While looking for expert answers about COVID vaccination issues, PissedConsumer invited Dr. Jeffrey Ebersole, a Professor of Biomedical Science and Immunologist with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, for a video interview to talk about COVID-19 vaccine side effects, reactions after vaccination, and distribution.
In this expert interview, Dr. Ebersole goes into details on COVID vaccine reactions, explains how the Johnson & Johnson and Novavax vaccines differ from those produced by Pfizer and Moderna and shares his personal experience of taking the COVID shot. Watch the video:
COVID-19 questions discussed with a health expert:
- COVID-19 vaccine against the new virus strain
- Johnson & Johnson and Novavax Vs Pfizer and Moderna
- Covid-19 vaccine reactions
- Covid vaccine side effects
- Vaccine reactions vs Infection itself
- Distribution issues
- Covid vaccination acception
- COVID-19 research at UNLV
Do COVID-19 Vaccines Protect You from the New Strain of Virus?
Mike: Don't know all the details, but what we hear is a new strain of viruses is coming out. What is the scope right now? Which vaccines are working, which vaccines are less working? Why do you think that happened?
Dr. Ebersole: Well, first of all, it's important to recognize what we're talking about here. So we're really talking about the modification of the spike protein on the CoV-2 virus, and how that spike protein binds to the receptor on your cells. If it can't bind to the receptor, it can't infect.
So I was trying to think of what an analogy would be. So if you take a mitten, and you stick your hand in the mitten, that would be like your hand would be the receptor and the mitten would be the binding site from the spike protein. However, in these mutants where they have a concern about, all of a sudden, the mitten now has a thumb on it. So now you put your hand into the mitten, and your thumb is now in the mitten, so you have a better fit.
It fits tighter, it fits the stronger kind of thing there. And that's what happened to the spike proteins. They got mutated in different ways, and there are probably thousands of other mutations that have occurred out there, but they don't have any functional importance.
But the one from South Africa, the one from the UK, one in Brazil, which is fairly similar to South Africa one, they mutated so that their spike protein now attaches better to the receptor, which makes them more transmissible, more infectious. However, I have not seen any data yet in any of those, where it appears as if they're able to cause more disease in an individual.
They obviously could create more disease in the population, because they're more easily transmissible and they can infect better.
So where the vaccines come in, and of course all the vaccines were directed towards the composition, the characteristics of the original spike protein. These modified ones, the question is, will the immune response immunity from infection protect you from infection with these variants? And will the different vaccines protect you from an infection with the variants?
The latest I heard, and I think this just came out from Dr. Fauci, not too long ago, a couple of days in fact, that there's increasing evidence that if you've recovered from the original infection, your immunity is not particularly good against these new variants. In contrast, the vaccines are much better.
Now, they're not as good as they were to the original virus, the original spike protein, where we all saw that they were 94 or 95% effective in dealing with the disease. What I last saw was with the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccines, maybe the effectiveness was decreased to 85%. So they're still quite effective, but not as effective as the original one.
Now, will new variants occur? The more of the population of the globe that is infected, the more chances there are for mutations. And the more mutations there are, there is greater the chance of having one that is more infectious, potentially more virulent.
Johnson & Johnson, Novavax, Pfizer and Moderna: Which Is Better?
Dr. Ebersole: The other thing that I saw out there as a couple of the other ones, the Johnson & Johnson, for example, a vaccine that's in FDA review right now, the Novavax vaccine, which I think is also getting ready to go to FDA for approval. They're different. They're dealing with the protein itself, rather than ... Well Novavax is dealing with the protein, Johnson & Johnson actually sticks the whole spike protein in an adenovirus, a virus that causes infection to deliver the immunogen, these spike proteins, but they don't cause any disease or anything like that.
So there's some literature coming out of those that in fact, the antibodies that are induced may actually be better against the variants than the Madrona and the Pfizer vaccines are.
That being said, the technology that Pfizer and Moderna are based upon, they can very easily and rapidly tweak the mRNA, their vaccine to make it look more like the variant. So they'll have the ability, and my understanding is they're already working in that direction, to improve their vaccine for these variants.
Mike: So Pfizer and Moderna, the technology allows them to modify the vaccine in such a way that it fits better new variants. Would the new FDA approval be required for those modifications? Or, they could be done just based on the previous verification that they've got.
Dr. Ebersole: I don't know absolutely. But my guess is because the changes in the vaccine are small enough, and fundamentally they're delivering the same material, they're delivering it in the same way.
My guess is it would not have to go through nearly the intensity of the process. I suspect there would have to be some filing to the FDA to document what changes were made, but I would think that it would go much more quickly.
