When the Homily is about Immunology

    A couple of weeks ago, I was forwarded a link to a blog post by an Orthodox priest in which he effectively tells his parishioners (and the world) that the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are dangerous and immoral. This is concerning for two reasons, the first being that this priest is in a jurisdiction in which his own Metropolitan had just a few weeks earlier signed his name to a joint letter with 8 other hierarchs from various jurisdictions offering this advice regarding vaccines: “consult your physicians in order to determine the appropriate course of action for you…while your own bishop, priest, or spiritual father remains prepared to assist you with spiritual matters, your personal doctor will guide your individual medical decisions.” But secondly, I think this advice is concerning because the author is sourcing the vast majority of his information from notorious anti-vaccine websites whose presentation of facts is demonstrably unreliable (I will provide a few examples) and thus the author is using his position of authority to potentially put the lives of his parishioners at risk by giving credence to unreliable and confusingly incomplete information. I do not intend to link to the article, nor to publicly identify the author because I’ve no desire to light the virtual torches and hand out pitchforks for the outrage mob to utilize the all too often opted-for personalized “nuclear option.” My argument is NOT against a person (how easily we forget that!) but against the claims made which really do not originate with him in any event. I write this for my friends who’ve forwarded the blog post to me and who’ve honestly asked me about it. While others may also appreciate the information, I don’t expect to convince anyone who has already committed to affirming the author’s and his sources’ perspective.

    I want to say from the start that I know many people choose to ask honest questions about these and other vaccines – because there is so much drummed up of controversy lately and because many of us are naturally leery of whatever is being sold to them – especially if it is being offered by the establishment. While most people are content to “trust the experts” and that is their choice to do so, I think it is admirable for these others to want to really understand the issues in depth and to make an honest effort to educate themselves. However, having said that, the ridiculous abundance of online sources marketing erroneous information creates a very difficult hurdle for them. Such sources literally prey upon the complexity of the topic (immunology was amongst some of the hardest coursework I engaged) and their audience’s inclination to distrust the “powers-that-be.” Indeed, the internet is ridden with sources that are either creating or parroting anti-vaccine narratives, and they do so in ways that I believe are manipulative and deceptive such that the average person having little scientific or laboratory experience or background really would not have any means of easily discerning that what they are being told may not be at all true. The people who read these blogs and websites are not to be blamed, rather it’s the people selling them on these erroneous ideas who are ultimately to blame. I believe the clerical author of this blog I mentioned at the start is clearly reproducing such narratives from deceptive sources, and so I will try and offer some balance on the four major claims to be found in his blog post.

    The author claims up front “I’m not anti-vaccine” and yet, he references over and over again RFK Jr’s organization’s website as a source, which has a long history of misinformation regarding vaccines and is using all the very same arguments we have likely all heard time and time again in Facebook memes and other social media posts. These include (quoting from the blog post):

1. “the current vaccines were rushed and moreover utilize untested technologies”

2. “the effects that may well be only revealed in coming years? Effects, in the long term, which are unknown in their scope. Effects that could be terrible.”

3. “In a very real sense the current C-19 vaccines are not traditional vaccines at all. In fact, they may be classified as a type of gene therapy”

4. “Both current ‘vaccines’ in use (in American), Pfizer and Moderna, have utilized at some point in their research and development processes aborted baby cells.”

    Now, before I write about these claims in detail, I think that since this priest has so extensively made use of two anti-vaccine websites and mimicked their modus operandi quite nicely, we should discuss four distinct devices or tools that I have noticed being consistently utilized to communicate erroneous scientific information by sources which consistently claim that vaccines are dangerous, ineffective, and/or not needed. This will also help us to ask the right sorts of questions when presented with such information which isn’t going away anytime soon. I’ll also say, that these tools/devices are not the sole property of anti-vaccine websites – for example, in all likelihood some socio-political culture war website that fights on your side (left or right) uses similar devices to drive their narratives (but that’s a different blog post – but no less one need not work hard to find parallels throughout).


    Let’s face it, we all have agendas. Websites and Facebook Groups devoted to “telling you the truth about Vaccines” (such as RFK Jr’s “Children’s Health Defense” ), have their own agenda which is to dissuade people from utilizing vaccines because they are devoted to the idea that they are dangerous, ineffective, and/or not needed. As such, when they do offer you accurate and not completely misinterpreted information, they will only ever tell you PART of any given story. I’ve had many claims forwarded to me by such sources and without fail I have been able to discern problems with how such information was presented such that the fear it intended to inspire was remarkably well mitigated by the full and complete story. For example, as in the case of this priest’s blog, these sources will make blanket statements such as the notion that mRNA vaccines “utilize untested technologies” but they will not balance this with the FULL truth of just how much testing has been done and is being done with these technologies. They will tell you that the approval process was rushed, but they will not seek to educate you on precisely what IS involved in that process, nor will they detail what was “skipped” or “rushed” and what was completed, and more importantly WHY. They are using incomplete and one-sided facts couched in fear-based language and then allowing your imagination to do the rest. They will cite numbers that look terrifying but that biostatisticians could explain and thus rather easily talk you off the proverbial ledge for a host of reasons not offered by the website. One great example is from RFK Jr’s website (cited by the priest – I take their data at face value – though it is outdated at this point) in which they use the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Data noting that 653 people have died “following the vaccine” and while they are honest enough to mention that such deaths “require further investigation before confirmation can be made that the reported adverse event was caused by the vaccine” they spend the rest of the article claiming that the system of reporting adverse events is unreliable and detailing anecdotal cases of deaths (which is another issue I’ll mention later). They at least did better than the priest who wrote that “over 600 deaths have been reported and over 12,000 injuries as a result of vaccination” which is NOT true because no causation has been established in any of these events. In fact, just the opposite is true: the FDA requires that ANY deaths after receiving a vaccine are reported to the CDC which is then required to investigate each and every case to verify the cause of death. And to date, none of the deaths have shown ANY causal link to the vaccines (also note this link has the most current data). Also, what isn’t compared (because it makes it less frightening) are the two numbers side by side: the 653 deaths out of about 45 million doses given to people (given that most folks at this time in mid-February were getting their first dose, lets assume this number translates into about 30 million individuals having received at least one dose – this percentage agrees with the percentage of people vaccinated vs. total doses administered in current stats) and that ends up with a “death rate” of 0.000022%. Now, let’s assume that every one of those deaths were directly caused by the vaccine (which we can’t, and as I’ve noted it is absolutely NOT the case), if these same people people actually got COVID-19 instead of the vaccine, we would expect, by the most conservative of estimates, that 360,000 of those people would have died (I DOUBLED the number of actual reported cases – to account for undiagnosed cases - as compared to deaths giving us a CFR of 0.8%). And even if you take the most healthy and robust young people, COVID-19 would absolutely kill far more of them than this vaccine – again keep in mind we have ZERO evidence that the vaccine has killed ANYBODY yet. So nonsense about the vaccine being worse than the disease is precisely that: nonsense. In actuality given that elderly people are disproportionately represented in that 30 million who received the vaccine, we would expect a death rate to be far higher if they’d gotten the disease rather than the vaccine. Now, RFK Jr. and this priest won’t give you these sorts of details or encourage you to examine these sorts of data side by side. In fact, the deaths of vaccinated people noted here, is actually less than the average death rate of the unvaccinated control group (all of you who have not been vaccinated yet) – in other words if you took an average slice of 30 million Americans, how many could we expect to die from natural causes in an average month? Significantly more – given that the number of Americans who died of natural causes in 2019 was upwards of 1.7 million. One can easily do the math from THIS website and see that 653 deaths is WELL within the range of deaths we’d expect naturally from an average selection of 30 million Americans in an average month. In other words, these vaccinated people dying are not outside the norm of an average 30 million unvaccinated people in the same time frame. This is clear and supports the likelihood that none or extremely few of these 653 deaths can be attributed to the vaccine. Why aren’t these sources giving you this sort of information?

    Because, they aren’t seeking to inform or educate you, they are seeking to cause fear by laying out in bold 36-point font everything they can find that seems potentially frightening. They take very complex collections of data and draw erroneous conclusion for you, knowing that the complexity of it bars most of us from challenging their conclusions. When balanced with ALL the information, their narratives are almost always declawed.


