September 20, 2022

Q&A #23 : So, with natural immunity you'd like to take us back to the pre-vaccine era when 2.5 million children died annually?


“So, with your natural immunity theory you'd like to take us back to the pre-vaccine era when 2.5 million children died annually from measles and 350,000 died each year from polio?”


As usual, it’s never a good idea to compare apples to oranges:

First, as far as SARS-CoV-2 is concerned, we’re dealing with a PANDEMIC, and that will remain so for as long as we don’t reach herd immunity, which is well known to be (far!) beyond reach when using non-sterilizing vaccines in the middle of a pandemic.
For measles, polio and other childhood diseases, herd immunity has largely been established. This reduces the occurrence of these viral diseases to (local) ‘outbreaks’ whenever there is a gap in that herd immunity, especially in countries/regions where the virus remains endemic and can spread asymptomatically on a background of herd immunity (e.g., in several third-world countries). Secondarily, in contrast to SARS-CoV-2, polio and measles are acute-self-limiting infections with strict host selectivity for humans. These limitations to viral spread (i.e., background of herd immunity and human-to-human transmission only!) makes it possible to terminate or prevent an outbreak (but never a pandemic!) through the use of vaccines. However, this is only possible provided one uses LIVE ATTENUATED vaccines as the latter induce full-fledged natural immunity (i.e., INNATE! and adaptive). The better the environmental hygiene (avoidance of overcrowding, sufficient ventilation, decent basic sanitation, access to  potable water etc.), the lower the vaccine coverage rate required to tame an outbreak.

Any mass vaccination program that fails to generate population-level sterilizing immunity (i.e., herd immunity) will inevitably fail to stop the spread of acute, self-limiting viral infections in an immunologically naïve population. This particularly applies when non-replicating vaccines (e.g., all C-19 vaccines) are used in an attempt to control acute, self-limiting viral infections that can also spread and replicate through other animal species (e.g., SARS-CoV-2).

If one ignores this well-established principle, vaccines will inevitably foster natural selection and propagation of more infectious, and ultimately more virulent, SARS-CoV-2 variants. The emergence of the latter has already been documented in vitro (e.g., Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 lineages) and it is just a matter of time before these (sub)variants will also manifest enhanced virulence in vivo.

Children have an amazing innate immune capacity to generate sterilizing immunity. From a public health viewpoint (herd immunity!), it is therefore critical that we leave the children alone. But protecting our children from C-19 vaccination is also critical from an individual health viewpoint as vaccination with these non-replicating vaccines will prevent adequate education of their immune system. This is because spike (S)-specific, non-neutralizing antibodies (Abs) that are continuously recalled by the circulating Omicron (sub)variants will steadily outcompete their innate Abs and thereby prevent the child’s innate Abs to instruct the immune system on how to discriminate ‘self’ from ‘self-like’ ( Furthermore, vaccination of older children is highly likely to cause Ab-dependent enhancement of C-19 disease as non-neutralizing, infection-enhancing Abs may enable the virus to break through the innate immune system when the latter is not yet sufficiently trained[1]. That is going to become particularly problematic once the virus completely subverts vaccine-induced adaptive immunity, and consequently leaves the child at the mercy of its (untrained) innate immune system!

Of course, one may prefer to ignore the science or decide to take the risk but even then, the question remains as to why we have not been vaccinating our children against seasonal influenza in the past (preferably using non-replicating vaccines!?) and why no single childhood vaccine is using non-replicating virus to immunize young children against glycosylated viruses (e.g., measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, rotavirus)? Despite all ‘modern’ technologies vaccinology has remained an empirical business. However, vaccinologists sometimes hit the nail right on the head: We now understand that these replication-competent childhood vaccines train the innate immune response in children whereas non-replicating vaccines don’t. That is why live attenuated vaccines can – under certain conditions- be useful to prevent or abrogate outbreaks and why they haven’t been replaced yet by more modern/ sophisticated vaccine technologies!

[1] The updated Omicron vaccines cannot be expected to prime new neutralizing Abs instead of recalling infection-enhancing Abs:

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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.


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