Mike: The other two vaccines that you've called Johnson & Johnson and Novavax, So you're saying they might be even a bit better than current Moderna and Pfizer?
Dr. Ebersole: Some of the data coming out where they're actually in their phase three trials, where they're looking at the antibody that is induced and testing it against the variants, there's some indication that they may actually provide a bit more protection than the original Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.
But again, that's real-time science that they're doing right now to try to figure that out. And of course, the AstraZeneca and Oxford one was approved by WHO, and was just recently approved by Australia. So they're going to start being able to use that. And I don't know for sure, but I suspect that they probably have already filed with the FDA, but I don't know the outcome of that in the US at this point.
What Are COVID-19 Vaccine Reactions?
Mike: I asked you very early at the beginning of this interview, whether you got vaccinated and you said, "Yes." How did you feel? What was your impression and your wife's after being vaccinated?
Dr. Ebersole: Absolutely no problem at all. We got the Pfizer vaccine, the first one had a little bit of arm soreness, almost like you get with the influenza vaccine. The second vaccine, which we had about three weeks after the first one, had virtually no reaction at all to it. No pain, nothing.
Now I have heard that there is a portion of the population out there, and I don't have a handle on the proportion of that, but I know personally and folks here at my institution that got it, there are quite a few folks, particularly to the second injection, they have a reaction. They can generate a low fever, 101 degrees, something like that. They can feel achy, almost like they have a mild case of the flu, lasting for about 24 hours or so. And then it's gone and they feel fine, but that clearly is a reaction of their immune system to the vaccine. It says that their immune system is working very strongly in response to the vaccine.
Mike: Have you had a chance to take an antibody test?
Dr. Ebersole: No, I have not. That is a good question, because again when they go back to the data on the vaccine, they say they're 94 to 95% effective, which means there's five to 6% of the population where it won't be effective. Who are they, and how do we identify those?
Another question that's out there is, how long will the immunity last? Will we need a vaccine for coronavirus like we get for the flu, on a yearly basis? They'll have to tweak it and we'll have to get that. We don't know those questions yet. And doing more extensive studies on the characteristics of the antibodies and how long they last, the pharmaceutical companies and the federal government are going to learn much more about that.
What Are COVID-19 Vaccine Side Effects?
Mike: Besides your coworkers and their reactions to taking the vaccine, there is some press about a nurse in the UK, a nurse in the US, suffering severe side effects after the vaccine. Do you think there are too many or too few severe side effects to the vaccine? From what would you expect?
Dr. Ebersole: Well, I guess the first part there is the definition of severe and how we feed that in there. Basically the reason behind the requirement, and we all had to do this as well. We got the vaccine and we had to stay there for 15 minutes, was because...
...during the phase three trials, there were some individuals across the globe that had an immediate, what we call an anaphylactic reaction to it.
It's like getting a bee sting or something like that, that you're allergic to. And there were a number of those to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine. So this was a cautionary approach to try to identify those individuals. But that type of reaction literally happens within minutes to 10 minutes.
If you're going to have that reaction, it doesn't happen hours after, or days after. It just doesn't work that way. The other thing about it is that, again, we haven't paid a lot of press to this, because we've been using the influenza vaccine for probably 25 years, or however long. But each year there's a portion of the population that have reactions to the flu vaccine as well, with fevers, the same things that you hear with the coronavirus.
And again, part of it is the way that we are sort of held hostage almost by social media these days. So there are reports out there of two women, they had severe reactions. Okay. There's no doubt about that, and that was described. But attributing that to a cause and effect, I got the vaccine, the vaccine caused these reactions. Absolutely no data, absolutely no evidence that that occurs.
There's been 50 million people vaccinated in the US. I don't know, hundred million plus probably across the globe. And you have two of these. So the idea that the vaccine causes this, is very unlikely. And I did read a little bit on this, and their doctors that were involved with them really felt like these two women probably were having ... The kind of symptoms they showed may very well have been stress-related symptoms. And that can happen. Everybody, the globe. Overall, the globe is under a lot more stress.
But again, I saw a number out there, they said when the physician, I think it was a physician in Florida had the vaccine, and a couple of days later, he passed away. A young doctor, 30s, 40s, whatever. And they were trying to attribute that, see, he got the vaccine and it killed him. Well, as they said in the news, in the US we have 8,000 people dying every day for some reason. So just the random chance that one or more of them had the vaccine a couple of days before and then died after, it’s not cause and effect. And that's what people are trying to assign. And the data's just not there.
Can Reaction to COVID Vaccine Be More Severe Than When You’re Infected?