    This is one is particularly difficult for me to understand except in cases where I believe the source simply does not understand the science they are claiming to explain to people. One example is the case which I mentioned in a Facebook post that noted numerous sources claiming that the CDC was admitting the virus actually doesn’t exist, and they made this claim by citing a single sentence quote from the CDC’s 80 page validation report on the PCR assay for SARS-CoV-2. Because it involved an aspect of science with which I am extremely familiar, I knew immediately that they had either completely misinterpreted it, or they were deliberately lying about it. There is no way that an average layperson could have read what the anti-vaccine websites claimed and been able to discern that it was obviously not true. I spoke to numerous people and asked if the sentence provided by the websites made sense to them except in how it was described by the website and they all said “No.” I then showed them the validation paper and the relevant section and asked if it made any sense now, and again the answer was “No.” Indeed, their erroneous claim had ALL the air of authenticity because they cited the reference and offered a link knowing full well that people generally would not be able to devise a contrary interpretation of the sentence. I see this all the time when people cite peer-reviewed journal articles (which are written by scientists in a specific field for scientists in a specific field) knowing precious few people can actually read it an understand it. It’s akin to asking me to read and understand a professional article about computers programming languages – I’d be lost and you’d pretty much be able to tell me anything you wanted. I’d have no means of saying you were wrong. See my more detailed explanation of this example in the post HERE.

    Another example comes from Dr. Mercola and others who claimed that the mRNA vaccine can alter your DNA (Mercola implied this was the beginning of a push towards “transhumanism”). However there is no possible mechanism for the terribly unstable molecule of mRNA (this is why it must be stored at such cold temps) to end up in the nucleus of your cells, and even if they could, it could not be integrated into your DNA. It’s simply, a biological impossibility and innumerable sources have fact checked this repeatedly (HERE, HERE, and HERE are but a few examples), but undeterred by facts, folks like Dr. Mercola play on the understandable unawareness of the general population who likely long ago forgot how mRNA works. It’s very easy to hold up complex systems which your audience doesn’t know much about, and punch apparent holes in them. One could take a similar approach and convince many to never again fly on a 737MAX.

    And here is another example: In discussing the case of one of the adverse events associated with the Pfizer vaccine in which a Florida doctor who died of a syndrome called Immune thrombocytopenia (ITP), RFK Jr’s website (noted HERE) cites their own organization’s president claiming “that ITP has been reported to occur following exposure to drugs containing polyethylene glycol (PEG), a compound used in both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines” referencing a journal article published in the World Journal of Hepatology as evidence. The problem with this is that in the actual article they cite, the drug was not just PEG, but actually peg-interferon-alpha2a. ITP is a known issue with interferon treatment and so the PEG connection is almost certainly incidental. Again, the average person reading this misdirection would never realize the article doesn’t actually say what RFK Jr’s website claims it is saying.

    Bottom line: these sources frequently misinterpret or deliberately skew information to further their narrative. If some claim is shown to be false, they simply move on to the next one. And if a person ONLY gets their information about vaccines from such sources, they will never hear a correction or a balanced representation of the data. It becomes like many things in our online lives: a massive echo chamber from which we can conceive of no other perception of reality.

Anecdotal Evidence with Emotional Appeal

    The anecdotal argument coaxed with understandable emotional appeal is pervasive and not just in the realm of conspiracy theories about vaccines. We rarely recognize that we are being manipulated by their use, especially when the issue at hand is one with which we already vehemently agree. In the realm of our current topic, we are presented with stories of vaccine injuries, sometimes definitive and sometimes not so definitive. Sometimes names are given and other times it is a friend of a friend. But looking through the lens of a microscope to study astronomy is really not an effective means of understanding the universe as a whole. In mid-February we had 653 possible stories of people (of course, we know we don’t) who’ve had loved ones die after getting the mRNA vaccines and no doubt, we’ll eventually see some of their stories on anti-vaccine websites. What such sites won’t do, however, is balance these stories with definitive evidence of causation from the vaccine nor will they offer accounts from those 30 million other people (now over 60 million) who got the vaccine and had zero serious adverse effects. With those numbers, I think you can see which way the balance swings in reality, but if ALL you read about are accounts filled with GREAT emotional intensity of the few people who truly had an adverse reaction leading to death, this will understandably skew your perception of reality. Our emotions are far greater arbiters in our decision making than we tend to realize, and the fresh memory of a loved one weeping over their deceased family member after a covid-19 vaccine (especially when paraded before you eyes over and over again) will stick more firmly in our mind than the sober reality of the actual numbers of millions who did just fine. It is the same sort of mindset that literally kept people out of the water after seeing “Jaws” despite knowing that the actual likelihood of being attacked by a shark were infinitesimal.

    No one is hiding the truth that there ARE a certain number of people who will be injured or killed by vaccines. There is no “Da Vinci Code” that reveals this – the data is readily available. Where do you think all the anti-vaccine sources get their information? The FDA and the CDC provide it readily to the public. That some very small subset of people may die from these vaccines should be no more of a surprise to us than learning that some people will die after eating peanuts. Or the reality that some people die from all sorts of medications that are commonly prescribed. The balance to this is that the whole point of clinical trials is to discern the relative safety and efficacy of our medical products. These trials are designed to offer statistically significant data from which we can reasonably say that the product is safe for the general public and that the efficacy and need for the product outweighs the extremely rare cases in which someone can be harmed from them. We devour peanuts in massive quantities, and we do so simply because we enjoy the taste and in so doing we own the risk to others who must take sometimes extraordinary measures to avoid them and then sometimes still fail to succeed in doing so. Given that vaccines save millions of lives every single year, perhaps anti-vaccine activists would be more morally grounded in seeing that peanuts be banned – they don’t save any lives. Where are the emotional horror stories of people who lost their loved ones simply because you “needed” your peanut sauce? I’ve no wish to downplay any of these deaths, but the reality is that in this fallen world there are NO perfect solutions to diseases. Some therapies work for some people and not for others. Some therapies save millions but harm a very few. We should not allow the perfect to be the mortal enemy of the good and this is precisely what anti-vaccine sources are doing by focusing solely on existing or imaginary imperfections, and in so doing they erase the astonishing good that vaccines have done and continue to do.

Expert Opinions

    I’ll be the first to admit that just because someone has letters behind their name doesn’t necessarily mean that they have all the right answers – even if the letters indicate training that is specifically applicable to the question at hand. No doubt, someone with a PhD in molecular biology is in a reasonably better position to correctly interpret data regarding mRNA vaccines than would be someone with a PhD in economics. However, having an advanced degree in an applicable subject isn’t necessarily a guarantee that the individual will be providing accurate information or interpretations of data. A great example of this is Dr. Judy Mikovits (PhD in biochemistry) who is a major figure in the conspiracy video series “Plandemic.” Her career started just as many do who enter into academic research, however, she ended up coming under intense scrutiny after a paper she published which asserted that a virus called XMRV was the cause behind Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). The paper ended up being retracted after no one was able to duplicate her data – while not common, it’s normally not a big deal and is just the way that science is supposed to work – however it was also shown that she almost certainly had falsified aspects of her data. She has since dedicated much of her work towards a number of different conspiracy theories (including anti-vaccine conspiracies, COVID-19, and blaming “big pharma” for her failures), and she makes baseless claims about the very same XMRV virus as being a cause for autism, cancer, Parkinsons, and MS. You can read a Wikipedia article about her here which I think fairly tells the story of how she ended up on the fringes of science. We have here, someone who despite having completely appropriate educational credentials (though a decidedly less stellar work history in science), has opted to make a career of pandering conspiracy theories and does so to people who understandably have no readily available means to dismiss her claims. She has letters behind her name and so we assume she ought to know what she is talking about. However, time and time again her assertions and claims have been shown to be absolutely baseless. See HERE, HERE, and HERE for examples.

