News & Reviews

 

Covid Vaccine Politics, Politricks, Anti-vaxxer-Anti-masker Fanatics, and Countdown to the Olympics

Allison Y. Gibbons. PH.D

May 31, 2021

Early comparisons between the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic and the 1918 Influenza pandemic prompted scientists to warn that we would need at least 3 years to gain control over the virus.  We are fifteen months in, close to half-way there, with global deaths at three million, five hundred and sixty thousand souls, and counting.  Historical evidence is on the side of the contagious disease experts who remind all that vaccination is our best weapon, but until we achieve herd immunity, mask wearing should continue since Covid-19 is now known to be airborne.  But conventional wisdom has no voice in 2021 where human beings have gotten accustomed to lightning-fast accomplishments. Common reaction seems to be that the world cannot expect its 21st century populations to put their life on hold for 3 years. At least not in the more advanced nations accustomed to life as they want it.

The outcry is that one year of deprivations was enough.  People are throwing caution to the wind under the guise of freedom and independence, despite the fact that no country to date has achieved herd immunity with the coveted 80% vaccinations.  Such country-focused achievement does not matter anyway until the world has achieved an average level of herd immunity, since we are talking of a pandemic, not an isolated contagion. Rates of full vaccination vary from 60% in UK and Israel, to 50% in US and Canada, 30% in Italy and France and down to 4% in New Zealand, 2% in Australia and South Africa and 0-1% in many smaller countries.  The actual global average for vaccinations remain at an overall 5.3% in May 2021.  Notwithstanding this paltry figure, international travel is defiantly picking up speed again with airlines and cruise ship companies expressing satisfaction with the rise in summer bookings to all corners of the globe and back.

The Inconsistencies in Vaccine Politics

People’s impatience with the pandemic has transferred to a matching annoyance at Science, the WHO, and the CDC. In a seeming effort to appease citizens and leaders, our medical guardians are now inviting further exasperation with seemingly contradictory guidelines. Wear your mask! You no longer need to wear a mask! Return to normal! Return to 2020 Covid-19 precautions!  The real explanation for the inconsistency is that the Virus itself is creating its own path of infections, surges and spikes, along with emerging mutations and variations.  Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan were much touted early success stories only to have such victory unraveled as they now scramble to vaccinate their populations, their rate so far still below 5%.  

Ability to pay for vaccines is still a hindrance. Costs vary wildly from US $4 per dose to US$82 per dose with two doses required per individual. Poor countries are legitimately complaining about price gouging by vaccine suppliers.  Facts show erratic pricing, including bait and switch tactics where orders are being withheld because of price changes mid- stream.  Also, there are "creative" mark-ups or mark-downs based on real country-to-country politics depending on which country is friendly to another or which country should be punished for past or present grudges of disloyalty, and other considerations unrelated to a raging pandemic. 

Questions also still remain about how long immunity will last for the vaccinated.  Dr. Ozlem Tureci, CMO of Pfizer-BioNTech, in a recent CNBC interview was already pushing for an annual booster.  The CDC shrugged off the statement as an affront to its authority, responding that such a decision does not rest with the vaccine maker.  An understandable straight-shooting comment has come from Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at a recent virtual press conference” “We’re gonna have to figure it out as we go.”

Politricks – The Dirty Tricks of Policy-makers

While the US is reporting a general fall in cases as a whole, at least nine known states are experiencing a rise in cases and deaths. Among the latter is Florida where instead of a cautionary tale, the state’s governor led the support for a law which bans cruise ships docking in any Florida port from asking for proof of vaccination for passengers who embark in Florida. Cruise ship companies react at the targeted unfairness to themselves, their employees and passengers, especially considering that the industry was negatively affected by the pandemic through on-board mass infections as well as by the global lockdowns for a full year. The bottom line is, you set sail at your own risk if you choose a cruise ship that docks anywhere in Florida. 

