Immunity From COVID’s Experimental Gene Therapy Vaccines Lasts About as Long as Flu Shot: WSJ

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A view of Moderna headquarters on May 8, 2020 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The current generations of Messenger RNA and Adenovirus Vector gene therapy vaccines for COVID-19 last about as long as the influenza injection, according to Wall Street Journal.
A view of Moderna headquarters on May 8, 2020 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The current generations of Messenger RNA and Adenovirus Vector gene therapy vaccines for COVID-19 last about as long as the influenza injection, according to Wall Street Journal. (Image: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The experimental gene therapy vaccines deployed to fight against SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), only provide a window of immunity about as long as the yearly influenza shot, according to a Wall Street Journal investigation. 

“Why don’t Covid-19 vaccinations last longer?” asks WSJ author Jo Craven McGinty in a Sept. 10 article titled Some Vaccines Last a Lifetime. Here’s Why Covid-19 Shots Don’t.

“Measles shots are good for life, chickenpox immunizations protect for 10 to 20 years, and tetanus jabs last a decade or more. But U.S. officials are weighing whether to authorize Covid-19 boosters for vaccinated adults as soon as six months after the initial inoculation.”

Citing data from the San Francisco Department of Health, the NIH, and the CDC, the Journal compares the window of immunity between vaccines for different diseases. It found that while Measles lasts for life, Chickenpox and Hepatitis A persist for 20 years, and HPV and Tetanus endure for 10, the experimental COVID-19 injections do not impress, ranking lower than the yearly Influenza shot at less than six months.

On Sept. 22, a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine appeared to confirm that protection from COVID-19 granted by Moderna’s injection persisted within a median follow-up time of 5.3 months.

A second preprint study published by the same team on Medrxiv the same day compared a group of slightly less than 15,000 people vaccinated with Moderna between July and December of 2020 and a group of slightly more than 11,000 people vaccinated with Moderna between December of 2020 and April of 2021. The study found “fewer severe Covid-19 cases,” and “an estimated 46.0% (95% CI -52.4%-83.2%) reduction of the observed incidence rate for later versus earlier vaccinations during July-August.”

WSJ’s explanation provides some insight as to the workings of vaccine duration, “The effectiveness depends on the magnitude of the immune response a vaccine induces, how fast the resulting antibodies decay, whether the virus or bacteria tend to mutate, and the location of the infection.”

“With these diseases, the magnitudes of response to the vaccines combined with the antibodies’ rates of decay produce durable immune responses: Measles antibodies decay slowly. Tetanus antibodies decay more quickly, but the vaccine causes the body to produce far more than it needs, offsetting the decline.”

The author’s research notes that while the longest lasting vaccines generally utilize replicating viruses to elicit an immune response, others that are also very effective, such as Tetanus’s protein-based vaccines, use adjuvants such as aluminum to amplify their power, the current breed of mRNA (Pfizer, Moderna) and adenovirus vector (J&J, AstraZeneca) vaccines use gene therapy to elicit an immune response.

Gene therapy

While “fact checkers” for outlets like Reuters and WebMD at the top of a Google search for “COVID vaccine gene therapy” claim that gene therapy is an inappropriate terminology for today’s vaccines, official sources from U.S. government websites say otherwise.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus website describes the workings of Gene Therapy under a section titled Gene Therapy and Other Medical Advances as an approach that is “designed to introduce genetic material into cells to compensate for abnormal genes or to make a beneficial protein.”

In the explanation, the inner workings of COVID-19 vaccines are accurately described, “A gene that is inserted directly into a cell usually does not function. Instead, a carrier called a vector is genetically engineered to deliver the gene. Certain viruses are often used as vectors because they can deliver the new gene by infecting the cell.”

“The viruses are modified so they can’t cause disease when used in people. Some types of virus, such as retroviruses, integrate their genetic material (including the new gene) into a chromosome in the human cell. Other viruses, such as adenoviruses, introduce their DNA into the nucleus of the cell, but the DNA is not integrated into a chromosome.”

In the same Gene Therapy section, on the page titled What are mRNA Vaccines and How Do They Work?, Medline Plus explains, “mRNA vaccines work by introducing a piece of mRNA that corresponds to a viral protein, usually a small piece of a protein found on the virus’s outer membrane. (Individuals who get an mRNA vaccine are not exposed to the virus, nor can they become infected by the vaccine.) Using this mRNA blueprint, cells produce the viral protein.” 

“As part of a normal immune response, the immune system recognizes that the protein is foreign and produces specialized proteins called antibodies.”

Mutants

WSJ notes another challenge facing COVID vaccine efficacy compared to other viruses is that of mutations, “Measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox hardly mutate at all, but at least eight variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, have been found, according to the British Medical Journal.”

Quoting Rustom Antia, an Emory University biology professor, the Journal cast serious doubts on the notion that herd immunity can be used via mass vaccination to end the pandemic, “Vaccines are very unlikely to lead to long-lasting herd immunity for many respiratory infections…The herd immunity only lasts for a modest period of time. It depends on how fast the virus changes. It depends on how fast the immunity wanes.”

While Mark Slifka, a professor at Oregon Health & Science University, drew a direct parallel between the COVID gene therapy vaccines and the yearly influenza shot, “It does make it more complicated for the vaccine to work…You’re chasing multiple targets over time. Flu also mutates. With flu, we’ve adjusted by making a new flu vaccine each year that as closely as possible matches the new strain of flu.”

The problem is likely to be a profitable one for Big Pharma. On Sept. 9, Moderna disclosed in an investor relations announcement that the company is working on 37 mRNA gene therapy products, including an influenza shot, a dual-use COVID-19 and influenza booster, and a “new generation” COVID-19 injection.

But in a world that faces a new era of Chinese Communist Party-style vaccine passport segregation as leaders claim salvation from the pandemic can only be found through vaccination, the problem posed to citizens facing the risk of serious adverse reactions may not be as palatable. Israel recently announced fully vaccinated status would expire six months after the last injection, forcing citizens into a situation where they must accept ongoing booster shots in order to maintain access to regular society.

While in Italy, the Draghi administration recently announced that all of the country’s private sector workers would be required to accept vaccination in order to maintain their income and survive in society.

  • Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.