    In some other instances, they mislead the readers or audience on the credentials of their expert. An example is found in the podcast I mentioned previously, where they deliberately hide the fact that the “medical expert” Dr. David Martin is actually an expert in patents and finance/economics, and they list his degrees, but not their subject matter. Or in the case of another video I was sent (also written about in the previously linked Facebook post), in which they appealed to an Orthopedic Surgeon named Dr. Lee Meritt to tell us that the mRNA Vaccines aren’t vaccines at all – though in the video she doesn’t really elaborate in any way that would lead me to believe that she knew what she was talking about. Now, one shouldn’t marvel that an Orthopedic Surgeon really doesn’t know all that much about mRNA Vaccines, because medicine and biological sciences are astonishingly specialized these days and this trend of specialization only gets more and more diverse. When I worked in the UW clinical virology lab, we FREQUENTLY had primary care physicians and others call to ask us what the results of our tests meant, and this should surprise no one. This is precisely why we always had an Infectious Disease specialist on call and available to answer questions and consult on a case. Doctors cannot know everything. So, while I think Dr. Merritt is being profoundly irresponsible, I do not think she has some special knowledge of insight that the rest of the scientific community who are specialized in the areas of virology and immunology apparently lack – quite the opposite.

    Finally in regard to this issue of “experts”, consider this analogy: let’s say you live out in the country (like me) and you find that your toilets and sinks and tubs will no longer drain. You are unable to discern the source of the problem, because – after all – you’ve no idea how septic systems work in any great detail. And so you start googling, and let’s say you really want to be sure about what the problem is so that you are not ripped off and therefore you call 100 different septic companies to come and do a free diagnosis. And let’s say 99 of them tell you that the drain fields is failing and will need to be replaced. While ONE septic expert tells you that the other 99 are simply trying to rip you off and are stooges of “big plastic” who just want to sell you new pipes that you don’t need. Rather, this ONE septic expert is suggesting that all you need to do is drop a pouch of some natural remedy into the septic tank and your problems will be solved. Common sense, no matter how much we’d love a simple solution, would tell us that the 99 other Septic experts are likely right and that it seems terribly implausible that all of them would be deceiving you. This is the same for the field of science in which there are MILLIONS of us working day in and day out, and it is difficult to imagine how ALL of us are on the payroll of “big pharma” to tell you that vaccines are safe and effective when in fact we all know they are dangerous and ineffective. Or, as per our analogy, the 99 other septic experts are just plain dumb and do not understand the truth as understood by the one.

    As I see it, these four devices are frequently used by anti-vaccine and other COVID-19 conspiracy websites. And keeping these in mind, let me go back to the main points brought up in the priest’s blog post: I’m not really going to address the role of theology in determining whether or not vaccines are safe and effective, because frankly, nothing in theology can possibly address such a thing. When we get to the issue of using fetal cell lines, then there is certainly a moral component to that, but as to the three other major claims: no theology involved whatsoever in determining whether what this priest and other anti-vaccine sources claim is true.

    Now, with regards to the four important claims made in the blog post, let’s start by asking about the first claim: is it true that the emergency use authorization (EUA) means that “the usual requirements for safety testing and trials have been waved” and “that the general public is to a large degree the testing ground for the novel vaccines”? Well, no, this is neither a fair nor an accurate representation of the situation. This claim is a perfect example of a “half-truth” because it seems to imply that NO testing was done at all (or very little). And along with many anti-vaccine sources utilizing half-truths, the priest here provides ZERO information about what testing HAS been done and what sort of data was or was not required before granting the EUA and then of course nothing is provided as to why the FDA would feel it appropriate to grant the emergency use authorization with the data that they had in hand. So, readers of the blog post and MANY anti-vaccine websites are only getting half of the story, coupled with a clearly implied untruth that little or no safety testing was done and that all of us who are currently getting the vaccine represent the testing that SHOULD have been done – none of which is true at all. To help provide the FULL contex, you can read about the EUA for Pfizer HERE and Moderna HERE. And you can read about many of the details of what the FDA expects in order to grant an EUA HERE.

    Anti-vaccine websites will pick out choice sentences from such sources as the FDA or CDC and skew their meaning or neglect their greater context, but one should read them in their entirety and seek answers from a variety of sources to questions that might and probably will arise. For example, I’ve seen some sources make much ado about some of the numbers in the efficacy sections of the FDA’s explanation about granting EUA for the vaccines linked above. They’ll claim that out of those many people vaccinated (placebo or product) in the clinical trials that only a tiny fraction of them provide the data leading to a conclusion of efficacy – this again is a half-truth. Take the Moderna vaccine, which thus far in the Phase 3 trial (remember there were two previous phases of trials as well) has included 30,351 participants, approximately half of which got placebo and the other half got the mRNA Vaccine. Now, in placebo controlled clinical trials, scientists and researchers closely follow all the participants in order to identify those who actually end up getting the disease in question and then, of those who end up getting the disease, they compare the placebo control group to the vaccinated group. So, of these volunteers, so far 196 of them ended up getting COVID-19 disease (185 of whom were in the placebo group and 11 were in the vaccine group). This is THE most important data for determining efficacy – and those numbers despite seeming small are no less statistically significant. But, anti-vaccine sources will emphasize that this number (N=196) is concerningly small…but again, this simply is not telling you the entire story. Now I am NOT a biostatistician, but the bottom line is that after seeing literally generations worth of data on vaccine clinical trials, there comes a point in looking at incoming data when a threshold is reached and it is clear both statistically and experientially that the trend is clear and will continue in a predictable trajectory. And so, these data showing that out of 196 individuals with cases of disease, 185 of them had received placebo and only 11 had received the vaccine reliably demonstrates efficacy. (Other aspects of this data also include severity of disease and at the time, the placebo group had 30 severe cases of disease and the vaccinated group had none.)

    But, wait, that’s not all: this isn’t the only information that is important, indeed the number of people who develop disease in this trial is NOT the only means by which we can draw strong conclusions. We also utilize a wide array of immunogenicity assays on multiple blood draws over time on ALL of the participants, and in the lab we measure various antibodies’ response levels, B-Cell activation, T-Cell response etc. In other words we are able to get a complete profile of what your immune system is doing in response to the vaccines as compared to those who received placebo. By so doing we can compare the responses of everyone to the responses of those 11 people who were vaccinated and did develop disease to establish excellent thresholds for determining the overall efficacy of the vaccine amongst the entire population of those who participated in the trial – even if they were never exposed to the virus. Not to mention the fact that we have millions of reams of research and trial data on immunity from historical trials for other diseases which informs us as well, such that seeing these lab results from this trial we can reasonably deduce that they are reliable in determining efficacy. So while the slice of the pie of those people who developed disease is a gold standard, that is NOT the sole source of data for determining efficacy – but anti-vaccine resources will not give you all this information, they will give you half-truths (“they are basing their efficacy data on ONLY 196 people!!!!”) which communicate fear rather than the entire context which for all its complexity, communicates confidence when you know the details of the entire story.

    I’ve worked with the FDA for years on IND related clinical trials and I have the utmost respect for their being thorough and cautious – so much so that I have felt emotionally that they were a royal pain in my boat as a lab manager. Are they perfect? Of course, not…again we cannot make the perfect be the enemy of the good. The data we have for BOTH of these vaccines thus far, given the excellent data coming from the trials and the extensive experience we (the scientific community) and the FDA have in seeing millions of reams of data for other vaccines, look outstanding: safe and effective. These trials are ongoing and there is more information we still need to gain (which the FDA does require for a full approval and explains why the EUA was granted as opposed to a full approval – again something anti-vaccine resources will use to instill fear) and this includes important components like immunological duration and post-vaccination viral shedding. But as for safety and immediate efficacy, there is really very little question, except in the realm of a very few scientists/doctors (or not) on the fringe. (i.e. the 1 septic expert out of 100).