A different governor in the state of Ohio, concerned about the state’s low rate of vaccinations, established a Vax-A-Million lottery. To qualify for the weekly million-dollar single-winner lottery-draw you have to be a vaccine newcomer.  Thousands responded, making it a bit of a sad triumph over vaccine hesitancy.  The ‘Play for Pay’ approach is a revelation of the failure to teach lessons in civic responsibility in elementary and high schools. Money is usually a great motivator, but did anyone think of a more modest incentive such as a single-use restaurant gift- card for each person, rather than crowning one person a millionaire for getting vaccinated?  No one would sneeze at a free restaurant meal.  Additionally, a restaurant campaign would serve a dual purpose by boosting the local food industry hard hit by the pandemic. Regardless, the states of California and South Carolina plan to copy the Vax-A-Million lottery idea.  Creative thinking apparently not required. 

Examining the payout from a different angle, the 3 million dollars committed by Ohio so far could charitably have supplied vaccines for the adult populations of at least one dozen smaller and poorer countries using the Oxford-Astra-Zeneca vaccine at its low standard cost of $4 per dose. COVAX, the global organization for fair and equitable access to vaccines, would have appreciated the donation on behalf of those countries.  Such an action might have served as a better public example to the people of Ohio as regards the real purpose of vaccinations – an act of protection for the good of All.

Anti-vaxxer and-Anti-masker Fanatics Are Not on Vacation

Meanwhile, anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers have not taken a vacation. In California, another state with a recent spike in Covid infections and deaths, one café owner decided to offer a discount of 50% for customers who threw their facemasks in the trash-bin he provided for the purpose. At the same time, he charged customers who decided to wear their mask an additional $5.00 to dine at his establishment.  He shared his conviction that the face-mask mandate in 2020 caused collateral damage to businesses like his.  For some, it is still a challenge to accept the pandemic itself as a real factor in their lives, lifestyles, and livelihoods.

Continuing in the month of May, in the state of Tennessee, a woman was arrested after she drove her vehicle at top speed through a tent that was set up as a vaccination clinic in a location convenient to the public. She claims it was a protest against coronavirus vaccines which she sees as a conspiracy to cause harm to innocent people. Meanwhile the CDC records show Tennessee has among the lowest vaccination rates compared to the rest of the US, 23.4% at the end of April 2021.  Vaccines are available for all adults in the US to the point where the US has been accused of hoarding vaccines while many other countries have none.

The Upcoming 2021 Olympics – To Be or Not to Be?

Japan, the site of the 2021 Olympics, has been slow as a country to tackle the pandemic, despite being an advanced economy.  Millions of dollars and at least eight years of time went into planning for the Tokyo Olympics which were postponed back in March 2020.  The assumption then was that all would be well by March 2021, a full year after the pandemic was declared. The time of reckoning has arrived. The Tokyo Olympics are currently on schedule to start on July 23, its success depending on the full participation from athletes from more than 100 countries. But late May 2021 has brought troubling news. In the US – the CDC has issued a new travel advisory stating “Travelers should avoid all travel to Japan.”   At this point in time, as information to the rest of the world, WHO lists Japan as Level 4 – a high rate of pandemic risk. Japan itself mandated its third complete lockdown for 2021 due to a spike in Covid-19 cases and deaths. 

Tokyo is the largest urban economy and the most populous city in the world. Its high density of population is the ideal environment for an airborne virus to spread quickly, facts which spur on Japanese medical specialists and civic leaders to demand that the Olympics be postponed indefinitely. On the other hand, The US Olympic Committee, as well as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Japanese government are of opposite mind. Their mantra is: Let the Games begin.  Time will tell how successful the games are from Japan’s perspective. Many countries are skeptical about the risk being taken by the world’s best athletes. Japan swears the Games will be safe for everyone.  If the Games go on, the report will be known to all the world soon enough, by the time the closing ceremonies of the Olympics take place on August 08, 2021.  Athletes have been preparing and sacrificing for at least five years - some, all their lives thus far.  Understandably, they crave their day in the spotlight.  But at what cost? The jury is still out.  Many athletes and their trainers are accepting of Japan's promise of protection.  If you are a family member or a fan, you are most likely measuring your enthusiasm. You will rejoice at the feel-good stories and spectacles of achievement if the athletes, supporters and the various countries' entourages make it safely through the pandemic.  It's OK to want the happy ending. 

