Tuesday, June 29, 2021

COVID-19 Update

It has been six months since the last time I wrote about the ongoing pandemic. At that time the first vaccines were just beginning to roll out. I've been waiting to see how things would unfold, both in terms of the effectiveness of the vaccines, and any new information on what they are doing in and to our body before adding anything to what I provided before.

So far things have played out as I expected that they would. There is absolutely no doubt that—at least for now—mass vaccination has significantly slowed down the progression of the pandemic. Unfortunately, there is also growing evidence of potential negative health consequences resulting from the use of the mRNA and viral vector vaccines. Initially, my concerns were primarily regarding the potential for long-term reactions that would start showing up a year or two after administration of the vaccines. Aside from the typical acute reactions that can occur with any vaccine and the more serious anaphylactic reactions that seem to be more common with mRNA than other types of vaccines, what we are now also seeing are shorter-term reactions (blood clots, heart inflammation, capillary leakage, Guillaine-Barre syndrome, etc.) that could have been predicted had the vaccines been subjected to larger (more subjects), broader (more diverse subjects) and longer clinical trials.

One of my major concerns has been the increasing polarization that is occurring with regard to the pandemic and vaccinations. This includes a number of the fantastical conspiracy theories that are being propagated by some of the more extremely polarized people on the 'anti-vax' side of the spectrum. I am equally concerned about the 'pro-vax' camp demonizing anyone who chooses to look objectively at the issue rather than blindly follow the party line. Both sides are using fear to gather support and demonize anyone with a different point of view. It seems to be a sign of the times. This polarization is dividing families, friends, communities and countries. It is even dividing scientists and medical professionals. There are those among them who have genuine concerns about some of the choices being made by politicians and bureaucrats and are afraid to speak out because it could ruin their career. It's always a concern when it's not possible to have a clear open discussion about an issue. It also makes it very difficult for anyone who wants to make an informed choice. It's challenging enough given that there are still far more questions than answers. For anyone who is trying to figure out how to move in a good way with the uncertainty and risks associated with living during a global pandemic, it is not helpful that the fear factor is being ramped up by some people's attachment to particular ideologies. There's more to healing than statistics about how many people get sick, suffer severe symptoms, die and are vaccinated. What about our emotional state (fear, isolation, depression, grief), and the health of our families, communities, economies and the natural environment? This is a multi-layered challenge that necessitates our ability to work together for the greater good. If we are going to be able to move through this in a good way we need more compassion, empathy, respect, and open discussion—not polarization!

Coronavirus: Still more questions than answers.

A bit more than a week ago one of my clients sent me some very valuable information. Finally, someone who has far more knowledge than me about the vaccines and the latest research regarding their efficacy and risks has been speaking out. That person is Dr. Byram Bridle. He is an Associate Professor of Viral Immunology in the Department of Pathobiology at the University of Guelph. He is not an anti-vaxxer by any stretch of the imagination. Part of his job is developing vaccines. Dr. Bridle is in a unique position to be able to interpret the ongoing information that is becoming available. I am very grateful that he has chosen to speak out at considerable risk to himself. He has been subjected to ongoing attacks and attempts to discredit him. Most of them are completely fabricated, but some are coming from other doctors and researchers. I have read many of the criticisms from his colleagues and so far they are baseless. They may sound logical and scientific to the less educated or anyone who has a lot invested in believing that his concerns aren't real, but they are either deliberately quoting him out of context or claiming that he is saying something that he isn't, or they are interpretations of the data that are inconsistent or don't make any sense. That doesn't mean that in the end his reasons for concern will turn out to be true, but they are valid concerns that need to be acknowledged and examined rather than denied or hidden. Fortunately, some of Dr. Bridle's colleagues have chosen to speak out in support of him as well.