    Next, the author of the blog post takes on the issue of long term side effects, saying that such effects “may well be only revealed in coming years? Effects, in the long term, which are unknown in their scope. Effects that could be terrible.” So, let’s be honest here, no matter what the medical intervention or drug, there could ALWAYS be undetermined long term side effects. Innumerable new drugs and therapies have arisen in the last 10-15 years and one could easily claim that there could be long term effects not yet discerned in ANY of them. You will ALWAYS be able to challenge human ingenuity with the obvious reality of human failure in the realm of foresight. We are not omniscient and conspiracy theorists in the realm of vaccines will always be able to use our inability to see the future as a means to instill fear. But again, we are only getting a half-truth here and the question becomes: how many years before formal FDA approval would be sufficient to end all concerns about long term possible side-effects? 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? No matter what number of years you may select, the anti-vaccine sources can simply appeal to ONE more year beyond it as a possible pivotal point when all biological hell could break loose. Now, I suspect I know what you are thinking (as is overtly implied in the already shown erroneous claim that these vaccines are “untested”): these vaccines only began being tested in people last year, surely a longer observance time is warranted! Yes, you can make that argument fairly, however, keep in mind you are not being given the complete picture. This technology is not as novel as some would wish you to believe.

    In truth mRNA as possible vaccines have been widely researched and developed for over 30 years and we don’t have a shred of data to indicate that they harbor any long-term unseen safety issues. We’ve done extensive testing both in-vitro (i.e. test tube) and in-vivo (animal and human models). This article does a good job of laying out the history of this technology. Long before a clinical trial in humans is granted, labs must provide a ridiculous amount of data primarily demonstrating safety and efficacy (if you saw the stack of papers we have to send to the FDA as one submits an Investigational New Drug application, you’d agree – they are comparable to a bill in congress, except that they all have application to the specific subject matter). A big part of that testing is actually using the technology in-vitro on human cells such as the HEK-293 cell line which I will discuss later regarding the use of such fetal cell lines. These cells – because they have been immortalized – have been and can be followed for a VERY VERY long time after being inoculated with an mRNA Vaccine (normal cells would eventually “run out of steam” and die). And then of course there are the in-vivo studies that have been done at great length in animal models. A simple search of mRNA vaccines in PubMed reveals over 6,000 peer reviewed journal articles on that specific subject and a search of mRNA alone yields nearly 700,000 articles. We, as a scientific community, are very well informed about this molecule in general and specifically about it being used as a therapeutic or prophylactic product. We are not “flying by the seat of our pants”, but rather have a great deal of data upon which to base the perfectly rational claim that the technology is safe. From the aforementioned and linked article in the Journal Nature: “First, safety: as mRNA is a non-infectious, non-integrating platform, there is no potential risk of infection or insertional mutagenesis. Additionally, mRNA is degraded by normal cellular processes, and its in-vivo half-life can be regulated through the use of various modifications and delivery methods. The inherent immunogenicity of the mRNA can be down-modulated to further increase the safety profile” (feel free to follow their footnotes). One such safety experiment involved having the mRNA code for a fluorescent protein and then vaccinating mice. Because the protein produced by the mRNA fluoresces, they can be visualized with specialized cameras and this allowed them to see how long the protein expression continued after vaccination and as noted in the article, they were even able to regulate the expression by changing aspects of the mRNA’s code. From this they could see that the mRNA degrades naturally as expected, does not integrate into the hosts genome (confirming what we knew already was not possible), and it does not morph into producing rogue or dangerous proteins. Such experiments are repeated ad nauseum which I can personally attest to in my experience in the lab. This is but one example among thousands over the last 30 years in which we’ve been studying this “novel” technology. Also not mentioned by fear mongering websites is the fact that this technology HAS been tested in humans since 2011. THIS is a list of currently ACTIVE clinical trials testing mRNA Vaccines (this is from 2017…a current search of clinical trials involving mRNA indicate over 1,600 human clinical trials). Despite all this work that has been done, the ONLY means of suggesting that anything could go wrong is based solely on broad non-evidence based speculation appealing to the grand scientific principle of Murphy’s Law. Fair enough. All the evidence and data that we have – and there is a great amount of it – points towards both safety and efficacy.

    The blog author links to two articles (both from RFK Jr’s anti-vaccine website) about possible adverse events, one of which suggests the possibility of Antibody Dependent Enhancement (ADE) from the vaccines. ADE is a fairly complex condition that happens when antibodies generated by a vaccine are sub-optimal and end up actually helping the virus and advancing disease. It’s complex enough that anti-vaccines websites will post such information, link to reliable resources (pubmed), and then bet that the average person will simply walk away believing that the vaccine can make things worse because they simply cannot wade through the many details of what we’ve done to investigate this potential. And indeed this strategy works…I’ve had numerous people tell me they have heard the vaccines can make COVID-19 worse. HERE is a great article that addresses this issue and demonstrates that scientists did NOT just ignore this potential, but rather anticipated it and have been testing for it and in so doing have found no indication that ADE is a problem.

    The second linked article from RFK’s website regards the immunologist J Bart Classen who has a history of promoting his anti-vaccination beliefs. He’s widely quoted and referenced on anti-vaccination websites and has made a name for himself in claiming that vaccines cause diabetes – a claim that has been shown to be baseless. His current claim is that the vaccine could cause the development of prions (an extremely rare disease in which a rogue protein called a prion causes misfolding of proteins in the body) , and again this is a completely speculative claim without any solid evidence and this article does a great job of demonstrating why no one takes his fears seriously. What immediately becomes clear is that in his paper on the subject, he does not provide any details on his methodology which is a massive problem. When we publish a peer-reviewed scientific paper we include VERY detailed descriptions of our methods so that 1) the process may be repeated and tested in other labs and 2) peers can deduce problems in your experimental method. Without these, one really cannot be expected to be taken seriously.

    Okay, but why not wait a little while longer? Surely it couldn’t hurt? Well, you better believe it could hurt…we are talking about millions of people dying. Now, when this outbreak first began, many of us in the infectious disease world (me included) were initially underwhelmed by it’s case fatality rate (CFR), which really is not terribly frightening – certainly nothing compared to bugs such as Ebola. And so early last year I was encouraging people that this bug really did not look to be that bad. However, back then many other specialists saw that the danger of this virus isn’t in its overall capacity to kill, but its overall capacity to infect ALL of us and to do so quickly. It became clear that this virus was going to easily outpace it’s fellow family members SARS-1 and MERS, so much so that despite the fact that SARS-CoV-2 doesn’t kill as readily as some of its family members, it’s overall death toll would still dwarf the others two – and indeed it has done so on a logarithmic scale. So, the vast majority of people who get COVID-19 survive (with or without long last effects from pulmonary damage), but this fact has unfortunately given us a false sense of security because we aren’t looking at the big picture. Again, like many memes I’ve seen, just quoting the current estimated CFR is a half-truth. If we were to take a “wait and see” approach regarding possible long-term effects of the vaccine, then even if you take the most conservative overall CFR for this disease we’d be talking about millions of deaths of Americans – not to mention world-wide – in a matter of a year or two. And this would be the case on top of the social restrictions we have remaining in place which I am sure everyone is enjoying. But…and this is critical….there is an even more insidious likelihood which we are already beginning to see: mutation into new and possibly much more dangerous strains. The fact of the matter is that the more this virus replicates, the more opportunity there is for it to mutate. Were we to wait, believing (wrongly) that we don’t have enough data on the safety of the vaccines, we are inviting disaster. I believe it won’t be a question of IF it will happen, but WHEN. Every single copy of the millions of virus made by just one of your infected cells is a purchased lottery ticket with the grand prize being a bug for which the vaccines are no longer effective and quite possibly a bug that has a significantly higher CFR such as SARS-1 and MERS. As noted, we’ve already seen THREE new and seemingly more infectious variants and like it or not, we ARE dealing with a ticking time bomb. If you want to know what keeps epidemiologists and virologists up at night right now? It’s this.

    In light of all the data we have showing safety and efficacy, coupled with the fact that throughout the world people are dying and the threat of this virus mutating looms, granting an EUA was the right thing for the FDA to do. We can never eliminate all possibility of unforeseen problems arising in anything that we humans do. Just this morning I read about one of the first 737MAX flights since its grounding and one of the passengers was quoted as saying “I believe it is 100% safe.” This of course is absolutely not true, but we humans are constantly making decisions about things that we deem are “safe enough.” Each time we get into our cars and drive somewhere we are playing the odds knowing full well that people die in car accidents all the time. It is impossible to eliminate ALL risk, but as I look at the safety data we have so far on these vaccines I had no problem rolling up my sleeve. The arguments put forth by anti-vaccine sources could be made about ANY medication and ANY mode of transportation we regularly take.

