When profits and politics drive science
... rushing a vaccine to market for a vanishing virus
More than 100 companies are competing to be first in the race to get a COVID-19 vaccine to market. It’s a race against time, not because the death rate is climbing but because it is falling – to the point where there will soon be too few subjects to prove the effectiveness of the drug.
Pascal Soriot is chief executive of AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish pharmaceutical company that is challenging biotech company Moderna, the U.S. frontrunner in the race. Soriot said on May 24th, “The vaccine has to work and that’s one question, and the other question is, even if it works, we have to be able to demonstrate it. We have to run as fast as possible before the disease disappears so we can demonstrate that the vaccine is effective.”
COVID-19, like other coronaviruses, is expected to mutate at least every season, raising serious questions about claims that any vaccine will work. A successful vaccine has never been developed for any of the many strains of coronaviruses, due to the nature of the virus itself; and vaccinated people can have a higher chance of serious illness and death when later exposed to another strain of the virus, a phenomenon known as “virus interference.” An earlier SARS vaccine never made it to market because the laboratory animals it was tested on contracted more serious symptoms on re-infection, and most of them died.
Researchers working with the AstraZeneca vaccine claimed success in preliminary studies because its lab monkeys all survived and formed antibodies to the virus, but data reported later showed that the animals all became infected when challenged, raising serious questions about the vaccine’s effectiveness.
Moderna has gotten fast-track approval from the FDA and managed to skip animal trials altogether before rushing to human trials. Its candidate is a “messenger RNA” vaccine, a computer-generated replica of an RNA component that carries genetic information controlling the synthesis of proteins. No mRNA vaccine has ever been approved for marketing or proven in a large-scale clinical trial. As explained in Science Magazine, RNA that invades from outside the cell is the hallmark of a virus, and our immune systems have evolved ways to recognize and destroy it. To avoid that, Moderna’s mRNA vaccine sneaks into cells encapsulated in nanoparticles, which aren’t easily degraded and can cause toxic buildup in the liver.
These concerns, however, have not deterred the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which is proceeding at “Warp Speed” to get the new technologies tested on the American population before the virus disappears through mutation and natural herd immunity. HHS has already agreed to provide up to $1.2 billion to AstraZeneca and $483 million to Moderna to develop their experimental candidates. “As American taxpayers, we are justified in asking why,” writes William Haseltine in Forbes. Both companies have attracted billions from private investors and don’t need taxpayer money, and the government’s speculative bets are being made on unproven technologies in the early stages of testing.
The argument at one time was that the magnitude of the crisis justified the risk, but the virus is now disappearing of its own accord. The computer-modeled projection of 2.2 million U.S. deaths issued by Imperial College London (a business partner of AstraZeneca), triggering shutdowns across the United States, was subsequently found to be “wildly” overblown. The model was described in the UK Telegraph on May 16th as “the most devastating software mistake of all time.” The researchers wrote that “we would fire anyone for developing code like this” and that the question was “why our Government did not get a second opinion before swallowing Imperial’s prescription.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has also revised its projections. Experts disagree on what the new data means, but according to an expert at the Montreal Economic Institute, “The most likely CDC scenario now estimates that the coronavirus mortality rate for infected people is between 0.2% and 0.3%. This is a far cry from the 3.4% figure that had been put forward by the WHO at the start of the pandemic.”
In other news from the CDC, on May 23rd the agency reported that the antibody tests used to determine whether people have developed an immunity to the virus are too unreliable to be used.
But none of this seems to be dimming the hype and the deluge of investment money being thrown at the latest experimental vaccines. And perhaps that is the point of the exercise – to extract as much money as possible from gullible investors, including the US government, before the public discovers that the fundamentals of these stocks do not support the media hype.
Moderna: A Multibillion-Dollar “Unicorn” That Has Never Brought a Product to Market
Moderna in particular has been suspected of pumping its stock price with unreliable preliminary test data. On May 18th, Moderna’s stock jumped by as much as 30%, after it issued a press release announcing positive results from a small preliminary trial of its coronavirus vaccine. After the market closed, the company announced a stock offering aimed at raising $1 billion; and on May 18th and 19th, Moderna executives dumped nearly $30 million worth of stock for a profit of $25 million.
On May 19th, however, the stock rocketed back down, after STAT News questioned the company’s test results. An antibody response was reported for only eight of the 45 patients, not enough for statistical analysis. Was the response significant enough to create immunity? And what about the other 37 patients?
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. called the results a “catastrophe” for the company. He wrote on May 20th:
Three of the 15 human guinea pigs in the high dose cohort (250 mcg) suffered a “serious adverse event” within 43 days of receiving Moderna’s jab. Moderna … acknowledged that three volunteers developed Grade 3 systemic events, defined by the FDA as “Preventing daily activity and requiring medical intervention.”
Moderna allowed only exceptionally healthy volunteers to participate in the study. A vaccine with those reaction rates could cause grave injuries in 1.5 billion humans if administered to “every person on earth”.