Dr. Bridle's primary concern is that there is now enough evidence to suggest that the potential risks associated with giving mRNA and viral vector vaccines—the only vaccines that have been approved so far in many countries such as Canada and the US—to adolescents and children are greater than any potential benefits, both to them and to the general population. I am not going to attempt to summarize all of the valuable information that Dr. Bridle has provided. He has done an excellent job of providing a detailed summary of this information in his document COVID-19 Vaccines and Children: A Scientist's Guide for Parents. It is dense, but I strongly recommend that anyone who wants to educate themselves about COVID-19 and the vaccines that are currently available take the time to read it.

We are dealing with a new and urgent situation. It was inevitable that mistakes were going to be made. Decisions had to be made and a response put in place before we knew very much. I can only imagine how challenging that must have been for the people who had to make those decisions. However, from my perspective there was one major mistake that was made—at least in Western countries—that was completely avoidable. It seems very odd to me that, with the exception of a couple of Chinese vaccines, the mRNA and viral vector vaccines were available at least 8-9 months before any vaccines based on more conventional technologies. I am not going to speculate about why this happened, but I believe that using the pandemic as an opportunity to rush out vaccines based on untested technologies at public expense (and liability!) without having to subject them to the (under normal circumstances) required 6-8 year long-term studies doesn't make sense—even if in the end we learn that they are safe and effective. The end result is that a significant proportion of the global human population is now taking part in a massive study of the long-term safety and efficacy of previously untested vaccine technologies. It is my perspective that from the start government health agencies should have insisted that the major players in vaccine development stick to technologies that have been used for awhile and are better understood. They could have done that by telling the drug/biotech companies that they were not going to purchase any vaccines based on mRNA, viral vector or other new technologies.

There's nothing that we can do about the choices that have already been made. Nevertheless, the choice to implement a global vaccination campaign was the choice that made the most sense. The alternative would most likely have resulted in a much greater loss of life. We can only hope that the calculated risk that governments took—that any negative long-term health consequences of mRNA and viral vector vaccines will be less severe and easier to manage than an unrestrained COVID-19 epidemic—will turn out to have been a good decision. Only time will tell.

In terms of how to move with this on a personal level, there is little more that I can add to the recommendations that I made in my last post The Vaccination Controversy, Part 3: COVID-19. Since that time there has been some preliminary research supporting the use of some of the supplements that I recommended for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19. I was going to include some of that information in this post, but decided against it otherwise it might have taken me another month to complete it. Suffice to say that I still stand behind all of the recommendations that I made in my previous posts regarding the prevention and treatment of both COVID-19 and any potential side-effects of vaccinations.

I have no idea how many people implemented those recommendations partially or completely. What I can say is that everyone that I know of who implemented them completely that has not been vaccinated has not contracted COVID-19 so far (including some people who had members of their household contract the virus but they did not get it), and everyone that I know of who implemented them completely that did get vaccinated has not had any significant negative reactions to whatever vaccine they received so far. Every person and situation is unique. I can not guarantee that everyone will have equally beneficial results. All I can say is that, based on my experience, implementing those or similar protocols should significantly improve the outcome for most people regardless of what choices they make with regard to vaccinations.

Before I leave the topic of prevention and treatment protocols, there is one other issue that I would like to address. There are practitioners out there—mostly medical doctors—who are recommending the prophylactic use of antiviral or antiparasitic drugs (such as ivermectin and hydroxycholoroquine). The latter drugs are not recognized as antiviral. As far as I can tell there is very little good evidence that they are useful to prevent or treat the symptoms of COVID-19 and they are associated with significant potential side-effects. Nevertheless, some practitioners are recommending the use of these medications. In particular, some are recommending veterinary grade ivermectin which is relatively easy to obtain. Although there is a lack of good clinical research, it is possible that some of these practitioners are seeing good results in their practice. I get that. Most of what I recommend is also based on my clinical experience. Nevertheless, I recommend caution around this. In my recommendations for the treatment of COVID-19 I did not mention some potentially very effective antiviral herbs because they are quite potent and can be associated with some degree of toxicity if misused. They are not the kind of recommendations that I can make in a blog that could be read by anybody. From my perspective, those herbs should only be used under the supervision of an experienced practitioner who understands them. Nevertheless, I can almost guarantee that those herbs will be more effective than ivermectin and associated with significantly less potential for toxicity if used correctly. I can understand that MDs are typically not going to be recommending herbs because they don't understand herbs, and it is unlikely that anyone is going to do any good research on herbal treatments for COVID-19 because clinical studies are expensive and herbs can't be patented. There is very little potential for financial gain (at least by pharmaceutical company standards). Consequently, they are going to recommend drugs (and sometimes supplements) because that is what they know. If you are being treated by a doctor who has experience with and believes in the efficacy of ivermectin, at least you are under appropriate medical supervision. However, because it can be obtained as a veterinary drug, I am coming across people who are self-medicating with ivermectin whenever they experience any cold-like symptoms. That is risky. Stick to well-chosen herbs. They are safer and likely to be as or more effective. However, anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 and manifests severe symptoms should be hospitalized and they will be given the best antiviral treatments that are available and have proven effective over the course of the pandemic.