Mike: Is there a chance of a severe reaction to the second dose, if the first one went normally?
Dr. Ebersole: Seems to me that at least anecdotal information out there suggests that the frequency of reactions are more to the second vaccine or the second dose than they are the first dose.
Also again, just a personal note. A friend of mine had COVID back in the summertime. He was really laid up for about 60 days or more. He was pretty sick, and lost a lot of weight because of appetite, has longer-lasting neuropathy in his fingers, and that kind of thing. Well, he was eligible and went and got the vaccine as well. And both the first and the second vaccine, he had a pretty severe reaction to both of those as well.
So at least from an immunologic perspective, and that's who I am, you have to ask the question. And that is, someone who had a severe reaction to the viral infection, are they also having a more severe reaction to the vaccine, because there's something fundamentally different about their immune system?
And that the folks that are having this severe reaction to the vaccine, are damn well lucky they didn't get infected because it could have been a lot worse. That is again, that's all speculation, but just a thought.
Mike: Do you have any data on people that were sick, and later on took the vaccines? By the way, the friend of yours that was sick and later on chosen to take a vaccine, did he do antibody tests before the vaccinations? Why did he choose to go and get vaccinated, even though he was sick before?
Dr. Ebersole: He had an antibody. He is a physician, by the way, to let you know that, but he examined the data as we all do.
...it's very clear that the vaccine can enhance your immunity over just the immunity to infection. It may actually make it last much longer and improve protection from disease.
So that's basically why he did it because that's what the literature supports.
Mike: Okay. So there is a recommendation for people that were infected during last year if they have a chance to take a vaccine. It may be beneficial for them, of course, after consulting a physician of their own.
Dr. Ebersole: Sure. Yeah. And the other thing about it is, again, there was a thing that came out, I think it came out from Dr. Fauci as well. And that is, if you've had the infection, there was a recommendation to wait about three months before you had the vaccine. And again, from an immunologic standpoint it makes sense because once you've had the infection, you have antibodies floating around in your blood. If you now give more of the antigen, will those antibodies block the vaccine effect? So I think what they were saying is…
...give it time for your response to the infection to settle down a little bit, and then let us boost your immune response.
What Are COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Issues?
Mike: So I'm in New York, we've had serious issues with vaccine distribution happening in New York. I don't know about the rest of the United States. Was it across the United States? What's going on?
Do you have any information on that? Why there are a number of vaccination centers that have opened up, you call them up, try to register and there are no vaccines. That's what people are telling me.
Dr. Ebersole: Yeah. It sounds like that exists across the US, I don't think it's necessarily unique to New York. I think that has a number of different issues. One is if we have the belief, and I think the data is there, that we would love to get 300 million US citizens vaccinated. That means you need 600 million doses if you're doing two. Well, we didn't have that.
The companies worked very rapidly to produce and show the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, but the magnitude that it takes to produce all of this vaccine, none of these companies were prepared for.
Now, whether earlier on in the process, the federal government could have used the War Powers Act to say, like they did with masks and ventilators, and these kinds of things, you need to redirect your efforts to do this. That may have helped, but it didn't get done. So there was fundamentally a shortage of vaccines.
The other thing that I heard, and that was while all of the states, as best as I can determine and read, worked very hard to try to be prepared to deliver the vaccines. This was a magnitude of need beyond what we've ever seen before. So no matter how much training they did and how many people they were trying to get involved and were capable of doing that, again…
...it was a magnitude of need and delivery greater than anything we've seen in the history of the US.
So little unprepared for that. And then the last part of it sort of relates to the vaccines themselves. And that is the two vaccines that were originally available, had to be handled differently than most vaccines that we work with. And once they were put into action, they had to be used in a fairly short period of time, which means you had to have the people with the arms to put them in.
Well if you have 50% of the population that is reluctant to get the vaccine, trying to strategically say, "Okay, this much vaccine is available, I need to use it in the next three days. So therefore I need 50,000 people walking in my door to do this." Again, it added to that complication.
So those issues go across the US. Some states may have handled it a little bit better. Some cities may have handled a little bit better, but it's a challenge, and will remain a challenge, at least from dose availability, sounds like through the end of the spring, into early summer, that they're trying to gear up to get more delivered.
What Is COVID Vaccination Acceptance?
Mike: Israel is ahead of the entire world in terms of the percentage of vaccinated population. Today I read they're over 50% with two doses already. With that speed, they'll be done by March 1st. Will Israel become a model country for herd immunity to actually get that understanding perhaps?