    Next the author makes use of a common scare tactic I see a lot today: “In a very real sense the current C-19 vaccines are not traditional vaccines at all. In fact, they may be classified as a type of gene therapy.” While the first half of this sentence is true, the use of the phrase “gene therapy” is intended to frighten readers and it obviously worked because the author opts to parrot this information because, well, “gene therapy” sounds scary for folks who know nothing about it. But, first and foremost, I must vehemently disagree: it is NOT gene therapy. I’ve done gene therapy in-vitro and gene therapy involves the alteration, repair, or addition of DNA into the genome of your cells in one way or another. However, as I noted above, mRNA vaccines do no such thing and indeed CANNOT do such a thing….we know this both theoretically AND experimentally from all the in-vitro and in-vivo work that has been done with the technology. No less, he goes on to say that it is “deceptive by the powers that be to call it [a vaccine].” Now, in my post on Facebook awhile I ago I went into detail on how mRNA works and the bottom line is this: this product is intended to produce a protein in your body which elicits an immune response in order to protect the recipient from a specific disease. That is precisely the very definition of a vaccine, the fact that it does this in a unique way does not make it less a vaccine than injecting a disabled virus or a protein manufactured in a lab (aka “traditional” vaccine).

    The author continues by quoting a “forthright medical professional”: “The problem is that in the case of Moderna and Pfizer, this is not a vaccine. This is gene therapy… The Moderna and Pfizer creations send ‘a strand of synthetic RNA into the human being and is invoking within the human being the creation of the S1 spike protein, which is a pathogen.” So, who is this “forthright medical professional” erroneously calling it gene therapy? Well it is none other than Dr. David Martin, who many of you may remember from my previously linked post. Dr. Martin, makes a career as a financial analyst and a “patent researcher.” How exactly he is described as a “medical professional” (note the lack of specifics?) is a complete mystery to me. But it is perhaps because he has no scientific background that he can be forgiven for calling the S1 Spike protein a “pathogen” (another scary word). A simple google search will tell you that a pathogen is any organism that can produce disease, so how exactly does a portion (note, it is not even the entire amino acid sequence) of the S1 spike protein produce disease? This protein is the means by which the virus (a necessary component to the production of disease) is able to “connect” to our cells and then enter into it, infecting it and pirating your own cells’ natural mechanism to begin reproducing itself. Then, after replicating within the cell many times over, they are released out of the cell to go on and infect other cells to repeat the process all over again and THAT is what is causing disease. The virus is a pathogen, but it’s spike protein alone (even if it was fully present, which it wouldn’t be) will do nothing but elicit an immune response as intended – like any other vaccine. His deciding to call it a pathogen is either offered in ignorance or as a ridiculous and seemingly deliberate scare tactic.

    And then the author asks a question that seems very odd to me: “Does Christianity have nothing to say about tampering with human RNA?” (Nevermind that nothing in this vaccine tampers with your RNA). Since he asks the question without answering it, I will ask as well because I don’t have the slightest idea what Jesus Christ thinks about “tampering with human RNA.” I presume he asks the question rhetorically, but I’d actually like to know his answer. Is there something sacred about RNA that is somehow less sacred in human biology on a macro scale? For example, should we not do bypass surgery on cardiac patients because that is “tampering” with the human heart? What about artificial heart valves? But putting aside the theological question, what is meant precisely by “tampering with human RNA?” The synthetic mRNA in the vaccine doesn’t “tamper” with human RNA, it simply gets transcribed into a protein in the same way that your body makes proteins all the time from its own mRNA. It doesn’t change or alter or interfere with any aspect of your body’s natural occurring mRNA and its protein production. Doubling down, he lays out the ominous claim that the mRNA “opens the possibility to dangerously altering DNA expression.” I think we have covered this claim already – it’s simply not possible and we have plenty of data showing this to be the case. Really, we cannot be emphatic enough: the mRNA vaccines cannot alter anything about your DNA and its expression because it cannot get inside the nucleus of the cells where such expression happens. A simple google search on this subject will give you an unending supply of reputable sources that will tell you the same thing: it cannot happen. The only places telling you it MIGHT do these scary things are those propagating an anti-vaccine narrative employing all the deceptive methods and arguments mentioned above. In this case, they are telling you an outright untruth (See the three articles provided in the “Untruths” section for reference or just simply google “Can mRNA vaccine change your DNA.”)

    “What will be the results of opening the door – even a tiny crack – to tampering with human genes and related systems?” he asks. Again a rhetorical question which I presume the author expects will send a shiver down our spines, but the reality is that we already know the answer: lives are being saved by “tampering with human genes and related systems.” Right now. Today. Possibly someone you know and love. The truth is that we’ve been using a wide range of “tampering with human genes” to produce all manner of therapies and products that are saving human lives. Do you know someone who uses insulin? That’s an artificial protein produced by synthetic “tampered” human genes. Do you know any cancer patients whose lives have been saved because of ANY drug whose name ends in “ab” – well that’s a monoclonal antibody which is again an artificial protein produced by synthetic “tampered” human genes. Or one of the most hopeful and successful new tools in the fight against cancer is Adoptive T-Cell therapy which alters the DNA of your T-Cells using a synthetic virus which then “programs” your T-Cells to hunt down and kill cancer cells.
Genetically modified T-Cells attacking and destroying cancer cells (the tiny cells are the T-Cells and the larger ones are glioblastoma cells - a deadly brain cancer).

What’s my point? The door this priest is trying to scare us into not opening “even a tiny crack” has been wide open for decades. There are very serious bioethics issues involved in all aspects of this sort of work, but let’s not paint with a roller what arguably ought to be painted using a fine brush. Lives are being saved and more can be saved, but this doesn’t mean there aren’t some areas of this work that deserve a very serious and thorough evaluation on moral and scientific grounds. But you cannot just make broad, sweeping, black and white assertions about it. Like everything we are discussing here: it’s MUCH more complex than naysayers would have you believe.

    Which brings us to what is unquestionably the most challenging aspect of the issues brought up by the priest and I will state upfront my conviction that Christians in good conscience can agree to disagree over the use of fetal cell lines in research and in the manufacturing of therapeutic agents. I will argue in favor of using these cells lines - specifically the HEK-293 cells which were used in early safety and efficacy experiments for these two vaccines (which I mentioned earlier) - and by doing so, I hope I can shed some light on this heated subject and perhaps help some who struggle to understand why their hierarchs are not taking stands against the utilization of these vaccines, despite the involvement of fetal cell lines – however remotely.

    Anti-vaccine organizations have deliberately targeted the issue of fetal cell lines in their efforts to build alliances in conservative religious communities. I’ve no reason to doubt their sincerity in doing so, but having seen their habits of spoon-feeding untruths, half-truths, anecdotal evidence with strong emotional appeal, and fringe or false expert opinions with regards to other scientific areas regarding vaccines, it is not surprising to see them doing the same with regards to the role of abortion and fetal cell lines. The author of the blog post unfortunately mirrors a number of outright falsehoods with regards to this subject which I’ll mention shortly, but first I think it is critical that we all understand what precisely we are discussing. Thus I will start with the some basic information about cell culture and fetal cell lines.

    Cell culture (sometimes called tissue culture) is a means by which we are able to grow, test, and observe human or animal cells outside of their natural habitat and instead in a laboratory setting. All sorts of different types of cells can be grown in dishes or flasks bathed in a specially made liquid media which provides them with all the specific nutrients they need to survive. One needn’t be a genius to understand the incredible value of being able to do this, indeed, it has provided an incalculably massive volume of knowledge and therapeutic development since the late 19th century when the techniques began to first be developed.

