Analysis: What Vanden Bossche Got Right — and Wrong — About Mass Vaccination
Robert Verkerk, Ph.D., of Alliance for Natural Health International, weighs in on the recent debate sparked by Geert Vanden Bossche, Ph.D., concerning immune escape and mass vaccination during a pandemic. EDITOR’S NOTE: The Defender is committed to providing a space for scientific debate. This piece is an analysis on the recent debate (this piece + this piece) sparked by Geert Vanden Bossche, Ph.D., concerning immune escape and mass vaccination during a pandemic. “Given the huge amount of immune escape that will be provoked by mass vaccination campaigns and flanking containment measures, it is difficult to imagine how human interventions would not cause the COVID-19 pandemic to turn into an incredible disaster for global and individual health.” — Geert Vanden Bossche, D.V.M., Ph.D. When someone who appears to have devoted most of their career to developing and helping roll out vaccines globally decides to blow the whistle on the current global mass vaccination program, only an incautious person would choose to ignore it. That’s of course just what the mainstream media has done so far — an indicator of just how incautious this communication vehicle has become. This is actually an important consideration because it is the scientific community and those responsible for deciding how we should respond who really need to engage with Dr. Vanden Bossche and his arguments. Owing to the ‘my way or the highway’ approach taken by the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the UK Department of Health and others means Dr. Vanden Bossche has been forced to release his views via LinkedIn and fringe media. That makes it very difficult or impossible to have proper scientific discourse on matters that affect all of us, and the future of humankind. Notwithstanding, since Dr. Vanden Bossche’s revelations were released into the alternative media a few days ago, we’ve had numerous requests for a response as many try to grapple with his claims and arguments. This article aims to provide a rational response using data available at the time of writing. What is Dr. Vanden Bossche claiming? You can read the 12-page document linked to Dr Vanden Bossche’s LinkedIn profile here. The document was most recently updated on the day of writing this article (March 17). You can see/hear the interview (42 minutes) with Dr. Philip McMillan below: Watch Dr. Geert Vanden Bossche’s urgent message to the WHO (2 minutes): Watch an in-depth interview (1 hour 48 minutes) by Matt Wong from Discernable: Dr. Vanden Bossche makes many points, so I’ve tried to distill some of the most important: Prevention and containment measures coupled with vaccinating such a large proportion of the population in a manner that doesn’t guarantee elimination of the virus, encourages selective viral ‘immune escape’ where viruses continue to be shed from those who are infected because neutralizing antibodies have failed to prevent replication and elimination of the virus. The evolutionary selection pressure on the virus will, through ‘immune escape,’ create ever more virulent strains of the virus that have a competitive advantage over other variants and will increasingly have the potential to break through the antibody defences provided by the adaptive immune system, so inducing ‘vaccine resistance.’ Because the current vaccines attempt to train only the adaptive immune system that is highly specific to particular strains, vaccine makers will all the time find themselves on the backfoot as new mutant strains outsmart the vaccines. The only possibility of eradicating these more virulent strains is via particular white blood cells (lymphocytes) in the innate immune system, namely natural killer (NK) cells. This Vanden Bossche evidences from knowledge that those who are asymptomatic (e.g. most children) are able to eliminate infection at a very early stage of infection through the enhanced function of the innate (‘first response’) immune system at the mucosal surfaces of the airways. Vanden Bossche argues nearly all of the deactivation of viruses occurs through the action of NK cells that are polyspecific by nature, because they eliminate the cells infected with the virus so affecting all variants or mutants of the virus. The worst of the pandemic is still to come. Bossche argues we are now experiencing the calm before the storm. Vanden Bossche predicts the next wave of infection will be dramatic — far worse than anything we’ve seen to-date. This is because there will be more mutants to which the adaptive immune system provides little resistance, and this will come at the expense of decreased innate immune effectiveness. While he mentions that NK cell-based vaccines, which he claims to have been researching for the last decade or so but about which he also says he has no commercial interest, are the ultimate solution, he believes it is likely too late to escape the storm. Dr. Vanden Bossche points to a lack of evidence that the existing global, mass vaccination program that has been mounted while there is still significant infection around, is unprecedented and there is no scientific evidence that this will work. He stresses that historic vaccination programs have always emphasized the importance of vaccinating populations prophylactically in the absence of infection pressure. He also argues that if different types of vaccine were used