Dr. Ebersole: I think they'll be able to capture data from that. And I'm sure that there are folks that are actively doing that as well. I think part of that, and again, I don't know how the vaccine acceptance was rolled out in Israel. I don't know how the government interacted with the population to encourage them, because again, you can have as much vaccine as you want, but if people don't accept it, you don't get to that point there.
So clearly there was a solid message and a solid acceptance. I just didn't hear, not that it didn't exist, but I didn't hear interviews with people in Israel complaining about losing their freedom because they had to wear a mask, or being vaccinated. And that was not giving them a choice or whatever.
I didn't hear that kind of thing. So clearly there was a good message and a good population acceptance. And those two came together. They're coming together in Israel. And again, I agree with you. I think that being able to present us information that, again, my bias, is going to support everything that we've been saying in the US, that our public health folks, our docs have been saying in the US all along, of how we can more quickly get back to normal.
Mike: What's your view on social media, how the message could be calibrated to reach the population of the United States to get vaccines more accepted?
Dr. Ebersole: Well I think again, it's the consistency of a message. It's enabling and then conveying accurately the science behind that message. I think those are all part of it. I think it is working with the corporations to make sure that we have vaccines available for everyone as soon as possible.
I heard yesterday or the day before, that they're talking about potentially having vaccines available for young children by the summertime. So again, it's focusing on the population. I think having a message to the population that is empathetic and compassionate rather than political. We care about you. We feel your pain, because as President Biden says, "We know how many tables are out there where there is an empty seat now because of COVID, or multiple empty seats in families." That kind of thing. So I think all of that is a very positive thing.
I think right now, the biggest challenge in my mind is, how do the president and his advisors, including the director of the CDC, move us forward to get kids back in school? That seems to be one of the biggest issues that we're not getting consistent. I don't hear us getting very consistent messages out there from the administration on how to get kids back in school.
The challenges are that you have schools that are financially in all different shapes, structurally in all different shapes. Some schools have 10 kids per class, some of them have 25 kids per class. How do you spread them out? How do you transition in a school, in a community where the rate of community infection is still high? How do you deal with that? Are the kids at the same risk?
So what you hear is more science coming out, suggesting that even in communities with a high transmission rate in the population, that in fact, the schools don't look like they're so bad off. So I think that, that's an important next step that the administration has to figure out, how to convey the message, how to in particular support local communities in schools financially, to do things.
In our dental school here at UNLV, we had to spend about $400,000 in mitigation equipment, air handling, new ways of capturing aerosols because we work in people's mouths. That's what we do. So it's not an inexpensive undertaking to do that. And again, it didn't seem as if the past administration understood how much of an investment is going to be needed to allow the local folks to do the job the way that they can do it.
COVID-19 Research at UNLV
Mike: Are you doing any research at the University of Las Vegas related to the vaccines or corona itself?
Dr. Ebersole: Here at UNLV, we actually have three different activities going on. One of the individuals is looking molecularly at waste products, from different aspects of the city, to try to help track coronavirus infections, because you can pick up the DNA in waste probably five, maybe even six months ago now.
Someone proposed to do this at the university level, and they were actually able to track coronavirus infections in college students in dormitories, by focusing on the waste products coming from the dormitories. So he's doing some work in the Las Vegas area on that.
We have a faculty member from Public Health that has been intimately involved with the Nevada State Government in tracking coronaviruses in the state. So he actually has a fairly substantial grant to train college students to do contact tracing and tracking of infections in the state.
And then early on, not so much now that I'm aware of, but early on in the process, we had a number of the laboratories that were actually helping the State Health Department put together the kits to collect the samples, to do the viral screening. But that's pretty much what we're doing here at UNLV.
As I said, while I'm not involved with it, there are colleagues of mine in dental research that are very interested in this, because obviously, the virus can infect through the oral cavity and the nasal cavity. We know that the receptors for the virus exist in cells in the oral cavity. As the data has come about in the most severely diseased patients, where they talk about this massive systemic inflammatory response, the cytokine storm that you hear about.
Well, we have studies going back in time, literally in periodontal disease, where we've identified patients at risk for the most severe periodontal disease, as having this uncontrolled, overexuberant inflammatory response to the bacteria associated with the disease.
So there may be some genetic underpinnings in the relationship of just your body that doesn't control its inflammatory response very well. As I did here today, coming in on NPR, that in a sampling of the population of the US, they're seeing more and more people that are now saying they want and are willing to get the vaccine.
That is good for all of us. That's everyone protecting each other. That's caring about your community. So again, I put my total support in folks being willing to do that.
Mike: Dr. Ebersole, I would like to thank you for taking the time and talking with me.
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