Sadly, I have even come across people recommending particular herbs for the treatment of COVID-19 based on false or misrepresented information. There are herbs that are likely to be effective—but there is no cure-all! Every case is different. I recommend a good degree of suspicion if anyone says that a particular herb is THE cure for COVID-19. In the case that was brought to my attention, based on my clinical experience the herb in question—for which there is very little research and none of it of any significant value—is almost certainly an antiviral herb (although it wouldn't be my first choice), but the potential benefits were blown way out of proportion and the rational behind the use of the herb as far as I can tell was complete nonsense. Not surprisingly, some of the proponents of the use of the herb were also propagating conspiracy theories that information about the herb was being suppressed by drug companies. I doubt that there are very many people who work for the pharmaceutical industry who have even heard of this herb—at least not in a medical context.

Lemon balm (Melissa oficinalis) is an excellent antiviral herb. Antiviral properties are ubiquitous in the Mint family.

So, what about the people who still have chosen not to be vaccinated? They basically fall into two groups: those that have chosen to delay their decision until more information is available; and those who definitely do not want to get vaccinated. We can further break down the first group into people who still aren't sure and people who would prefer not to get vaccinated but are considering it due to family or peer pressure, or the concern that their freedom could be curtailed by the implementation of policies requiring people to be vaccinated in order to travel or participate in public events.

Initially, when people who wanted to get vaccinated asked me what vaccine I would recommend among those that were available, I told them that I really didn't like any of them but if they did not want to wait they might consider the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. That was based on two reasons. Firstly, although the viral vector vaccines are developed using a new, virtually untested (by normal standards) technology, based on my understanding at that time it seemed like their mechanism of action was closer to conventional vaccines than mRNA vaccines. The second reason was because the J&J vaccine only required one shot.

As we now know, it fairly quickly became apparent that viral vector vaccines are associated with a potential for blood clots. What concerned me the most was that these are not normal blood clots. They most likely are related to some kind of autoimmune reaction. That got my attention. Regardless of what the statistics are for the general population, any vaccine has the potential to alter the functioning of a particular person's immune system in a negative way. My concern with the mRNA vaccines based on how they work (and lack of data) was that there may be a greater potential for those vaccines to have a negative affect on immune function. When the blood clots started showing up for viral vector vaccines it was clear that they also seem to have a greater than normal potential to alter immune function in a negative way. Initially, I didn't understand why. It wasn't until I read Dr. Bridle's report (see above) that I realized that my understanding of the mechanisms of action of viral vector vaccines was somewhat inaccurate. The mechanisms of action of viral vector vaccines are actually more like mRNA vaccines than conventional vaccines and therefore (I believe) more likely to have a greater potential for negative long-term affects on immune function. That changes the vaccine landscape for anyone who is trying to decide what vaccine is most likely to be the safest.

