Big Smile, No Teeth: Trust in the science of the Covid-19 vaccine!


When the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNtech vaccines are approved, the world's most widespread vaccination programme, involving billions of doses, will take off – be prepared for a logistical nightmare. — AFP

Could the first steps to ending the Covid-19 pandemic be in sight?

During the week beginning Nov 15, 2020, an avalanche of vaccine news seems to have come out.

First Pfizer, the same folks that rescued limp male genitalia everywhere with those little blue pills, announced that they were coming to rescue the world from Covid-19 with a new vaccine that is – as at Nov 19, 2020 – 95% effective in experimental trials. Pfizer has partnered with BioNtech on the vaccine. Not to be outdone, Moderna then dropped the news that it had also developed a vaccine, one with 94.5% effectiveness. These results come after Pfizer/BioNtech tested more than 43,000 people and Moderna tested 30,000.

This is all great news for those who want an end to the pandemic. Which should be everyone.

Previous pandemics have lasted years, sometimes decades, and usually the virus has stayed with us – one great example is influenza, which is why we have flu season (and vaccines for each new mutation of the flu virus annually). But Covid-19 is the first pandemic to occur in more technologically advanced times so, hopefully, our medical technology will put it to rest in record time. There are those who believe this is already happening.

In a BBC report, BioNtech co-founder Prof Ugur Sahin said “Life should be back to normal by next winter”. He stated that even if the vaccine were to provide only 50% immunity to those who get it, that would be a huge hit on Covid-19’s ability to spread. Oxford University’s Sir John Bell suggested “life could be back to normal by spring” in the same report.

It would be incredible if either of these predictions come true. The difference in predicting time frames comes from how long it will take to roll out literally billions of doses of the vaccines and get billions of people vaccinated. A vaccination programme this widespread definitely doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a logistical nightmare.

And it’s also something that might face scepticism from the public. And not just from the anti-science crowd of anti-vaxxers. Because humanity simply has never rolled out a vaccine this fast.

Both Moderna and Pfizer/BioNtech vaccines have been fast-tracked. Typically, vaccine development can take 15 to 20 years, Mark Feinberg, president and CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, said in March 2020 at livescience.com. But Feinberg also noted that in the case of Covid-19, moving quickly into human trials is not only acceptable but necessary.

Also complicating things is that both vaccines are offering a new kind of method for immunity. They use mRNA, which basically sends a message to the immune system to create a certain kind of antibody, in this case an antibody that will stave off Covid-19. Those fearing the vaccine may give them Covid-19 can stop worrying, the vaccine doesn’t have any virus in it. Just instructions.

The issue with mRNA is that it is tricking the body’s immune system, and no mRNA vaccine has ever been approved or distributed as it’s a fairly new development. Inflammation internally has been seen in animal as well as some human trials with mRNA vaccines, and continues to be a realistic fear.

So will these new vaccines be safe if they are approved for mass use?

I don’t think there’s any way for anyone to be completely certain. But I do know that I will trust in science and trust in the independent experts from around the globe if there is a consensus that the Covid-19 vaccines are safe for humans. And I will trust that if these experts deem the vaccines safe, the chance of side effects must be statistically low or they wouldn’t have approved it.

Perhaps you’re thinking I’m too trusting, and maybe I am. But I do know that when it comes to the Covid-19 vaccines, we’re going to have to make our judgements based on the experts in the scientific community. They are the ones who will understand these risks, so please seek out informed opinions from boring news outlets instead of turning to whatever some guy in his basement is saying on YouTube or whatever some influencer is spouting on her Instagram live feed.

When the Covid-19 vaccine is approved, it is time to listen to experts and ignore the amateurs with loud opinions. Because as Chuck D from Public Enemy once rapped, “Talking loud, ain’t saying nothing”, and the loudest among us are often the dumbest.


Big Smile, No Teeth columnist Jason Godfrey – who once was told to give the camera a ‘big smile, no teeth’ – has worked internationally for two decades in fashion and continues to work in dramas, documentaries, and lifestyle programming. Write to him at lifestyle@thestar.com.my and check out his stuff at jasongodfrey.co. The views expressed here are entirely the writer's own.

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