In this article, Oliver Barnett, the clinic owner, will be sharing some information about the immune system, what we know to date about how it responds to the coronavirus and further insight into testing inaccuracies, vaccines and most importantly – what you can do to support your health.
Firstly – let’s look at the immune system
Our immune system consists of two parts – a congenital, innate immune system and an adaptive immune system – working closely together to protect the body and maintain health.
The innate immune system forms our first barrier which includes: skin, saliva, mucous membranes, gastric juice, vibratory hair cells and commensal flora.
These barriers play an important role in preventing the attachment of unknown microorganisms to tissue that may be susceptible to infection. If they do attach, special immune cells known as macrophages engulf the micro-organisms and destroy them before they can do any harm.
The adaptive immune system consists of mucosal immunity (IgA antibodies), cellular immunity (T-cell activation) and humoral immunity (IgM and IgG antibodies produced by the B cells) (1).
For thousands of years, the human body has been exposed daily to moisture and droplets containing infectious microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria and fungi. The penetration of these microorganisms is prevented by the advanced defence mechanism also known as the immune system.
A strong immune system relies on normal daily exposure to these microbial influences and in generally healthy individuals, overly hygienic measures can actually have a detrimental effect on our immunity in generally healthy individuals (2) (3).
How does the immune system respond to Coronavirus?
Data on the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) currently remains limited, however similar immune evasion strategies are seen with SARS-CoV and other closely related coronaviruses (4).
A study in the journal ‘Cell’ shows that most people neutralise the coronavirus by mucosal immunity (IgA) and cellular immunity (T-cells), while experiencing few or no symptoms (5).
Researchers have also found up to 60% SARS-Cov-2 reactivity with immune cells in a non-infected population, suggesting cross-reactivity with other cold/corona viruses. Most people may therefore already have cross-immunity because they have already been in contact with variants of the same virus.
The findings on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was quarantined due to SARS-CoV-2, offered a rare opportunity to understand features of the new coronavirus that are hard to investigate in the wider population. The passengers included a large number of elderly people, who are most likely to develop severe disease if infected, however it has been estimated that over 72% of those infected passengers were asymptomatic and unlikely to spread the virus in the same way a symptomatic case could.
In addition to this, studies have conclusively found that surgical and home-made cloth masks provide very little evidence of widespread benefit for members of the public. They are somewhat effective at stopping larger microbes such as spittle, but largely ineffective at stopping human aerosols projections that can carry viral infections (6) (7).
Inaccuracies with testing and recording data
You can currently have a PCR swab test to check if you have coronavirus now. However a large problem with the PCR swab test, and one of the reasons why we do not do this type of PCR testing at the clinic for Lyme and other pathogens such as Epstein-Barr virus, is that there can be a large amount of false positives.
This type of PCR test will only measure the presence of a partial viral genome sequence and not the whole sequence. It proves that its genetic material – the RNA – is present, however this could in fact be detecting fragments of dead virus from old infections which are unlikely to transmit.
This means that a person shedding a large amount of active virus, and a person with leftover fragments from an infection that’s already been cleared, would receive the same positive test result. This illustrates why data on covid is far from perfect.
Kary Mullis, who won the Nobel Prize in Science for inventing the PCR test claims that these tests cannot detect free, infectious viruses at all. The tests can detect genetic sequences of viruses, but not viruses themselves (8).
At what point will we determine whether the pandemic is over? When there are zero cases? Well the only way you can have zero cases, a large proportion of which are asymptomatic, is if you do not test – if you keep testing you are going to keep having cases.
At the moment in the UK we are on a trend of testing more and more widely and the problem with the testing is that it has now moved from deaths to case numbers.
The number of coronavirus cases is now rising, while death rates and hospital admissions fall. This may indicate that the virus is becoming ‘less deadly’, which is common with respiratory viruses, or the detection of traces of old viruses we spoke about earlier could explain why. Does this mean we need to maintain economically-crippling and socially-debilitating anti-covid measures?
Another thing to consider is that albeit we did have excess deaths in March and April of this year, the way the deaths are reported on many occasions are people dying with covid, not of covid.
From the beginning of the pandemic up until only a few weeks ago, if someone’s cause of death was from a car accident or cancer, for example, but they had a positive coronavirus test from 90 days prior, they would still be recorded as a covid death rather than a car accident or cancer death.
The government recently changed this policy to testing positive within 28 days, however still the same point applies; that many of the deaths that have been attributed to coronavirus may not actually be coronavirus deaths.
What about vaccinations?
Let’s take a look at the previous two coronavirus vaccines that were produced.