that provided sterilizing immunity i.e., that prevented immune escape and killed all viruses in those vaccinated, the situation would be entirely different. It just so happens, his specialization is in the development of natural killer cell vaccines that provide sterilizing immunity. He argues there is now evidence that NK cells can acquire memory and this could allow the manufacture of NK cell-based vaccines that are much simpler than the current antigen-type that rely on the training of the adaptive, not innate, immune system. In fact, he goes as far as saying that this is the only scientifically rational way forward now — to use the NK cell vaccines that target the more virulent strains. Almost in the same breath, he conceded, “… that while there is a proof of concept, there is [are] no clinical data.” From the horse’s mouth In his Discernable interview with Matt, Dr. Vanden Bossche looks coy when asked about NK cell-based vaccines, stressing that he has “no commercial interest whatsoever …” In fact, Dr. Vanden Bossche’s commentary in this interview is so illuminating, I’ve included some extracts from the Matt Wong interview below: “Let’s forget about egos, let’s forget about money. There is only one single thing at stake right now and that is the survival of our human race, frankly speaking. But I must say I have been working for a number of years on NK cell-based vaccines and it’s not like I’m making a big noise because I’d like to draw attention to my technology … it’s thanks to my insights on how NK cells work, how they play a critical role in eliminating the virus in asymptomatically infected people and I have succeeded in unravelling what the strategy is for this virus. “We will most likely see that despite increasing vaccination coverage, we see dramatic things happening. The more you put the virus under pressure, the more it is fighting to make people ill … severe disease is the most profitable way for the virus to ensure its propagation and perpetuation, because then people shed for a long time and they then shed a lot of virus. “It is the first time in the history of mankind that we are intervening in such a massive way in a pandemic that has never ever occurred before. Now there is at least somebody who stands up and provides scientific evidence and gives a very, very serious warning and it’s probably also unprecedented and I think I’m basically already too late. “… Either we outsmart the virus — we are not doing that with current vaccines. Or we accept we go through a natural pandemic where we will have casualties …” The vaccines we have now are efficacious on an individual level while we don’t have resistance. It will attack first of all people with weak innate immunity. Those who have very strong innate immunity might have mild symptoms or be totally asymptomatic. Due diligence on a whistleblower In doing our best to use a balanced and methodical approach to evaluate both scientific aspects of health and dissenting views by whistleblowers, we look particularly at 4 criteria: The messenger. Who is the ‘whistleblower’? Is the person credible and does his or her background give the person the competence to make valid comments in the area? Motivation. What might be the motivation for whistleblowing? Does the person have anything to gain, whether personal or financial, from blowing the whistle? Also is a ‘real’ whistle really being blown, or the outburst the musings of ‘controlled opposition,’ ‘astroturfing’ or some other device designed to deceive or manipulate the public? Vested interests. Does the messenger, or associated organisations or businesses, have anything to gain by encouraging the dissemination of the whistleblower’s message far and wide? Scientific credibility of arguments. How does the science the whistleblower is using stack up against the available body of evidence in the particular area of controversy? Let me give you a birds-eye-view on the results of our analysis on the above. About the messenger Geert vanden Bossche appears to have qualified as a vet in 1983 from the University of Ghent in Belgium and also has a Ph.D., although it’s unclear if this was also awarded by the same university, or not. His publication record, like a lot of industrial scientists, is thin on the ground given who he claims to want to persuade. There are just eight references to his work in PubMed. Three of these, published in 1988, likely relate to his Ph.D. thesis and involve a case report of cachexia syndrome in a donkey mare. The other five, all published between 1994 – 5, relate to his work at the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart, Germany, four of them being specifically on enteroviruses, none of them on vaccines. His LinkedIn profile states he is a: “Creative thinker, innovator, entrepreneur and problem solver always open to new consultancy or career opportunities in the field of Vaccines, Life Sciences and/or Global Health to deliver solutions to unmet medical needs … I am particularly interested in engaging with international companies or organizations in the private or public sector or which are involved in public-private partnerships targeted at translational medicine programs, preferably in the field of Vaccine Innovation…” Motivation Dr. Vanden Bossche would definitely have a motive to be heard, although he’s at pains to mention this isn’t his goal. Based on his interviews, he’s spent much of the last 10 years