    As I mentioned, many different cells types can be grown in culture: skin, heart, lung, spleen, or just about any other human cell. The process by which we obtain these cells from the organs isn’t terribly complex as can be seen in the video on this website showing the production of a “single cell suspension” (individual cells largely detached from one another) from a mouse spleen. Using a similar method, back in 1973, a cell suspension was made using the kidneys taken from a legally aborted baby in the Netherlands (at the time, abortion was only legal there if mother’s life was at risk.) Using these kidneys, scientists were able to create a cell suspension and then expand their numbers in culture from which they did further experiments in an attempt to learn more about how adenoviruses played a role in the development of cancer. To do this, they sought to “transform” the cells by attempting to incorporate specific adenovirus related genes into the cells. Once they succeeded in doing this, they had effectively “immortalized” the cells such that unlike normal kidney cells, HEK-293’s seemingly will go on dividing happily forever (which explains why these 50 year old cells are still readily available today) and thus was born what we call a “cell line” – a vast numbers of cells which are derived ultimately from one single source (its not unlike the means by which you can use a sourdough starter that your grandmother began.) You can read the scientists’ originally published paper here. It is important to understand that these cells are NOT each human embryos, they are kidney cells and are no more a human person than are the cells in a blood sample you might have recently given to a doctor for a lab test.

    These cells came to be known as HEK-293 cells, and these same cells (albeit daughter cells of the original) from that very same abortion in 1973 are now the second most common cell line to be found in labs around the world. Their use has become so ubiquitous that we could not possibly document all that we have learned and how many different drugs and therapies have arisen because of them. The name origin is quite simple: the HEK stands for Human Embryonic Kidney and the number 293 came from the habit of one of the original scientists to number his experiments, with these cells’ successful transformation being his 293rd experiment. Now the author quotes a woman named Pamela Acker (mistakenly called “Dr.” – she actually holds a masters degree in biology) claiming that the 293rd experiment MUST translate into “probably hundreds of abortions.” I mean no disrespect to Acker, but the reality is that she has absolutely no idea how many abortions were involved. Given that cell culture was readily being done in the 1970’s and that cryopreserving (freezing) cells was being done since 1949, it is absolutely feasible that all 293 of these experiments were done with the same cells harvested from the baby’s kidneys. Even though not transformed and immortalized yet, you can still simply grow them to very large numbers in culture and cryopreserve them for future use – though eventually this would cease to work. If you read Graham’s paper you’ll read that “a total of 8 transformation experiments have been carried out with, on average 20 cultures of HEK cells per experiment” and considering this, we really do not know if the 293 refers to the transformation experiments as a whole, or if each culture received their own unique identifier. To speculate “hundreds of abortions” is purely that: speculation for the sake of sensation and shock. In the end, does it really matter – except if you have a vested interest in creating as horrible a narrative as possible?

    One note regarding Acker, while keeping in mind the subject of experts I wrote about earlier, this website’s introduction of her states that she is “one of the most knowledgeable people in the world on vaccines and on what goes into them” and then qualifies this by adding “Acker actually spent time in a vaccine research lab for nine months.” I’m not sure that spending 9 months working on anything can make an individual one of the most “knowledgeable people in the world” about it. I really do not wish to belittle this individual, but I once worked in a molecular virology lab for 15 years and I am not remotely “one of the most knowledgeable people in the world” on viruses. But, what she goes on to say next leaves me decidedly perturbed and a bit angry – and speaks to why I challenge her supposed lofty “insider” credentials. The blog authors writes on her behalf: “Dr. Acker in the quoted article also points out that when cell tissues are harvested the babies are still alive.” This, I am confident, is a vicious and horrible lie.

    The implication here is that we have but seconds to retrieve viable cells and thus they supposedly had to rip the organs out of living babies born alive (I guess?). I have personally seen the harvesting of mouse organs for use in developing primary cell suspensions and I can assure the reader that the mouse is humanely euthanized prior to it happening. And during my work in T-Cell therapy, we would frequently culture human blood cells (PBMC’s), and we would have no problem obtaining viable cells even if the vials or bags had sat out at room temperature for hours. Further, we’re even able to culture live cells taken from previously cryopreserved (frozen) organs and have been doing so at least since the 1970’s – see this paper as an example. So how on earth Acker is of the horrific opinion that one must pull the organs from a living baby is simply beyond my comprehension and having worked with scientists, laboratorians, and medical professionals for more than 25 years, I cannot fathom any of them being able to perform such an atrocity (of course, I mean on mice and rats – in my many years working in labs I’ve never even heard of a need for any new fetal tissue save for those lines already LONG established). Frankly, it is an insult to all of these hardworking individuals to even fantasize that they would and do engage in such horrible Mengele-esque experiments. These are the sorts of untruths that are deliberately designed to hit one over the head with an emotional brick of revulsion, and it is a lie. And you will forgive me, if in my personal offense as a lab worker myself, that I answer another of the priests many rhetorical questions honestly: “I wonder if Christianity has anything to say about such barbaric practices?” Yes, Christianity teaches that Acker shouldn’t lie about it to scare and horrify people.

    Now, back to the HEK-293 cells. A person recently forwarded me another document making circles in the Orthodox world which states that “all COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States at this time continue the promotion of abortion in their development and research.” I would like to focus on the use of that word “promotion” and I would ask how exactly is it promoting abortion to use HEK-293 cells which all originated from a single abortion 50 years ago? I simply cannot follow the logic being offered here. Do the author(s) believe women are running into abortion clinics because they think medical science requires their sacrifice? I think many people mistakenly believe that vaccine manufacturing requires a steady stream of newly aborted babies, but this simply is not the case at all. You could put a legal ban on ALL fetal cell lines today and you would reduce the number of abortions by precisely zero. Something drives the need for abortions, but it isn’t vaccines or any of the other many medical therapeutics which use these cell lines. You are absolutely not “promoting” abortion by utilizing these mRNA vaccines.

    As has been made clear, there are no new abortions needed in order to make more HEK-293 cells, ever since Graham immortalized these cells, we’ve no need. This specific cell line was used in the development of these mRNA vaccines to assess their efficacy and safety in the laboratory prior to being rolled out in clinical trials with humans. Use of the HEK cells are particularly ideal because they are quite possibly the single most highly characterized, understood, and studied cell line on the planet. Because we know so much about these cells, they have become a sort of “gold standard” for in-vitro testing involving a WIDE range of potential medical products and therapies. This is why I think the anti-vaccine sources are selling a bill of goods with regards to their moral indignation on the use of these cell lines. If these groups were so worried about fetal cell lines in general, then why are they focused solely on vaccines? In this excellent bioethics article written by Melissa Moschella, she writes:

    "HEK 293 has become a staple for biological research; its use is so ubiquitous—and so many other basic research materials like recombinant proteins and molecular reagents have been produced from it—that conducting research without relying on it in some form is practically impossible. Anyone who wants to completely avoid benefiting from the use of HEK 293 would effectively have to eschew the use of any medical treatments or biological knowledge developed or updated within the past forty years."

