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Even a Vaccine Won’t Erase this Pandemic

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Andrew Nikiforuk reports in The Tyee:

When William Haseltine told a group of fellow scientists in 1986 that an AIDS vaccine would be unlikely because of the difficult nature of the virus, he was booed off the stage. His colleagues even threw stuff at him.

“But we still don’t have a vaccine for AIDS,” he recently told Reuters. “We don’t know for sure that a [COVID-19] vaccine won’t be developed, but I can say with the same conviction — don’t count on it.”

In the last couple of weeks the virologist also has offered some jarring observations on the nature of the coronavirus, self-promotion by drug labs, the hazards of rapid reopenings and our global unpreparedness for what is yet to come.

He’s done so on his website and in a variety of interviews.

Besides being so unfortunately right about HIV, why else should we pay attention to what Haseltine is saying these days about COVID-19?

Start with his resume. A retired Harvard medical professor and a cancer/HIV researcher, Haseltine has been around the block a few times as both as hardcore researcher and biotech entrepeneur.

Over his career he worked on or developed drugs for HIV/AIDS, anthrax, and other ailments. The 76-year-old is also an expert on aging and dementia. And he started up Human Genome Sciences with Craig Venter in 1992.

Here, then, are eight cautions by William Haseltine that, while hard to hear, may save many lives if heeded.

1. Beware of those who purvey premature hope.

Haseltine’s years of experience cause him to caution against being manipulated by emotion. A number of firms have been giving “a false impression of progress” on the vaccine front, he worries.

Cambridge-based Moderna, for example, made headlines last week with news of a safety trial on just eight healthy individuals for its vaccine. The value of the company’s stock exploded. Although the company said their experimental vaccine raised neutralizing antibodies, it said nothing about levels.

In a pointed Forbes column, Haseltine noted that Moderna’s tidbit of information was “the equivalent of a chief executive of a public company announcing a favourable earnings report without supplying supporting financial data, which the Securities and Exchange Commission would never allow.”

In the months ahead citizens should remain skeptical about overinflated claims and remember that “medicine and science are not matters of majority opinion; they are matters of fact supported by transparent data.”

2. Even a vaccine that works likely won’t solve the pandemic.

Haseltine also wants citizens to appreciate this bit of wisdom: a vaccine will not likely end this pandemic for several reasons.

For starters the most affected population, people over the age of 60, are the most difficult population to develop vaccines for. As the immune system ages, the effectiveness and duration of vaccines wanes with it. “It is very difficult to develop a vaccine for older people,” notes Haseltine.

Second, coronaviruses make difficult vaccine candidates because they produce many proteins that allow them to trick and evade the immune system.

SARS-CoV-2 can play tricks with the immune system in a way other viruses can’t. The human immune system offers a two-pronged response to a viral invasion. One response produces antibodies which bind to the virus and eliminate the intruder. The other response more directly attacks infected cells. But SARS-CoV-2 can mute the first response and make the other hyperactive says Haseltine. “SARS-[CoV]-2 is amplifying what happens to us naturally as our immune systems age.”

As a result experiments with vaccines for SARS and MERs have not ended well. Some generated neutralizing antibodies, but they didn’t provide adequate protection, says Haseltine.

Third, Haseltine doesn’t think . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — and it’s somewhat depressing.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2020 at 3:35 pm

Posted in Medical, Science

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