focusing on an entirely novel approach to vaccination based on natural killer (NK) cell-based vaccines that ‘train’ the innate immune system to respond in a polyspecific manner (e.g., to different variants or epitopes of different viruses). This is in complete contrast with the current mainstay of vaccine development, which uses highly specific antigen-based vaccines that train the B cells and in turn T cells to target specific variants of viral pathogens. Albeit often using novel platforms (e.g., mRNA, non-replicating viral vector). In his interviews, he’s quick to point out that his motivation to speak out has nothing to do with his interest in NK cell-based vaccine technology. But he does say it is this interest that has permitted him unique insights to the challenges we now face. Almost in contradiction to this seemingly unvested position, he also upholds that this new approach, using NK cell-based vaccines, is the only chance for humanity. That’s despite his admission that there are no clinical data to support the approach. To this point, he compares his interest in NK cell-based vaccines with mRNA vaccines, the development of which was massively expedited by huge investment in Operation Warp Speed and other programs around the world. It is not inconceivable that he thinks he should get a slice of the cake, even though he doesn’t want to be seen to be asking for one? Vested interests Is Dr. Vanden Bossche a ‘lone ranger’ — or is there an organization, company or group of companies behind him? We’ve found no information that points one way or another, but he certainly gives the impression he is operating on his own, as an independent consultant, although it would be foolhardy to rule out the possibility that there wasn’t a biotechnology company interested in the technology somewhere in the background. His claims, as they currently stand, may benefit others, including the vaccine companies currently making COVID vaccines or they might work against them. Much of that will depend on the outcomes over the coming weeks and months. If there is no major resurgence of infection and the current mutants ‘wither on the vine’, doing little damage in terms of mortality and morbidity in the process, his exclamations may well be interpreted retrospectively as the ravings of a conspiracy theorist. If, on the other hand, there is a significant wave of infection — and in particular — if severe infection or disease, or transmission, is witnessed in those who have been already vaccinated, he might be honored as a prophet. For me, it is the sheer, unashamed certainty of his pronouncements that give me cause for concern given that so much uncertainty abounds. But perhaps he’s the type who always chooses to play ‘rouge et noire’ in a game of roulette? Scientific credibility of arguments Dr. Vanden Bossche’s evolutionary perspective on how viruses have the potential to outsmart vaccines is refreshing. In this vein, there are a number of points he makes that are unassailable: The scientific basis for the global implementation of containment and hygiene measures coupled with mass vaccination, have not been validated, except indirectly by computer models, many of which have also been found to often conflict with one another, or be erroneous or flawed. The selection pressure on a human virus will never have been as great as it will be assuming the planned target of over 70% coverage globally for the current crop of COVID vaccines is achieved. No scientific references for this are required — it’s never happened before. While many vaccinologists tend to downplay the potential or commonality of ‘vaccine escape’ (shedding), it definitely does occur and can produce more virulent variants. Good examples are in the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine program in the USA, Hep B vaccination in Africa and most obvious of them all, influenza A, the latter being universally recognized, as a DNA virus, to be much more prone to mutation than RNA viruses like SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses. There is also a question mark over whether measles vaccination is driving vaccine escape and hence failure. However, vaccine escape appears from current available evidence to be the exception rather than the rule. Natural killer (NK) cells in the innate immune system deliver a rapid, polyspecific response by targeting infected cells, while most viral vaccines (including COVID vaccines) target the B cell (humoral) and T cell (cell-mediated) sides of the adaptive immune system that are slower to respond, allowing greater opportunity for viral replication compared with effective innate responses from the lining (mucosa) of our airways. If resistant variants of SARS-CoV-2 were to become the dominant circulating forms of the virus, there is no doubt, anything that helped enhance the function of NK cells would help everyone. But, as many of you already know, Dr. Vanden Bossche’s as-yet undeveloped vaccines aren’t the only way of modulating NK cell activity. Exquisitely modulated NK cell activity is the mark of a super-healthy immune system, something we’ll touch on below. OK — so we’ve touched on the less controversial points. What about those that are more tenuous? In my view, some of the other arguments made by Dr. Vanden Bossche appear to be more theoretical than evidence-based. That doesn’t mean they should be dismissed, given that evidence is in such short supply