For anyone who is still undecided about getting a vaccination there is a bit more that can be said. If you are concerned about the potential risks of mRNA and viral vector vaccines, there are some countries who have approved more conventional protein based or inactivated virus vaccines. There is concern with the quality of research for some of these vaccines as the manufacturers have not provided sufficient evidence to back up there claims. However, there are two inactivated virus vaccines manufactured in China for which the available data is strong enough that they have been authorized for emergency use by the World Health Organization. These vaccines are available in many countries. They are CoronaVac (manufacturer Sinovac) and BBIBP-CorV (manufacturer Sinopharm). The only concern that I have specifically regarding their ingredients is that they both contain aluminum hydroxide as an excipient. I am not a big fan of aluminum, but in the long run a couple of injections of a tiny amount is not that much of a concern unless someone is known to have severe acute reactions to aluminum. That being said, since the WHO authorization there is growing evidence that both of the Chinese vaccines may not be effective enough against the emerging delta variant. How the efficacy of each vaccine holds out as new variants continue to emerge is going to be an important factor in the coming months.

So far, for those of us who live in Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand and most of Europe only mRNA and viral vector vaccines are available. For citizens of some of these countries it might be possible to travel to another country to obtain one of the other WHO approved vaccines. It is also important at this stage that the priority be given to the local population. We don't want the situation to arise where the locals aren't able to receive a vaccine as readily because more affluent foreigners are travelling there and willing to pay for them.

In some countries additional vaccines have been ordered (subject to approval) but have not been approved yet because their clinical studies have't progressed far enough to provide enough data to apply for emergency use. I don't know what the situation is for every country, but in Canada there are three additional vaccines that have been ordered. All of them are protein-based vaccines. The Medicago and Novavax vaccines are expected to apply for approval in Canada (and possibly in the US, at least for Novavax) in the third quarter of 2021 (July-September). Initially, the Sanofi vaccine was found to have low efficacy, so they had to reformulate. This has slowed down their studies. They are not expected to apply for approval until the fourth quarter of 2021. Both the Medicago and the Sanofi vaccines are using the GlaxoSmithKline adjuvant (additional ingredients to boost the effectiveness and preserve the vaccine). I do not have any major concerns about the ingredients of this adjuvant. However, I do have concerns about the Novavax vaccine because it contains lipid nanoparticles. There are reasons to be suspicious of vaccines that contain nanoparticles (another drawback of the mRNA and viral vector vaccines). As I have mentioned previously, nanoparticles were approved for use in many types of products before we understood how they behave in biological and ecological systems. We now know that they are accumulating in the environment and in plants and animals (including humans) but we still don't know what they do. As a result, I do not recommend using any products that contain nanoparticles (cosmetics, drugs, antimicrobial clothing, etc.) until they are better understood.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is an excellent immune stimulating herb and fairly good antiviral.
Immune stimulating properties are ubiquitous in the Aster family.

If you are concerned about receiving a vaccine based on a poorly tested technology and have not yet been vaccinated but are still considering it, you can either get one of the mRNA or viral vector vaccines and follow protocols similar to those that I have provided to minimize the potential for side-effects, or you can wait until other vaccines that are more likely to be safer become available (and also follow those protocols). At this point the most likely candidate will be the Medicago vaccine in Canada. In other countries the options are likely to be different. However, a word of caution. Anyone who gets vaccinated in order to travel should be aware that there is evidence that the risks of developing blood clots while flying are increased for anyone who has recently been vaccinated. It is probably best not to travel by air for at least two months after your second vaccination.

Once more I want to be clear that this is a numbers game that has very little meaning for the individual. Even if the risk of significant health consequences from contracting COVID-19, getting a particular vaccine, or for one vaccine compared to another is very low for the general population, although there are some known risk factors, ultimately we can never know how we are going to respond in any given situation until it happens. All we can do is do our best. As always, I recommend that you educate yourself with good sources of information but don't obsess on it. Then take a few deep breaths, calm your mind, and feel into what is the best choice for you. You'll probably need to do this multiple times. It's best if we are calm and humble. Fear and arrogance will almost certainly lead us astray.

Keep well. More to come as things continue to develop...