Why Conspiracy Theorists Want You To Believe The Vaccine Was Rushed — And Why They Are Completely Wrong
This article is a comprehensive analysis of the Oxford Vaccine — ChAdOx1 — and the incredible science behind it.
With tensions heightened around the globe and the closing of a tumultuous year, Pfizer and BioNTech captured headlines with the announcement of their mRNA-based vaccine contender “BNT162b2” on November 9th, 2020. The announcement came just nine months after the CDC confirmed the first case of the mysterious illness in North America — a Washington state resident who had returned from Wuhan on January 15th.
Following the news that shocked the world for the Nth time, a few things happened:
- the passive dwindling of airline stocks such as Air Canada (AC.TO) came to a sudden halt, and then shot up ten-fold
- a glimmer of hope was seen by the world population who, up until this time, had been expecting a much longer wait for scientists to come to the rescue
- other research facilities, such as Oxford University, doubled down on the race to save the planet
- the conspiracy theorists came out swinging en masse
The conspiracies, despite their nonsensical nature, are actually quite entertaining to debunk. The idea of nanobots being injected into our bloodstream by evil-masked doctors (why wouldn’t they just put it in our watersource? Isn’t that easier?) or infecting our psyche with 5G towers is the stuff of books and movies, and we all love a good movie. It is even more interesting to picture an all-controlling villain billionaire wanting to microchip our brains. The reality of it, however, is much less ominous but arguably much more impressive. The vaccine was not some last-minute, rushed, hotshot attempt at controlling the masses. In fact, our story begins in 2014.
The Oxford vaccine story is that of a chronically under-funded and under-resourced research team, with some mildly eccentric individuals who are borderline genius, managing to come up with something against all the odds. In 2014, early state testing on Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) gained approvals and vaccines for it were underway. However, when MERS cases thinned, Oxford simply did not have enough prevalence to test it. It is important to note that research was never abandoned in the way that a more commercially-focused pharmaceutical company might abandon it, it was simply shelved and referenced whenever needed.
The next touchstone moment was the Ebola crisis of 2016. The Oxford team held a meeting in the face of what they felt was a poor global response and decided that they needed to develop a “plug-in and go” vaccine that was capable of being deployed against a whole host of potential threats. The one scaring them most was a mysterious illness that the WHO had termed “Virus X”.
Virus X: The Early Stages of What Would Be The Next Worldwide Pandemic
Research began to kick off. The Oxford Team had identified a harmless chimpanzee cold virus which seemed to be malleable, and which could carry a modified version of a virus into the body as an antigen. Because the human body would not have seen this virus before (it is exclusive to chimpanzees), there would not be any B cell (memory cell) recognition of it. Thus, the immune system would not know to attack it. Instead, it would focus on the virus that it was being trained to defend against.
From this, ChAdOx1 was born (Chimpanzee Adeno Oxford). The patent is registered to Adrian Hill and Sarah Gilbert with Sarah Gilbert listed as the inventor. The two of them formed a spin-off company from the university and set about trying to develop the vaccine against a backdrop of under-funding and disinterest from the world stage.
On New Years Eve 2019 and the following day, whilst the rest of the world was partying and ringing in the new year, Sarah Gilbert spent her time pouring through reports from Wuhan, and was in the process of forming the view (correctly) that what would become known as SARS-CoV-2 could well be the mysterious Virus X. With a limited discretionary budget she convened the team that same week and they decided to drop what else they were doing — from that point on, they would channel their MERS and ChAdOx1 work into this.
Two weeks later, the Chinese published the genome sequence for SARS-CoV-2.
That weekend Gilbert sat down and designed the vaccine, taking out the parts she needed and combining it with ChAdOx1. She then went to the university’s labs that week and asked them to make her the vaccine so she could begin experimenting with it in a lab setting. They seemingly had a vaccine by early to mid February, but no chance of scaling it (Oxford is a research lab not a production facility).
Adrian Hill had been working the industry against a backdrop of “having no money in the bank”. Luckily, as some manufacturers lost interest (Oxford University was not looking to make profits from the development) AstraZeneca stayed on board and agreed to partner more or less on Oxford’s terms, perhaps recognizing that there was a wider CSR issue here. By contrast GSK forged an alliance with Sanofi and pursued their own agenda.
COVID TAKES EUROPE
Suddenly, money flowed in as COVID began to rip through Europe in February and March. They went from being borderline skint to being able to charter aircrafts to fly samples in from Italy. By now, Oxford University labs were throwing all their resources at it, along with AstraZeneca and the UK government (plus a host of overseas funders).
The British have a tradition of pioneering amateurism. Very often such ventures end in folly and farce, but every now and then someone comes through and achieves something great. This looks to be right out of that playbook. After months of putting together one of the more risible COVID responses in the field of policy and management, the genius eccentric in the white coat might just have saved the blusterer in the blue suit.
It is completely normal — and in fact encouraged — to have doubts about an illness that has rocked the world stage for the majority of the year. However, it is important to remember that more often than not, conspiracies spun by ill-informed nonscientists are usually just used for clickbait and are seldom rooted in actual fact. Medical research on viral immunity has been underway since before the 1918 Influenza Pandemic and virtually never stopped. So, look at the facts. Form an educated opinion. And, for everyone’s sake, wear a mask.