A volunteer named Ian Haydon buoyed the markets when he appeared on CNBC to say he felt fine after getting the vaccine. But he later revealed that after the second jab, he got chills and a fever of over 103°, lost consciousness, and “felt more sick than he ever has before.”
Those were just the short-term adverse effects. Long-term systemic effects including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune disease, and infertility can take decades to develop. But the stage is already being set for mandatory vaccinations that will be “deployed” by the U.S. military as soon as the end of the year. The HHS in conjunction with the Department of Defense has awarded a $138 million contract for 600 million syringes prefilled with coronavirus vaccine, individually marked with trackable RFID chips. That’s enough for two doses for nearly the entire U.S. population. One hundred million are to be supplied by year’s end.
Fortunately for vaccine manufacturers and investors, they do not have to worry about the drugs’ side effects, since the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program and the 2005 PREP Act protect them from liability for vaccine injuries. Damages are imposed instead on the US government and US taxpayers.
What Moderna could have to worry about, however, is criminal action by the Securities Exchange Commission. By May 22nd, Moderna’s stock was down by 26% from its earlier high, making its 30% rise on a misleading press release look like a “pump and dump” scheme. On CNBC on May 19th, former SEC lawyer Jacob Frankel said its stock offering on the heels of hyped news was the type of action that would draw scrutiny by the SEC, and that it could have a criminal component.
Why All the Hype? Moderna’s mRNA Vaccine
It wasn’t the first time Moderna’s stock had skyrocketed on a well-timed press release. On February 24th, the World Health Organization said to prepare for a global pandemic, collapsing stock markets around the world. Most stocks collapsed, but Moderna’s shot up by nearly 30%, after it reported on February 25th that testing on humans would begin in March. Mega-investors made tens of millions of dollars in a single day, including BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, which made $68 million just on February 25th. BlackRock was called “the fourth branch of government” after it was tasked in March with dispensing up to $4.5 trillion in Federal Reserve credit through “special purpose vehicles” established by the Treasury and the Fed.
Moderna has other friends in high places, including the Pentagon. Several years ago, Moderna received millions of dollars from the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), as well as from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Moderna’s stock has more than tripled this year, taking it to a market cap of over $22 billion. STAT News called it “an astonishing feat for a company that currently sells zero products.” Many of the companies actively developing COVID-19 vaccines have longer and more impressive track records. Why all the investor interest in this “unicorn” startup that went public only in 2018 and has no record of market success?
The major advantage of mRNA vaccines is the speed with which they can be deployed. Created in a lab rather than from a real virus, they can be mass-produced cost-effectively on a large scale and do not require uninterrupted cold storage. But this speed comes at the risk of major side effects. In a 2017 TED talk called “Rewriting the Genetic Code,” Moderna’s current chief medical officer Dr. Tal Zaks said, “We’re actually hacking the software of life ….”
As explained by a medical doctor writing in The UK Independent on May 20th:
Moderna’s messenger RNA vaccine … uses a sequence of genetic RNA material produced in a lab that, when injected into your body, must invade your cells and hijack your cells’ protein-making machinery called ribosomes to produce the viral components that subsequently train your immune system to fight the virus. …
In many ways, the vaccine almost behaves like an RNA virus itself except that it hijacks your cells to produce the parts of the virus, like the spike protein, rather than the whole virus. Some messenger RNA vaccines are even self-amplifying…. There are unique and unknown risks to messenger RNA vaccines, including the possibility that they generate strong type I interferon responses that could lead to inflammation and autoimmune conditions.
A lab-created self-amplifying virus encapsulated in nanoparticles that evade the cell’s defenses by stealth sounds a lot like the “stealth viruses” that are classified as “bioweapons,” and that could explain DARPA’s interest in the technology. In a 2010 document titled “Biotechnology: Genetically Engineered Pathogens,” the US Air Force acknowledged that it was studying “genetically engineered pathogens that could pose serious threats to society,” including “binary biological weapons, designer genes, gene therapy as a weapon, stealth viruses, host-swapping diseases, and designer diseases.” DARPA was behind the creation of both DNA and RNA vaccines, funding their early research and development by Moderna as well as by Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc.
In December 2017, over 1,200 emails released under open records requests revealed that the U.S. military is now the top funder behind the controversial “genetic extinction” technology known as “gene drives.” As investigative reporter Whitney Webb observed in a May 4th article, “these genetic ‘kill switches’ could also be inserted into actual humans through artificial chromosomes, which – just as they have the potential to extend life – also have the potential to cut it short.” Biowarfare is forbidden under international treaty, but the army’s Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick says its investigations are to “protect the warfighter from biological threats” and to protect civilians from threats to public health. Even assuming that is true, are the army’s technicians proficient enough to tinker with the human genetic code without hitting a kill switch or two by mistake?
The military is thinking about war, the pharmaceutical companies and investors are thinking about profits, the politicians are thinking about getting the country back to work, and even the regulators are bypassing proper safety tests in the rush to get the entire global population vaccinated before the virus disappears. It is left to us, the recipients of these novel untested GMO vaccines, to demand some serious vetting before the military shows up at our doors with their prefilled RFID-chipped syringes some time later this year.