There are several COVID-19 vaccines in development, and some have reached human trials. One of the recently revealed challenges of some forms of the vaccine is a connection to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) â€” either triggering a false positive test for it or potentially increasing the risk of an HIV infection.
HIV triggers acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV is a retrovirus, which some experts believe is at the heart of several chronic diseases, including myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) and autism. While some retroviruses can infect your germ cells, and therefore pass to your offspring, itâ€™s not believed that HIV has that capacity.
The first HIV case was reported in 1981.1 Over the next 35 years, the infection created panic in some communities, raised the risk of death and triggered multiple public health programs. As scientists grew to have a better understanding of the infection, they developed better treatment methods for those who are infected.
By 2019 surgeons at Johns Hopkins Medical Center had performed the first living donor kidney transplant in the U.S. from an HIV patient to an HIV recipient. It was time, effort and science that brought treatment modalities to the point where HIV is now thought of as a chronic disease and not a death sentence.2
Australia Abandons Vaccine After False Positive HIV Tests
In the race to produce a viable vaccine for COVID-19, one developed at the University of Queensland, Australia, was scrapped when scientists found participants developed a false positive test for HIV after vaccination. This affected a $750 million planned order for the vaccine.
The vaccine was developed in a collaboration between the university and biotech company CSL and was one of several using a protein that prompted a response from the human immune system. These types of vaccines have been in use for years and have a known track record, as compared to the newer mRNA vaccines in development.
Examples of protein-based vaccinations include those given for pertussis, Haemophilus influenzae type B and hepatitis B. Scientists have also used genetically engineered viruses to prompt the immune system to create antibodies against a pathogen. The technique of modifying the adenovirus has been in development for nearly three decades across several vaccines.4
The problem with the COVID vaccine was with two HIV protein fragments that scientists used to produce a molecular â€œclampâ€� on the coronavirus spikes. The clamp was meant to stabilize the virus, allowing an individual’s immune system to effectively develop antibodies after exposure to the vaccine.
While researchers thought there was no risk from the vaccine of directly infecting the volunteer with HIV, the clamp caused trial participantsâ€™ bodies to produce antibodies that HIV tests recognized as a positive response.
Even though they felt the vaccine appeared to be safe and effective, they thought the false positive testing for HIV would undermine public trust. In order to continue the development and use of this vaccine, it would have required the current HIV test to be re-engineered to differentiate between those testing positive from the vaccine and those who had the virus. Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke with reporters, saying:5
â€œWe canâ€™t have any issues with confidence and we are as a nation now, with a good portfolio of vaccines, able to make these decisions to best protect the Australian people.â€�
The New York Times calls this a â€œmisstepâ€�6 â€œthat can inevitably occur when scientists, during a pandemic â€¦ rush to condense the usual years-long process to develop vaccines into a matter of months.â€�
Warning: Modified Virus Vaccine May Increase the Risk of HIV
Currently, the idea is to modify the adenovirus, which normally causes a common cold, with genes from SARS-CoV-2. This tricks the immune system into thinking it has been infected and then producing antibodies against the infection.
Researchers believe the adenoviruses are excellent vectors with several advantages over other viruses for this type of research, including the ease of genetic manipulation and the ability to induce robust T cell and antibody responses.7 However, there have been major drawbacks using adenoviruses in gene therapy and vaccines.
Researchers who had used recombinant adenovirus type 5 (Ad5) vector 10 years ago for an HIV-1 vaccine warned against using the same process for the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. Published in The Lancet, they outlined the challenges they had faced in two human trials with Ad5 vectored HIV-1 vaccine.
Data from both studies suggested the vaccination could increase the risk of acquiring HIV from the environment more easily than before. The mechanism for this increased susceptibility was not determined, but further exploratory studies suggested the Ad5 vaccine promoted HIV replication in CD4 T-cells, which could potentially make you more susceptible to an HIV infection.8
The results from the Step trial demonstrated the risk of acquiring HIV was higher in uncircumcised men having unprotected anal sex with an HIV-seropositive partner. The data from the Phambili study suggested that vaccinated heterosexual men also had a consistently higher increased risk of infection.
The results were compelling enough that in 2014 the National Institutes of Health acknowledged recombinant Ad5 vaccines may have a major problem as they could â€œincrease susceptibility to HIV infection. This also raised the question of whether the problem extends to some or all of the other recombinant adenovirus vectors currently in development or to other vector-based vaccines.â€�9
The lead author of this paper was Dr. Anthony Fauci, who went on to recommend â€œagainst further use of Ad5 as a vector in HIV vaccines,â€� as reported by Forbes Magazine.10 These concerns were also reiterated by the researchers of the original HIV-1 vaccine studies, who wrote in The Lancet:11
â€œOn the basis of these findings, we are concerned that use of an Ad5 vector for immunisation against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) could similarly increase the risk of HIV-1 acquisition among men who receive the vaccine.