 

The News Is Still About Covid-19 – It Hasn’t Gone away – Not Yet

Allison Y. Gibbons. PH.D

March 31, 2021

So, you’ve received your two doses of Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna, or your single dose of the Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine.  Now what?  To put this achievement in perspective, to date, you are among the mere 16% of individuals who are fully vaccinated in the US, and one of the 7% across the world.  If we want to assume that those who have recovered from Covid-19 are at least partially immune, that’s another 9% added to the coverage. Still far from the goal.  The CDC and UN/WHO advise that in order to achieve herd immunity, 80% of your population must be fully vaccinated.  Of all the countries across the globe, Israel has done the best, covering 53% of their population so far.  Many poorer countries are at zero, because of lack of vaccines, and in better-off countries like the US, Great Britain and parts of Europe where vaccines are available, there are the vaccine ‘refuseniks’ who are slowing down the march towards herd immunity.  This is no indictment against the few who for reason of a medical condition cannot be vaccinated. Nonetheless, after one full year of cautions, lock-downs, quarantine and mask-wearing to protect ourselves and others from the spread of Coronavirus, we still have a long way to go.  The WHO admits that in all populations the majority remains susceptible to Covid 19.  To date, 84% of the US population are not yet fully vaccinated, and 93% of the world's people are still waiting for vaccines.  In disease terms, “A pandemic anywhere is still a pandemic everywhere.”

 

Those who have been fully vaccinated are still cautioned that you are not fully free to “pass go” although we may be entitled to a few rewards.  According to the CDC, these are the health-preserving freedoms that fully vaccinated individuals have:

- You can enjoy the relief to consider yourself fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving your second dose of Pfizer or Moderna, or after your single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.  But it’s best to allow yourself at least four weeks.

-You can gather with other fully vaccinated family members and friends in homes and private events without having to wear a mask.  As long as everyone present has been fully vaccinated, not counting children.

-You can travel in your own vehicles without wearing a mask, along with other passengers who have all been fully vaccinated.


Not much, but a small step towards normalcy. Dr. Anthony Fauci of the NIH, and Dr Rochelle Walensky of the CDC caution us that we must continue to social distance, avoid crowds, wash hands regularly, stay home when sick, and report Covid-like symptoms even if fully vaccinated. And we are not ready to discard masks. We must wear a mask in all places and spaces that serve the public, and also inside all modes of public transportation – planes, trains, buses, limousines, taxis, Uber and Lyft.


On the home front, the wild card continues to be those in the age group 18 – 30 who will be among the last (other than children and infants) to be offered vaccines. While they wait, they have been identified as “Covid -19 super-spreaders”’ because even though they don’t readily succumb to the illness themselves, they are suspected of spreading the virus exponentially.  If you are in the older age groups – 60 and above, and you are fully vaccinated, you are reminded to insist that the party-going, crowd-loving younger family members wear a mask in your presence.  And for double caution, you too should wear a mask when they are around. Many from the “super-spreader” clusters have had reason to lament, after the fact, that they brought Covid home to their parents and grandparents, a sizable number of whom didn’t survive.  “It’s better to be safe than sorry” is not just a cheesy platitude for the young or old.


It must be accepted that the behavior of the Coronavirus is not yet fully understood. The science is not faulty.  Good science acknowledges the unknown factors. Researchers are seeking to yet comprehend Covid immunity.  Many questions remain about how long immunity from the many vaccines will last, and also what type of immunity is obtained as a result of infection by the virus among those who have survived. So far, there is little evidence of re-infection by the vaccinated or by Covid survivors. But more time is needed to provide definitive answers about the duration of our protection.  Scientists are backed up by two critical pieces of evidence from decades of research. One is that historically, herd immunity has never been achieved for any epidemic or pandemic through Infection; it has been attained through Vaccination. The other fact is that immunity declines over time.   We can’t fast-forward the answer to the question – how long does our immunity last? One year? Two years? Ten years? Would we need booster shots? No one knows yet. We are talking here of vaccines that are merely beyond the three months mark.