    Dr. Moschella is absolutely right (as an example, a search of HEK-293 in pubmed yields over 7,000 articles) and I would encourage folks to read her article because she even addresses the blog author’s comparison to Nazi death camps (a twist of sort on Godwin’s Law), her grasp of the scientific principles are accurate and sound and she’s clearly qualified – as a Christian philosopher – to address the issue of bioethics. The blog post author asks “Morally, is there a qualitative difference between an abortion 40 years ago as opposed to yesterday?” I do not believe that the moral question of using these cells is really this simple. We can ask a similar question: is it morally acceptable to use the heart of a murdered individual to transplant into another human person in order to save their life, presuming the murder victim was not murdered in order to utilize his/her heart? I would think the answer is a resounding yes. And how different is this from the case of the abortion that took place in 1973 which would have happened regardless of whether this child’s kidneys were donated? The scope of the good that has come from this child’s death is almost impossible to measure, as alluded to by Dr. Moschella, but this good was NOT the goal of this child being aborted – no one knows the reason for why the baby was aborted, except that it had to involve the need to save the mother’s life (the only legal option at the time). We don’t know how much the mother and father wrestled with this decision – but we do know that the decision was not reached for the purpose of using the child’s kidneys for research. But because of this tragedy – however it played out – I believe it is safe to say that millions of lives have been saved and these cells have established a foundation of knowledge that will continue to be built upon for generations. You likely know people who are alive today and you yourself have almost certainly benefitted because these cells were used at some point in what ultimately ended up being a product or therapy or just basic scientific insight that led to new products and therapies. It’s messy and decidedly not clean cut. But it’s real life. One does not need to say that the original abortion was a “good” thing, in order to recognize the good that has ultimately come from it. It is very easy to pontificate online about the morality of this issue (even if you yourself do not take the time to learn about how much you personally have already benefited from research on these cells – were it possible), but what does one do if their baby girl is dying after her leukemia relapses and a doctor tells you her prognosis is hopeless. And then the doctor suggests an experimental procedure called Adoptive T-Cell Therapy (a type of immunotherapy) that might provide a means of curing her, a therapy that remotely involves using cultured kidney cells taken and modified from a baby aborted 50 years ago? Shall we proceed? Who can fathom deciding to let their little girl die instead? What would that accomplish? It isn’t going to bring back that Dutch baby from 50 years ago, anymore than it would bring back the murder victim by refusing to accept their heart for transplant. This isn’t just a random anecdotal situation, I’ve personally worked in the lab that helped develop this technology – recently FDA approved - and it is saving MANY lives. It is one small example of the knowledge and use we have gained in utilizing these cells and immunotherapy which has been built upon the foundation of these cells in one way or another, is widely seen as the future hope for many who are dying of cancer today. A few articles on immunotherapy HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE. If you are a close friend of mine, then I can guarantee that you know someone whose life was saved via immunotherapy.

    No less, I understand that some people will absolutely disagree with me. I accept that. What I don’t accept is the insinuation that the moral equation in this case is simple and straight forward. Moral equations presented as such rarely are as mathematically certain as we would like, and this one is particularly convoluted if for no other reason than that people who are adamantly opposed from any benefit coming from these cells have virtually no choice but to be ignorantly hypocritical – so extensive has been the use of them. The efforts of anti-vaccines sources have brought this all into the limelight in the case of vaccines, but if people really want to nail their moral colors to the mast on this issue, then they’d better be prepared to dive deep into the rabbit’s hole. And even then, it would be next to impossible to discern what knowledge or product you might medicinally benefit from because at some point and time a lab worker was culturing and studying these HEK-293 cells. I suppose I should apologize for the burden I’ve given them with this news. But it’s true….it’s messy. It’s real life in a complex world.

    Another thing to consider, that often is not and that is I’ve noticed in most anti-vaccine related sources (including the priest’s blog post), they always make hints towards some conspiracy that is suppressing the truth. Sometimes its government (they’ll use the FDA or CDC statistics until the numbers can’t be construed as being bad, and then they’ll say the numbers can’t be trusted) and sometimes it’s “big pharma” (who would lie through their teeth to create a profit) but no matter what, one really has to affirm some sort of conspiracy in believing that these vaccines are ACTUALLY dangerous, because how else does one come to believe that a very small handful of fringe scientists and a horde of internet sleuths have deduced the danger, whereas the rest of scientific community has somehow failed to see it. We are talking about millions of lab workers from lab aides, research associates, lab techs, lab managers, lab QA managers, biostatisticians and principal investigators who are all just somehow missing what is obvious on the internet. How can we explain that the FDA and their numerous external review boards made up of some of the top minds in the field and who know the science better than anyone else, are also somehow missing the critical information that anti-vaccine web orgs are able to dig up online? You’ve seen it on their website and even this priest writes things such as: “Even the FDA admits…” implying that they know the truth but are burying it. Imagine how vast a conspiracy would need to in order to help but fall apart. I’ve worked in labs most of my adult life and I’ve collaborated with hundreds, perhaps thousands of people throughout the fields of infectious disease, oncology, immunology, vaccine development and clinical trials. I cannot fathom how some massive secret is so well kept by so many people – except of course that it is apparently readily discerned online by anti-vaccine websites. And here is where the conspiracy REALLY breaks down: all of these virologists, immunologist, molecular biologists, and other scientists who are telling us that the vaccines (by all available data from the 1990’s to the present) are almost certainly safe, are themselves ready to roll up their own sleeves and the sleeves of their loved ones. If the fears are legitimate, they too are gambling their lives right along with the rest of us. And that just doesn’t seem to make sense to me to think that the overwhelming and vast majority of those doing the work at every level are somehow involved in a conspiracy that is hiding the danger of a product that they themselves plan to use.

    As clergy, I believe we tread upon very dangerous ground in using our position of authority as a soapbox to champion the beliefs propagated by sources which make it their mission to undermine the use of ALL vaccines – not just those using mRNA as their mechanism. Such sources’ use half-truths, untruths, emotionally charged anecdotal “data”, and fringe or false experts to build a monument of confusion and fear such that we could very seriously compromise the health of our parishioners. If one were to step away from the endless stream of subterfuges played by such sources, one could find that in truth the mRNA vaccines and their “new” technology have been through 30 years of laboratory testing and 10 years of testing in human clinical trials – a far cry from the frightening image painted by anti-vaccine sources of us all being human “guinea pigs.” Well, here’s the truth: we’ve already tested the “guinea pigs” in incalculable numbers and…they all lived, which is to say the safety data is extensive and robust. And because of all that data, we have a great deal of confidence that the unforeseen horrific long-term effects postulated by these sources are extremely unlikely to happen. Are we 100% certain? Of course not, but my friends, life is full of risks and we weigh them with ease each time we sit down into an automobile, climb onto an airplane, or take any of the plethora of other equally arguably “novel” drugs prescribed by our physicians. And so I’m hopeful that a thoughtful individual who reads up on how these vaccines actually work will see how their emotions are being played by these sources when they breathlessly cry out that these aren’t vaccines, but gene therapy! They are grasping at straws in their efforts to frighten you.

    Finally, I’m hopeful that I’ve been able to illuminate some of the issues surrounding the use of fetal cell lines and in so doing, shown that the issue isn’t nearly as black and white as it is often portrayed. If a person is against any benefit coming from that 50 year old abortion which produced the HEK-293’s, then they have a great deal of work to do in order to remain faithful to the stringent delineation of morality they are applying to this vaccine – so much so that they really don’t have time to be telling their friends and neighbors (and parishioners) about how terrible this vaccine, but rather should be wondering about the insulin they are taking, or the monoclonal antibody therapy that is saving their brother’s life, or the adoptive T-Cell therapy that is giving hope to the hopeless fighting lymphoma, or any of a host of therapeutics in use for rheumatoid arthritis, cystic fibrosis, hemophilia, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, pretty much ANY antibody therapy (drugs ending in “-ab”) including the Regeneron’s antibody treatment used on President Trump. While I can understand and appreciate their hard stance on this issue, I do not think they have fully investigated the matter because if the threshold of moral outrage is reached by these mRNA vaccines, then I think there is likely no end to the products that also cross that very same threshold.

    My advice (for whatever value it may have): if for whatever reason – despite official statements from hierarchs and synods – you feel you must ask your priest about whether or not you should get the vaccine and he is telling you not to do so, then consult your Bishop directly. But above all, talk to your primary care physician - if you are under some specialty care, talk to your specialist about your unique case. This is the advice we should be offering our parishioners, precisely as has been recommended by our hierarchs. Hopefully the distribution and use of these vaccines will prevent that one rogue mutation in the virus that will evade the immunity granted by them and perhaps make it far more lethal – setting us back to day one, in much worse shape.


gretchenjoanna said…
Father Deacon,

At least several of your links do not work, but they take me to my own Blogger dashboard, including these:

"HERE is a great article that addresses this issue"
"joint letter with 8 other hierarchs"
"cited by the priest – I take their data at face value –"

I don't think I've clicked on all the links you offer, but so far I haven't found one that takes me to the page you wanted it to. I hope you can see this and fix that. Thank you!
M said…
I really appreciate this post! I have shared it with anti-vaccine friends and family members. It would make your arguments stronger if your byline was clear. Who are you?
fdj said…
Well, for whatever it may be worth: I'm a certified clinical laboratory specialist in molecular biology (ASCP). For over 25 years I've been doing laboratory bench work, management, and quality assurance focusing in virology, immunology, and oncology. I don't have a host of letters or accolades behind my name, but have authored about a dozen peer reviewed journal articles and additionally have collaborated on three other new papers specific to Moderna's mRNA vaccine for which my lab had played a small role in their clinical trials.

