There is much misunderstanding in the world about vaccines in general. This has been the case ever since a thoroughly discredited piece of dodgy research suggested in 1998 – on the basis of pretty spurious evidence – that there might be some kind of causal link between the combined vaccine for three diseases (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) and autism. For the avoidance of doubt, there is no convincing evidence of a causal relationship between the two whatsoever. But that hasn’t stopped people failing to protect their own children from these preventable, yet potentially deadly, diseases by forgoing the opportunity to immunise them. And as a consequence, the number of children exposed to these diseases has been steadily increasing.
Fast-forward a few decades and humanity suddenly found itself confronted with a new peril, which threatened to kill large numbers of vulnerable people and cause huge disruption to the daily lives of all humans across the entire globe. While the impacts of CoVid 1 (aka SARS) starting in 2003 and MERS-CoV in 2012 was mostly limited to just part of one continent, what might be known to future generations as the Covid 3 outbreak (aka CoVid-19) rode roughshod across the entire planet.
When asked by friends in early 2020 whether science would save us from the threat, I usually replied that sometimes science find cures for illnesses and sometimes methods of prevention, but rarely both, and either approach to controlling diseases usually take many years to get right, not months. So to cut a long explanation short, I was of the opinion that we’d probably get on top of it over the course of 2-5 years. How wrong I was.
Over the course of spring 2021 Lliana Bird (aka Birdy), my partner in the Geek Chic Weird Science podcast who’s also has her own show on Radio X for many years, and I had been casually discussing the possibility of reviving our beloved fortnightly science splurge Geek Chic. After the first 100 episodes she went into the important business of raising babies and I went off to do a Master’s in Virtual Reality. In the meantime, it transpired that we had both missed regularly delving into the latest weird and wonderful science stories.
Come lockdown, Birdy had been directing her scientifically-curious eye towards the research into Covid-19 and the vaccines that surprised everyone by being invented within 12 months of the virus sending the world into turmoil. Lockdown, incidentally, had also provided a boost to the pre-existing huge enthusiasm for podcasts and other forms of audio only entertainment, so the time seemed ripe to bring back Geek Chic for several reasons.
Birdy suggested that we embarked on a series of special interviews with someone who’s day-to-day work is entirely centred on creating vaccines. Even better, the young woman in question had played a senior scientific role in the research that led to the Moderna vaccine.
Chise (pronounced “Chee-Say”) is known on Twitter as Mac ‘n’ Chise (@sailorrooscout) and found herself thrust into the public eye when she decided to share her extensive and up-to-date knowledge of the original clinical trials for all the vaccines that became available with social media. She did so in the spirit of dispensing accurate information to dispel the many myths that endlessly circulate in the echo-chambers of social media. And Birdy being hungry for such information, given her own role as the champion of science among her own friends, social media followers and radio show listeners, naturally stumbled upon her and had been staying glued to Chise’s feed for all the latest news ever since.
When Birdy mentioned that we might be able to get an exclusive interview with someone at very heart of vaccine research – I was instantly keen. At the time I myself had no idea how they had managed to create a vaccine so quickly. I had no idea of the critical differences between early data from clinical trials and later data from Real World experience with each of the different vaccines.
And then there was the worrying arrival of the variants – would they scupper the scientific master plan and leave us back at square one after all that hard work? Might these variants, or others that will no doubt crop up in the future, render the immense expense of rolling out the world’s fastest and most extensive vaccine programme completely pointless. With over 37 million of its nearly 67 million inhabitants already double-jabbed, what hope does the UK and all the other nations of the world have in terms of getting our normal lives back?
And look at the impact that’s having already. Whereas previous surges of CoVid-19 positive cases were always accompanied by a mirroring surge in the weekly average CoVid-related deaths, this time round the death rate is staying down despite the rocketing rates of CoVid-19 infection. In short, the vaccines seem to be doing what they were intended to do – stopping accident and emergency units becoming full of people with CoVid-related breathing difficulties. It’s early days yet, but there is certainly room for optimism as we look forward to the rest of 2021 and beyond (in the UK at least).
So, how did they do it? You can find out everything you need to know on this topic by downloading to Geek Chic Weird Science’s “Covid Vaccine Special” parts 1 and 2. That link takes you to Acast, who host our podcast, but you can also find it on the Apple podcasts, Libsyn, TuneIn and Podtail. Part 3, which will cover some of the broader issues that the world is facing over the coming years, follows soon…
In addition to these monthly blogs, I regularly tweet about interesting brain science articles that hit the press via @drjacklewis.