Meanwhile, the legislators in some states and cities are trying to shore up our sense of health safety and freedom in public spaces by seeking to enact policies to require proof of vaccination from all individuals before they are allowed to enter certain types of crowded locations such as restaurants, concert halls, theaters and sports arenas – places that can be controlled at points of entry,   New York State for example, is in the process of launching a secure Excelsior pass with a digital vaccine card or passport that reveals a QR code.  Others may follow suit. Airlines are mulling the idea. While it is true that fully vaccinated persons are given a real tangible card as evidence of vaccination, security experts worry that such cards have the potential to be duplicated or used by other individuals who are not the bona-fide vaccinated owners.  Despite the push for digital proof,  you should hang-on to your card, and keep it in a secure place. Take a picture of it and keep in your phone. If you live or travel near to a Staples or Office-Depot business facility, those companies are offering free lamination of your card to give it durability.  Be careful with attempts to laminate it yourself. If perchance you lose or destroy your card accidentally, you should contact the Health Department for the county, town or city where you were vaccinated to request a copy.


Herd Immunity is the threshold of health security that we seek.  It will be months or even another year before we arrive at that level of vaccination coverage.   But Herd Immunity may not even be the Holy Grail of protection.  It is still possible that after we arrive at the threshold, pockets of outbreaks can spike in locations within a community where the chain of Coronavirus transmission has not yet been broken because vaccination rates are low in that particular area.  Such outbreaks and emergence of hotspots can set a country back into crisis or panic mode on account of easy spread due to travel, relaxed protocols, and people who disregard or deny Covid’s dangers because they prize their freedom over the health rights of others, or they abide by Covid conspiracy theories. The anniversary month of March 2021 gives way to April with Covid-19 still a shadow stalking us. At this juncture, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the CDC went off script at a recent interview, to share her feelings of impending doom due to the spike in cases and the spread of Coronavirus variant strains.  We can’t help but want Dr. Walensky to be wrong on this one occasion, as we look forward to brighter days and years ahead. 


Further Reading

1. Experts Explain Why You Aren’t ‘Fully’ Vaccinated Against COVID-19 Right After Your Final Dose. Prevention Magazine

 https://apple.news/AJ3-xeHUGTmidr1ym3jEIrQ


2.The First Thing To Do After You’re Fully Vaccinated

https://a.msn.com/r/2/BB1eXgEc?m=en-us&referrerID=InAppShare

 

V-Safe – The CDC’s After-Vaccination Health Checker That Works For You

Allison Y. Gibbons. PH.D
February 26, 2021

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the leading national, tax-payer-funded Public Health Institute in the US, launched an after-vaccine health-checker for all of us as individual vaccine receivers, back in December 2020.  The launch took place right on the heels of the release of the first vaccines. 

If you are experiencing side effects from COVID vaccinations, then the CDC wants to hear from you. And in exchange for receiving Vaccine information from you, the CDC provides the benefit of a service that monitors your after-vaccine health status.  That is the dual purpose of the CDC's web-based program V-Safe.


V-Safe - Your After-Vaccine Health Checker

V-Safe is a smart-phone based tool that uses text-messaging and web-based surveys which allow individuals to register for vaccination-monitoring through a secure site administered by CDC approved health professionals.

I used the opportunity to register for V-Safe immediately after I received my first Vaccine shot at the end of January (2021). Perhaps if I had not had severe symptoms following my first shot, I might not have discovered V-Safe.  I am glad my vaccine research and my own friendship and professional networks led me to V-Safe because now I can report that I tested V-Safe and it works.

Before registering for V-Safe, I followed protocol and called my Primary Care Physician when my own vaccine symptoms felt too severe to ignore.  After some futile discussions, what I learned was that while some primary care physicians may be keeping up with the daily doses of new information about COVID vaccines, some others who are not functioning in offices or clinics that are administering vaccines, seem none-the-wiser about how to handle their patients’ reported after-effects. Unfortunately, my PCP belongs to the latter category. Which led me to V-Safe as my go-to Vaccine monitoring system and process as the much-needed follow-up after my first and second shots.


