One of the more hilarious articles on herd immunity and vaccination I’ve encountered has, once again, been written by an epidemiologist: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-06-03/herd-immunity-dropped- as-solution-to-covid-pandemic/101123292
This gentleman is poking fun at people who “were attached to the now-discredited notion of letting a dangerous virus rip through the population to reach the critical level of population immunity needed to reduce transmission.” It’s ironic that this epidemiologist dares to make such a statement as it quickly becomes crystal clear from his illiterate talk that he doesn’t even understand what herd immunity is all about.
In the case of acute, self-limiting viral infections that have the potential to spread asymptomatically (e.g., SARS-CoV-2), there is no immune mechanism other than sterilizing immunity that could lead to the “possible elimination or eradication” of SARS-CoV-2 that this windbag is alluding to. As none of the C-19 vaccines (including those that are in the pipeline) are capable of inducing sterilizing immunity, and as SARS-CoV-2 can spread asymptomatically, his idea that “when available and taken up at sufficient levels — [vaccines] could squash virus transmission” is completely nonsensical to begin with. He then goes further to make a mistake so egregious that it deeply perplexes me: he links an increased vaccination rate to a higher level of herd immunity (HI) and to a lower susceptibility of the population to infection! Here is the analogy he uses (quite literally) to describe how herd immunity works: “In fact, much like a bushfire goes out when it runs out of fuel to burn, an epidemic begins to decline when the virus runs out of susceptible people to infect.” He obviously is fully unaware of the real science that provides compelling evidence that vaccinees are not less, but more susceptible to infection! Unfortunately, even that information would be unlikely to help him understand the interactions between population-level immune pressure and the evolutionary dynamics of the virus. He believes that less effective vaccines (which, I assume, to him includes vaccines that, although protective against severe disease, enhance the susceptibility of vaccinees to infection) simply require more people to get vaccinated to achieve HI (“In short, the more infectious the virus and the less effective the vaccine, the more people you need to vaccinate to achieve herd immunity” or: “the greater the proportion of the population vaccinated, the more difficult it becomes for the virus to spread.”) According to the author, it doesn’t matter that HI is out of reach—we can compensate for the low level of HI by “other behavioral and environmental measures”! How shallow can one’s understanding of this virus-host immune ecosystem be to not even grasp that diminished transmission does not always equal diminished transmissibility of the virus (or, for that matter, diminished susceptibility of the population or enhanced HI, all of which are synonymous)? Diminished viral transmission only equals enhanced HI in the case intervention directed at diminishing viral transmission does not result in enhanced viral transmissibility! Especially with the advent of Omicron, C-19 vaccination has led to the expansion of the part of the population that is endowed with infection-enhancing antibodies (i.e., non-neutralizing antibodies), which are now increasing the susceptibility of the vaccinees (but not of the unvaccinated) to infection and (mild to moderate) disease. How on earth could one even envisage, let alone propose, that this shortcoming (i.e., lack of HI) could be
made up for by “other behavioral and environmental measures (such as physical distancing, wearing masks and improving ventilation)”?
Again, current vaccines that reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in vaccinees are not reducing viral transmissibility at the population level! This is because the dominant propagation of more infectious variants (a direct consequence of mass vaccination!) combined with the enhanced susceptibility of vaccinees to infection with these very same variants increases viral infection and (mild to moderate) disease rates largely beyond what can be compensated for by diminished viral transmission in vaccinees, even if combined with other behavioral and environmental measures. In other words, reducing viral shedding (amongst vaccinees) is completely futile if this implies enhanced susceptibility of this part of the population to the dominantly circulating variant. This is analogous to continuously ridding your bedroom of dust in a way that increasingly accumulates only the part of dust that you’ve become most allergic to. Will that cleaning operation make you less susceptible to an allergic reaction? No, it won’t— on the contrary, you will now be exclusively exposed to the type of dust you’re becoming increasingly allergic to!
The epidemiologist goes on to state that “based on what we know about currently circulating viral variants, today, herd immunity via vaccination is mathematically impossible.” Clearly, relying on vaccination to achieve HI during a pandemic has nothing to do with mathematics—it has only to do with understanding that ‘leaky’, ‘imperfect’ vaccines are inevitably doing exactly the opposite of what HI does in that they increase (instead of decrease) the proportion of people that become susceptible to infection. Mass C-19 vaccination, therefore, leads to enhanced herd susceptibility, not to herd immunity.
So why is it that epidemiologists who haven’t a clue about immunology or immune selection pressure engage in Op-eds on mass vaccination and herd immunity? They do not realize that mass vaccination throughout this pandemic has led to a disconnect between viral transmission and viral transmissibility to the same extent as viral infection rates have been disconnected from viral morbidity rates. Because of this, their contributions should be profoundly discredited. It is disgusting that their lack of insight into this complex ecosystem does not deter them from encouraging the broader public to hold on to the dangerous mantra that ‘more vaccination will help to control the C-19 pandemic while protecting the population from severe disease’. According to the uninformed viewpoint from this associate professor, this primary purpose of Covid vaccination will be achieved by continuing mass vaccination campaigns in combination with other behavioral and environmental measures. Little does he know that mass vaccination cannot reduce viral transmission without eventually increasing viral transmissibility, and little does he understand that mass vaccination will not reduce viral disease without eventually increasing viral virulence. It will only be when people like him and others illiterate in these matters discover (unfortunately, ‘the hard way’) the disastrous consequences of their ill-fated advice on future morbidity and mortality rates that they may begin to realize the level of their incompetence and stupidity.
In summary, I am rephrasing his concluding remarks as follows (I changed the part in bold):
“Right now, at the start of winter and with few COVID restrictions, it has never been more important to
ensure you ......stay away from the vaccines.
Geert Vanden Bossche received his DVM from the University of Ghent, Belgium, and his PhD degree in Virology from the University of Hohenheim, Germany. He held adjunct faculty appointments at universities in Belgium and Germany. After his career in Academia, Geert joined several vaccine companies (GSK Biologicals, Novartis Vaccines, Solvay Biologicals) to serve various roles in vaccine R&D as well as in late vaccine development.
Geert then moved on to join the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health Discovery team in Seattle (USA) as Senior Program Officer; he then worked with the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) in Geneva as Senior Ebola Program Manager. At GAVI he tracked efforts to develop an Ebola vaccine. He also represented GAVI in fora with other partners, including WHO, to review progress on the fight against Ebola and to build plans for global pandemic preparedness.
Back in 2015, Geert scrutinized and questioned the safety of the Ebola vaccine that was used in ring vaccination trials conducted by WHO in Guinea. His critical scientific analysis and report on the data published by WHO in the Lancet in 2015 was sent to all international health and regulatory authorities involved in the Ebola vaccination program. After working for GAVI, Geert joined the German Center for Infection Research in Cologne as Head of the Vaccine Development Office. He is at present primarily serving as a Biotech / Vaccine consultant while also conducting his own research on Natural Killer cell-based vaccines.