Both the HIV and COVID-19 pandemics disproportionately affect vulnerable populations globally. Roll-out of an effective SARS-CoV-2 vaccine globally could be given to populations at risk of HIV infection, which could potentially increase their risk of HIV-1 acquisition.â€�
Emergency COVID Vaccines May Trigger Massive Side Effects
In the past, efforts to vaccinate against other coronaviruses have revealed serious concerns. Vaccines developed for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) tended to trigger antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE).
This means that for some who received the vaccine, it has a paradoxical effect that increases your risk of severe infection if you are exposed to the virus. In other words, the vaccine enhances the virusâ€™ ability to get inside your cells, which results in more severe disease.
This process may manifest in different ways, which include ADE and allergic inflammation caused by Th2 immunopathology. Given what is currently known about the virus and behavior in the body, some scientists have argued that ADE is only one immune enhancement pathology that may cause a dysregulated and potentially dangerous response to a COVID-19 vaccine.12
In May 2020 I interviewed Robert Kennedy Jr., during which he described the well-known hazards of coronavirus vaccines and summarized the history of coronavirus vaccine development. In 2002, following three consecutive SARS outbreaks, vaccine research had begun. Ten years later in 2012, Chinese, American and European scientists were working on a SARS vaccine and had about 30 promising candidates.
Of those, the four best vaccine candidates were then given to ferrets, which are the closest analog to human lung infections. While the ferrets displayed robust antibody response, which is the metric used for vaccine licensing, once they were challenged with the wild virus, they all became severely ill and died.
The same thing happened when they tried to develop an RSV vaccine in the 1960s. RSV is an upper respiratory illness that is very similar to that caused by coronaviruses. At that time, they had decided to skip animal trials and go directly to human trials. Kennedy recounts the experiment, saying:13
â€œThey tested it on I think about 35 children, and the same thing happened. The children developed a champion antibody response â€” robust, durable. It looked perfect [but when] the children were exposed to the wild virus, they all became sick. Two of them died. They abandoned the vaccine. It was a big embarrassment to FDA and NIH.â€�
Even Pfizer acknowledges in their clinical protocol that COVID-19 disease enhancement is a real risk following certain vaccinations.14 Despite years of research and alternative development strategies, ADE concerns remain, and, as explained by Kennedy, coronavirus vaccines remain notorious for creating paradoxical immune enhancement.
Coronaviruses Produce Two Types of Antibodies
Coronaviruses produce more than neutralizing antibodies. Instead, they trigger two antibody responses in your body. This difference may be at the heart of why vaccines to prevent coronavirus infections have thus far been ineffective, and sometimes dangerous:
- Neutralizing antibodies bind to the virus in a way that blocks the ability of the pathogen to infect your cells.15
- Binding antibodies (also known as nonneutralizing antibodies) are produced during an infection but are unable to prevent a viral infection.16
Binding antibodies can also trigger an abnormal immune response.17 Another way to look at this is, instead of protecting you, the vaccine triggers an abnormal response, which causes your immune system to backfire so you develop a severe disease from the infection.
Many of the COVID-19 vaccines currently in development are using mRNA to trigger an immune response by instructing cells to make the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.18 The idea is to create the spike protein so your body produces antibodies, without making you sick in the process. The key question is: Which of the two types of antibodies are being produced through this process?
Weigh a Personal Risk-Benefit Ratio Before You Decide
Regardless of how effective or ineffective COVID-19 vaccines are, it is likely that several will be released to the public in relatively short order â€” all while racing through a process that normally takes years to ensure some measure of safety.19
Ironically, current data20,21,22 no longer support a mass vaccination mandate, considering that the lethality of COVID-19 is lower than the flu for those under the age of 60.23 If youâ€™re under the age of 40, your risk of dying from COVID-19 is even lower, at just 0.01%, or a 99.99% chance of surviving the infection â€” and you could improve that further if youâ€™re metabolically flexible and have optimal levels of vitamin D.
Unfortunately, participants in current COVID-19 vaccine trials are not being told that by getting the vaccine they may end up with more severe COVID-19 disease once theyâ€™re infected with the virus.24 The speed at which the vaccines are being produced and released may create a second wave of severe disease and death from medical interventions.
In the meantime, as health officials pushed them to develop â€œwarp speedâ€� vaccines, the pharmaceutical companies were unwilling to move ahead unless they were shielded from liability if the vaccine were to produce injuries.25 As one senior executive at AstraZeneca said:26 â€œThis is a unique situation where we as a company simply cannot take the risk â€¦â€�
The industry is already protected by the 2005 Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act that prohibits claims against companies that develop and release products for a public health emergency. Plus, the Supreme Court has also upheld rulings that protect vaccine makers,27 without any seeming regard for the citizens who are injured.
Your decision to vaccinate or not for COVID-19 is currently a personal choice. Before making your decision, consider balancing your risks and benefits, evaluating the research and results of the vaccine and the danger of fatality in your personal circumstances. Also, consider taking significant steps to improve your metabolic flexibility and optimizing your vitamin D levels to lower your risk of severe disease.