Self-register on The V-Safe App

You can and should download the V-Safe app to your smartphone any time after you receive your first shot – the sooner the better, so that you can trigger the monitoring service right away.  You input your basic personal information, and the date and name of your first vaccine. Each day for the first week, the CDC V-Safe monitoring system will contact you via text and ask you to complete a brief survey to input your symptoms; then you are checked weekly until your second dose. You will receive a reminder for your second dose.  V-Safe will not schedule your appointments, just remind you to follow-up. After the second dose, you will again be monitored daily for a full week, followed by weekly up to 6 weeks, then after 3-months, 6-months, and 12 months. If at any time in the process, you report serious symptoms that are persistent and worrisome, you will receive a phone call from a qualified health professional to discuss what your follow-up action should be. For a very few people, it may even result in a recommendation not to take the second dose if symptoms following the first dose are considered risky.

Join the Global Effort

When you register for V-Safe, you not only have a monitoring team working with you, but you also become part of a global effort to document symptoms and responses to the COVID vaccines.  You will be contributing to the monumental scientific endeavor to collect statistics and real information in real time which will help everyone now and into the future. Being monitored through V-Safe also made me feel less alone with my vaccine experiences. 

I highly recommend V-Safe. Register on: V-Safe.cdc.gov. Follow on-screen directions.  You are allowed to Opt-out at any time.


Below is a link that will lead you to the CDC website special COVID section providing more details about V-Safe.

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/vsafe.html

 

Fighting Covid19: Two Doses of Vaccine with One Dose of Reality

Allison Y. Gibbons. PH.D
January 23, 2021

Good news!  COVID19 vaccines have arrived. The not-so-good news is that waiting is involved. The really bad news is that infections and the death rate climbed during the same two months as the launch of vaccines. At the date of this article, global deaths had surpassed 2million. US deaths crossed 415,000.


In December the FDA authorized multinational pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German partner BioNTech to release a Covid19 vaccine. Soon followed a vaccine by Moderna working with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).  Then in England, a vaccine by Astrazeneca and Oxford University was approved in January.  At first, in the eyes of a skeptical public, these vaccines seemed to come from nowhere fast, too quickly to be trusted.  We became believers when we learned that infectious disease experts have been working on corona-viruses in their labs since the emergence of newer dangerous strains in the 1960s.  


Vaccinologists had already fast-forwarded their work in response to the 2002 SARS-CoV outbreak. They were vaccine-ready in 2019 for the coronavirus that kicked off the current pandemic – the aggressive variant SARS-CoV-2, christened COVID19.  They sprinted head-on into the vaccine bureaucracy, tackling the time-sensitive to-do list –hasten clinical trials, rush approval protocols, chase down funding, and retrofit labs for mass production. On the business end, companies had to attract investors; determine product price; and close contracts with big buyers even before the first approval.


Many governments, countries, global organizations, pharmaceutical companies and scientists are involved in the process.  But with the rollout of numerous vaccines the question arises, what’s the difference between them?  The Global Vaccine Alliance explains that modern vaccines fall into four categories, all seeking to achieve the same goal, though with different strategies. A vaccine trains a person’s immune system to recognize and attack a virus, even one it hasn’t seen before (www.healthline.com). The differences are based on how the vaccines are made – their active and inactive ingredients, so to speak.

Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna used the opportunity to showcase the novel genetic technology known as mRNA. In the vaccine world, some call it the type 2. Both vaccines contain material from the COVID19 virus, meant to give human cells instructions to make a harmless protein that will trigger an immune response to ward off or lessen the impact of the disease; but the two vaccines differ in structure, make-up, delivery systems and dosage (www.cdc.gov ).  With such a large population to serve, the US is expected to call for back-up from Astrazeneca whose vaccine is already in use in Great Britain, the European Union, Mexico and the Middle East. Astrazeneca used the conventional viral vector, the type 3 recipe composed of a weakened version of another live virus into which genetic material from COVID19 is inserted, to prompt our bodies to build resistance.


To date as many as nine vaccines are authorized across the world, 64 more are in development and 173 in pre-clinical development (www.who.int).   Johnson & Johnson is in phase 3 trials with their viral vector Janssen vaccine. Novavax and partners in Sweden and India are coming on scene with the new generation of revolutionary vaccines, using the type4 strategy called Protein Subunit, based on a lab-made version of the coronavirus protein – suitable for people with compromised immune systems, but complex to manufacture.