Researchers tried to develop vaccines for both SARS-CoV, the virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome in the 2002 epidemic, and MERS-CoV, the virus that caused Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in 2012.
The SARS vaccine produced antibody protection in monkeys, ferrets and mice but these animals also developed an immunopathologic type lung reaction and a strong inflammatory response in the liver (9). Research scientist James Lyons Weiler PhD notes that a type of ‘priming’ was observed with SARS vaccination leading to increased morbidity and mortality in vaccinated animals who were subsequently exposed to wild SARS virus (10).
A US/Saudi research team reported a similar risk with an inactivated MERS coronavirus vaccine. This resulted in termination of vaccine development for both viruses due to safety concerns.
A similar immunological priming reaction occurred with Sanofi Pasteur’s ‘Dengvaxia’ vaccine for Dengue fever where a mass immunisation programme in the Philippines was rolled out. It was found that the vaccine could worsen symptoms for people not previously infected by the dengue virus, with some parents even alleging the vaccine resulted in death in their children. The Philippine government recalled the vaccine in December 2017 and criminal damages were fined approximately one year later (11).
James Lyons Weiler declares that animal studies need to be conducted (before human trials) to investigate the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 vaccines might have the same priming effect. Most COVID-19 vaccines have skipped animal trials and are performing animal trials concurrent with clinical studies.
Safety issues with two of the front-runners which is Inovio’s DNA vaccine and Moderna’s MRA vaccine are even less clear. Instead of providing an antigen these vaccines provide a synthesised genetic information that instructs a person’s cells to create the desired antigen (12). After cells make pieces of the virus, the immune system responds with a defence.
No human vaccine using this type of technology has been approved and licenced within the UK; or in the rest of the world for that matter. One of the advantages of this type of vaccine is that they can be manufactured very quickly. Some of the safety concerns associated with these types of vaccines include a possibility of chronic inflammation and autoimmune type reactions.
Earlier this year, various governments around the world, including the UK, issued declarations that provide liability immunity to individual persons and entities including manufacturers, distributors and any qualified person that develops, manufactures, tests, distributes or administers vaccine drugs or medical devices related to COVID-19. Essentially this means that the COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers cannot be sued for any adverse reactions.
Again we come back to the same question – will we determine that the pandemic is over when we have a viable vaccine? That seems highly unlikely, especially given the fact that the last two coronavirus vaccines that were produced were found to be dangerous.
Further, vaccines are not that simple to produce to be effective and some vaccines never even come to fruition; such as an HIV vaccine which was worked on for over 25 years but could never be found to be effective.
It is clear that the wheels are in motion now for a vaccine to be produced and it has been speculated that associated immunity passports could be mandatory with these vaccines. Immunity passports could mean that if you have not received the vaccination, then you may not be able to access certain services.
But for an immunity passport to work in practice we need reliable tests – plus there is currently no evidence that people who have been exposed to COVID-19 are protected from a second infection (13).
How has the UKs health been affected?
In addition to the direct impact that COVID-19 may have on people’s health, NHS figures show there has been a 60% drop in people visiting their GP in April. This highlights the additional risks posed by COVID-19 to people who were unable to access their general practitioner for acute and chronic health conditions.
In addition to this, a study conducted by DATA-CAN, the Health Care Research Hub (HDR UK) for Cancer, saw a significant decline in urgent referrals for early cancer diagnosis of up to 80% (14). In a worst case scenario, if delays continue, they have estimated there could be upto 35,000 additional cancer deaths within a year (15).
And we haven’t even touched on the rise in mental health problems, access to our elders, effects on social engagement, our economy and more.
How can you support your health?
What we do know is that the immune system truly is our best defense because it supports the body’s natural ability to defend against pathogens and resists infections. As long as the immune system is functioning normally, infections such as COVID-19 could go unnoticed (16).
Throughout the pandemic our practitioners have all contributed educational and informative videos to our Immune Series on YouTube. We share information on how the immune system works, the best foods to eat, foods to avoid, how stress impacts your immune system and more. This is a really useful resource for anyone who would like to learn more about what you can do.
The impact of the pandemic on our lives and lives of our loved ones is concerning, especially considering the extreme response worldwide.
The purpose of this information is to encourage readers to navigatie COVID-19 using rational analysis and an open mind. Healthy scepticism is a virtue.
Written by Oliver Barnett, Clinic Director at London Clinic of Nutrition
Oliver is one of the UK’s leading health experts and has now seen over 15,000 clients, helping them regain their health from a myriad of health conditions. Oliver is a Naturopath, Nutritional Therapist and Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner.
Any opinion expressed in this article may be personal to the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the organisation or its affiliates unless expressly stated.