More importantly - in the grand scheme - I serve at Christ's altar as a deacon.
fdj said…
Gretchen Joanna - thank you so much for pointing that out. I've not used blogger much in many years and it seems it is still as buggy as it ever was. LOL. I've fixed the links. Let me know if any don't work or if you see any other issues. Thanks! fdj
fdj said…
Please be aware that I will not publish any comments that are little more than tantrums and tirades. I am VERY happy to discuss the actual science or data but I won't entertain people just wanting to hurl insults or say simply: "You're wrong." If you are confident that I am wrong, then let's engage the specific point of contention in extensive detail because the issue deserves that degree of detail. Show me your data and let's discuss.
fdj said…
This is worth folks' time - the linked document provided supports aspects of my post:

Tanya said…
What about all the animals studies? Every time this technology was tested animals (various types of animals!), they all later died when exposed to a wild variant. No animal studies were required for this release to humans, because we were under emergency status.
Natalie said…
Seems all to common lately for people to call others names like “Antivaxxers” or “Conspiracy theorists” to shut them up. We are learning how harmful your cancel culture is to dialogue.

Hundreds of doctors and virologists would disagree with what you write here. Not just a couple minutes of two videos we heard you watched, but thousands of very intelligent experts are trying to caution us.
Last week’s newsletter from Hillsdale made a great point on page 4: “When critics display such ignorance about the scope of views held by experts, it exposes their bias and disqualifies their authority on these issues.”
fdj said…
There have been MANY MANY animal studies done using mRNA Vaccine technology. One cannot obtain an IND approval from the FDA unless you have reams of data showing safety in in-vivo (animal) studies. Can you direct me to the source of the data verifying that "every time this technology was tested....they all later died"? Because were this true, we would not have reached the point that we are now and have been since over a decade ago we first saw this technology used in human clinical trials.
fdj said…
Natalie - please don't call it "my" cancel culture - this is about more than not liking something someone said or did, it's about sources taking complex systems and simplifying them for people who could not hope to deduce the truth of such simplifications and end up positing untruths and dangerous ones at that. I am not a participant in silencing contrarian voices - but I am happy to note when such voices are dead wrong.

There are NOT hundreds of doctors and virologists warning us because if there were they would be endlessly paraded by sources such as RFK jr's website. There are a handful at best and none of their claims have held water. I'd be VERY happy to discuss specifics of those claims. The truth of any point cannot be discerned by the extent to which it is shunned or censored. It must stand in line with the data and THAT is something I am more than happy to engage about.
Unknown said…
I really like what you are saying and agree with you. But my Mother in Law is asking: 'have any of the vaccines been approved?' eg by the CDC or anyone?
fdj said…
"Approved"? Well, the FDA has granted an Emergency Use Authorization. Which means that the vaccines have sufficiently demonstrated safety and some efficacy, however they have not yet demonstrated other matrices typically required before a full formal approval - such as duration of immunogenicity or suppression of transmission etc. But as to general safety and immediate efficacy: absolutely "approved."
Anonymous said…

Ferrets, cats, monkeys and rabbits experienced Antibody Dependent Enhancement (ADE) in the studies every single time!

These references are from an Israeli News article:

[8] Su, S., Du, L. & Jiang, S. Learning from the past: development of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. Nat Rev Microbiol (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41579-020-00462-y

[9] World Health Organisation Website, Standardization of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) vaccines, accessed on the 12th January 2021 from https://www.who.int/biologicals/areas/vaccines/RSV/en/

[10] Trial Site News (2020) Philippine Dengue Vaccine Criminal Indictments Includes President of Sanofi Pasteur & their FDA, accessed on the 12th January 2021 from https://trialsitenews.com/philippine-dengue-vaccine-criminal-indictments-includes-president-of-sanofi-pasteur-their-fda/

Happy researching. Many doctors and virologists are referencing the deaths of all these animals in past studies and how alarming that no animal studies were conducted this time. We are the guinea pigs. If you know of any animal studies conducted on these covid-19 vaccines in use in the US, please site your references. Would love to read about them!
Anonymous said…
This is still an experimental vaccine. They are not FDA approved. Everyone getting the vaccine at this time is participating in an ongoing trial. They are entered into a database for tracking of results.

Here’s are a few more references just from that one article, but I’m sure you have access to the studies as a active virologist.

[13] John Hopkins Medicine Website, What Are Common Symptoms of Autoimmune Disease?, Accessed on the 12th January 2021 from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/what-are-common-symptoms-of-autoimmune-disease

[14] White S (2020) Rapid Response: Could COVID-19 mRNA vaccines cause autoimmune diseases?, Letter to the British Medical Journal, accessed on the 13th January 2020 from https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m4347/rr-6 White S (2020) Rapid Response: Could COVID-19 mRNA vaccines cause autoimmune diseases?, Letter to the British Medical Journal, accessed on the 13th January 2020 from https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m4347/rr-6

You should’ve read all these and much more yourself before trying to portray yourself as an expert.
Nicholas said…

That’s just Europe. There are petitions in the US as well.

Yes, there are hundreds of doctors and scientists around the world issuing warnings.

Unknown said…
Fr. Dn. James,

I found your article interesting and informative. Based on what I read, I immediately made an appointment to get vaccinated. Well no, I did not - because it is impossible to get one. Everywhere I check there are no available appointments. I'll keep trying. Meanwhile I do have a question I hope you will address.

Could you address the difference between relative risk reduction (RRR) and absolute risk reduction (AAR) and if you believe whether it is significant that AAR data was not included by Pfizer or Moderna when applying for Emergency Use Authorization? A study I recently read states that not only is AAR data significant, but that it is highly unusual to withhold that data, and the FDA was negligent in not requiring it to be submitted.


Thank you, Craig Sayre
fdj said…
Hi Nicholas - I found the EMA's response letter FAR more convincing. I don't put much stock in petitions generally.
fdj said…
Anonymous - you mentioned that your references come "from just that one article", can you tell me what article that is? It's important to see what is being actually said that the references are claimed to support.

I've played lab roles in MANY clinical trials and NO, I am not participating in a clinical trial having received the Moderna vaccine a month or so ago and I know this because I've not been asked to provide follow up blood draws for immunogenicity lab work. That IS however continuing to be done on the actual participants in the clinical trial.
fdj said…
Anonymous - the very first article you cite includes this sentence: "A high dose of the mRNA-1273 vaccine protects mice against infection by mouse-adapted SARS-CoV-2 challenge without enhanced immunopathology" (reference therein to the original published study) which answers your questions: 1- No ADE in mice and 2 - Mice with Moderna's vaccine.

fdj said…
Hi Craig -

So let me start by saying I did not write this to convince anyone to get the vaccine. Rather I'm taking issue with the four distinct points noted (and some of the manipulative tools I've often seen in anti-vaccination websites) AND to encourage people to talk to their doctors about the vaccine rather than their priests. But, no less, if you opt to get the vaccine I hope you are able to find it available soon.

Absolute risk and relative risk are areas that are almost certainly above my paygrade (not being a biostatistician) but I understand the concepts generally they have to do with efficacy and NOT safety. This website does a good job of describing the two:

"Absolute risk reduction is simply the risk of an adverse outcome with no treatment less the risk of an adverse outcome with treatment. Relative risk reduction is a more complex statistic that calculates risk reduction for treated patients relative to the risk for untreated patients."


Calculating the relative risk is obviously going to be far easier in a clinical trial and I'm not even sure how you could measure absolute risk unless you waited years. Relative risk makes all the sense in the world to me. I suspect these are a distinction without much of a difference - practically speaking. Based on how relative risk is calculated for these trials and many others, I'm not terribly concerned with the efficacy claim being erroneous. I think this blogger does a great job of breaking this down further:

and here:

Unknown said…
Christ is risen! Thank you so much for posting this thorough article.

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