Other available vaccines are using either the viral vector, EG SputnikV by Russian lab Gamaleya; Or the type1 traditional Whole Virus approach  – the original inactivated virus strategy trusted by Sinopharm in China, and Bharat Biotech in India (www.gavi.org).  In the works are vaccines being developed by more pharmaceutical companies working with major research universities in Australia, Canada, China, Great Britain, India, Russia, and the US.  Rollout will happen after they complete clinical trials and pass scientific standards.


WHO (World Health Organization) offered vaccination priority guidelines pushing for the frail elderly and people over 75, the health-compromised, health care personnel and essential workers to be in the first groups. This worked well in some countries, like Israel where 1st dose vaccinations are almost completed for all their citizens down to 18 years old.  In other places vaccination efforts appear disorganized, leaving room for corruption. Unauthorized vaccine-peddlers are being arrested. In the US each state fell back to doing its own thing, exposing problems with distribution. Accessing the vaccine became a literal nightmare in the case of some elderly residents of Florida who were pictured camping out overnight in the cold to secure a spot. Vaccine tourism became a thing. The wealthy and well-connected, individuals as well as countries have been accused of skipping the line.


Mass production, safety, storage temperatures, transport, distribution and pricing are still bugbears.  The WHO warns that the anticipated herd immunity of 80% won’t happen in 2021. Herd Immunity is the level of protection in an entire population that is reached when a sufficient number of people become immune to a disease by vaccination or previous infection. Best case scenario is that it will be at least 3 years before the minimum 80% of the global population is vaccinated.  There are 7.8 billion people in the world. That’s 7,800,000,000 of which 331,000,000 are in the US.  The numbers are staggering. 


Costs are overwhelming too. Pfizer-BioNTech charges $20 per dose wholesale; Moderna $33 per dose. Both must be stored and transported in below-freezing temperatures; Pfizer requires frigid cold at -70 C, adding another hurdle that blocks broad access. Astrazeneca at $8 per dose and requiring only regular refrigeration has quickly become the most requested vaccine in the world.   China and India with 2.8 billion citizens between them, are supplementing with their own vaccines while helping smaller countries.  All vaccines require 2 doses per person. So far, Johnson & Johnson is the only one planning a single dose.


Many developing countries volunteered for vaccine trials just to ensure access.  Pfizer-BioNTech tested in Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, and Turkey. Astrazeneca would not have gotten its vaccine to market without Brazil, Mexico and South Africa.  WHO has recruited Chile, Columbia and El Salvador to participate in upcoming trials.  While investors are anticipating a big pay out, the poorest countries depend on donors to assist with vaccines.   Global ethics during a pandemic demand that costs and access to vaccines must be democratic across the world. 

A pandemic anywhere is a pandemic everywhere.

There have been some severe adverse reactions, and a few vaccine-related deaths now being reported.  It’s common practice for the medical scientific world to collect data in real time about the behavior of a disease and effects of new treatments.  A vaccination campaign during a pandemic brings this experimental process into sharp focus.

WHAT IS KNOWN FOR SURE

  • Vaccines for COVID19 are on a production fast track around the world

  • Children and adolescents younger than 18 are excluded from COVID vaccines until clinical trials are done for that age range -except for Pfizer whose current range reaches down to 16

  • Variety in vaccine development is based on 4 different vaccine strategies

  • Research and vaccine implementation are happening at the same time

  • Science will be better advanced by having variety in vaccine-type and dosage

  • It’s hardly likely you will have a choice of vaccine.  What you receive is what is available at your location at the time. 

  • You should ask the name of your vaccine so that you get the same for your 2nd dose.  The different vaccines don’t mix and match.


WHAT IS NOT KNOWN

Scientists don’t yet know

  • The full impact of COVID19 vaccinations

  • If current vaccines will work with the mutating virus

  • Whether vaccinated persons can still  transmit the virus to others

  • How long immunity will last from any of the vaccines

  • Whether an annual booster will be needed like the Flu vaccine

  • Whether COVID19 will end up like the flu which causes hundreds of thousands of deaths per year despite the existence of flu vaccines.


BOTTOM LINE

WHO and country experts ask us to be optimistic with caution. Expect the best outcome. Tone down expectations.  Your turn will come. Meanwhile we are forewarned that social distancing and mask wearing should continue throughout 2021 even after being vaccinated. 

