This is especially pertinent as the world is now largely dominated by the Omicron variant which research published in Nature, the top scientific journal, has shown often escapes the protection offered by vaccines while presenting the lowest risk of harm of any variant so far.

Given the unusual birth of mRNA vaccines, one recent study in the prestigious journal Lancet examined the possible non-specific effects of the vaccines. The researchers combed through randomised controlled trials and compared mRNA vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna) with adenovirus-vector vaccines (AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson) for the overall mortality of those who received the vaccines versus those who received a placebo. Overall mortality included Covid-related deaths as well as other non-Covid deaths such as cardiovascular deaths. Surprisingly, of the 74,193 people in the mRNA studies, 31 deaths were noted among the vaccinated, while 30 were noted among those who received a placebo. For the adenovirus-vector vaccines, of the 122,164 people studied, only 16 in the vaccinated group died, whereas 30 died in the control group. 

Despite the great push for the world to take up the mRNA vaccines, and the maligning of the AstraZeneca vaccine over rare blood clots, the data suggest that the latter type carries with it a significantly lower risk of death (according to this study). 

Indeed, the study shows that the mortality risk from adenovirus vaccines is only about a third of mRNA vaccines. In particular, the risk of cardiovascular deaths is significantly lower in the adenovirus group compared to the mRNA group. This result naturally raises the question of negative side effects, especially from mRNA vaccines. 

A very recent study published on April 20, looked at the risk of heart inflammation within a 28-day period after mRNA vaccination in a cohort of 23 million people. It found that the risk of myocarditis and pericarditis increased after the first shot, and even more so after the second. The risk was highest among young males (16-24 years), increasing by as much as 5.55 fold after the second Pfizer shot and 13.85 fold after the second Moderna shot. 

The hospitalisation and mortality risks for Omicron was found to be roughly a half and a third that of the Delta strain, respectively. Young people have been known to experience minimal risk from all strains of Covid, for healthy young people that statistic is often less than that of the flu. Given current vaccines are not considered to be particularly effective against Omicron (and provide only months of protection at best), is it wise, as the Australian ATAGI and the US government have advised, to push third and even fourth booster shots for young people? The calculus on risk versus reward is further sharpened by the finding that cardiac injury from vaccine-induced myopericarditis in young people persists long-term. For this reason, some European countries have stalled or discontinued vaccination for children.

Heart inflammation is only one of a host of negative side effects documented that have not been adequately explored. For example, hepatitis cases have been popping up following Pfizer vaccination. There is also an unusual outbreak of hepatitis among children around the world, although it is currently suspected this could be due to locking children up with Covid health orders leading to problems in the development of their immune system (which remains under investigation).

While rash decisions might be excused early on in the pandemic to rush through vaccinations, partly out of fear and partly out of hope, two years is a long time not to have paused and taken a proper reassessment. This is particularly urgent given Pfizer whistle-blowers have raised concerns about the quality of safety trials.

Money, reputations, good intentions, and politics have all played a part in the strange constellation of pandemic management. This is the oddest of times, when one can be accused of being ‘anti-vaccine’ for expressing the minutest doubt on mRNA technology. And here, the basic tenet that seems to me to have been forgotten is the famous phrase of medical ethics written two millennia ago: ‘First, do no harm.’

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