 

Does Mouthwash Really Kill the COVID19 Virus?

Allison Y. Gibbons, PH.D
11/23/2020

News that the use of Mouthwash can help keep us safe from Covid19 went ‘viral’ recently, faster than the Covid virus itself.  Listerine started flying off the shelves.  The sound-good story was attributed to a break-through science report endorsed by even the renowned Dr. Oz in his weekly on-line newsletter (ReaganReports,11/18/20)  under a headline, “Mouthwash helps fight Covid19.”

It occurred to me that as we speak, billions of dollars are being invested all over the world to fast- track a Covid19 vaccine.  Could there really be a preventive strategy as basic as Mouthwash?

The Mouthwash story was based on an original legitimate research project entitled: “Lowering the transmission and spread of human coronavirus” funded by The Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences Coronavirus Research Seed Fund (CRSF), results of which were published in the September 2020 issue of the Journal of Medical Virology accessed at onlinelibrary.wiley.com.

A team of 7 science and medicine researchers investigated if other strategies, beyond wearing a mask and social distancing, would significantly decrease transmission and spread of human coronaviruses. They decided to test whether common over-the-counter mouthwashes, gargles and nasal rinses would inactivate high concentrations of HCoV. The team used real products - Listerine, Crest Pro-Health, Equate and Peroxide; and a diluted nasal rinse of Johnson’s Baby Shampoo - on real samples of infected tissue culture, with contact times of 30 seconds, 1 minute and 2 minutes.

Their results?

They concluded that these commonly available healthcare products have properties that will inactivate or kill a coronavirus with greater than 99.9% even with 30 second contact time.

Does this mean that we are home free just by using an alcohol-based antiseptic mouthwash or a Neti pot with a nasal rinse?  And that a vaccine is rendered moot?

NOT SO FAST!  Life is not simple when it comes to COVID19.  It’s important to understand the limitations of this study, which the researchers themselves clearly admitted in writing, in their report.  Unfortunately, busy media influencers, no matter how revered, depend on personal assistants to do the ground work.  With such a bold generalization as Mouthwash helping to fight Covid19, the ground work needs to be faultless.

Let’s follow the money.

COVID19 is the popular name given to the coronavirus disease that emerged in 2019, and which is associated with the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, known in the medical world as SARS-CoV2, responsible for the current pandemic and its 11 million infections and 500,000 deaths so far.

In their study, the researchers DID NOT use tissue culture with the SARS-CoV-2 virus because it was too expensive to obtain. Even if available, using the real virus would have required very strict biosafety Lab conditions.  Instead the researchers used cultures with a surrogate virus HCoV-229e, which allowed them to do rapid testing of multiple over-the-counter products.  The scientists also used a suspension of the virus mixed with soil, aware that soil does not represent the exact nature of particles in human nostrils, mouths, throats and sinuses.

Getting results to “market” quickly is as much a plague in academic research as it is with product development.  Funders and investors want results. Quickly! Money, or the lack thereof, can influence process.

What can we conclude from the conclusions of the scientists??

  1. The over-the counter products inactivated the surrogate virus they tested, BUT the tests were not done on the virus responsible for COVID19.

  2. Their lab conditions did not come close to reenacting a true ecosystem of human nostrils, mouths, throats and sinuses

  3. Therefore it cannot be stated with any certainty that mouthwash and nasal rinses will kill the COVID19 virus after it enters the human system.

Take Aways

Don’t place bets on Mouthwash to save us from COVID19.  There are too many variables that make the strategy ‘iffy’ at best.  Preventive strategies should still focus on blocking virus-laden droplets from entering our mouth and nose.  Until there is a safe vaccine available for the public at large, and until the necessary majority is vaccinated, we need to continue to wear a proper mask that covers mouth and nose, and practice social distancing. 

(If you are scientifically inclined and want to read the results of the study in its entirety, the reference is:  Meyers C, Robinson R, Milici J, et al. Lowering the Transmission and Spread of Human Coronavirus. J Med Virol. 2020; 1-8.   https://doi.org/10.1002/jmv.26514)