and COVID-19 pathophysiology is still very much a work in progress. We’re now faced with not only needing to learn more about the interaction of the virus and the human species in the absence of vaccines, we also need to learn about this virus-host interaction with varying degrees of vaccination coverage as well as considering the response to different mutant strains (and undoubtedly new ones that have yet to arise). It’s a truly moving feast in a sea of uncertainty. Let’s now look at some of the areas where Dr. Vanden Bossche might be pushing the envelope: To be so sure that vaccine or immune escape will drive increasingly more virulent variants of the virus is a big leap. To posit this as a possibility more than a near certainty might seem more plausible. Even more so, devoting effort to the identification of markers of immune or vaccine escape, rather than making the overt claim that the current variants (that are not greatly more virulent, although are definitely more transmissible than earlier circulating epitopes) are direct proof of this. One of the emerging reasons for transmission or severe disease could be related to ineffective vaccination, rather than vaccine escape, caused by batch quality issues. This problem, in relation to the Pfizer vaccine, has been publicized in The BMJ courtesy of leaked documents. To argue that NK cells are the only cellular means of eliminating the virus is an over-simplification, given there is ample evidence that there are other aspects of the innate immune system, such as the role of macrophages and dendritic cells, as well as the activation of the adaptive immune system that have been demonstrated to work together akin to an orchestra in the management of infection in humans, as well as in the co-evolution of host-viral interactions. Let’s not forget that viruses aren’t, most of the time, the bad guys. They’ve been a dominant driver of our species’ evolution since time immemorial and despite the fact that some cause disease, they are overwhelmingly helpful in the long-run despite their tendency to share their genetic material with their host and infiltrate our genome. Dr. Vanden Bossche, with his focus on NK cells, over-simplifies the complexity of the immune response that is unique both to different individuals and pathogen variants. He does not appear to adequately recognize the unclear nature of human/SARS-CoV-2 virus interactions in different population groups. Vaccine resistance is the exception rather than the rule and has been found in a minority of vaccines targeting human pathogens (just 12). However, as Vanden Bossche argues, the circumstances are unique and one or more of the three predisposing factors for vaccine resistance are likely to be met in the case of COVID-19 and the associated mass vaccination strategy. This suggests that Vanden Bossche’s concerns are scientifically legitimate and are worthy of tight monitoring. Experimental NK cell-based vaccines are far from the only way of enhancing the cytotoxic function of NK cells. Ironically — and much more well demonstrated — are dietary and lifestyle-mediated approaches to enhance innate immune function as part of a prevention strategy. Vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc, beta-glucans and exercise are just some nutrients that have been found to act as immune modulators enhancing NK cell function. NK cell-based vaccines are not currently on ‘the list’ of next-generation COVID-19 vaccine platforms. They should therefore be regarded as more experimental than mRNA, non-replicating viral vector or protein subunit vaccines that have been in development at least for a few years, their development being massively accelerated by the current pandemic. It may be unrealistic to consider that NK cell-based vaccines could be developed quick enough to make a difference to the shape of the pandemic — although Dr. Vanden Bossche argues the development would be a lot quicker than for the current crop of frontrunner vaccines because such vaccines are considerably simpler. Feeding anti-vax sentiments using pro-vax arguments Vaccine resistance is already targeted as a weak point by the establishment. Speaking of prophets, I need to mention, albeit belatedly, Heidi Larson, Professor of Anthropology, Risk and Decision Science at the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the UK’s London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, also the founder and Director of the Vaccine Confidence Project, and author of the book “Stuck: How Vaccine Rumors Start ― and Why They Don’t Go Away” (2020, Oxford University Press). The book was completed just before the pandemic broke yet it anticipated a time when vaccine confidence was more central to public health strategy than most could have imagined. As they say: it’s all about timing. Dr. Larson has now found her moment, as well as many admirers. One of them is political scientist J. Stephen Morrison, Ph.D., senior vice president and director of the Global Health Policy Center, in Washington DC. Check out what he had to say about Dr. Larson’s assertions, including about vaccine resistance: “Vaccine resistance fits perfectly into populist agendas,” Larson notes. Especially in moments of heightened political anxiety and stress, “digital wildfires” can ignite, unforeseen, disrupting immunization campaigns and spreading emotional contagion across “global highways.” Social media “swarms” then leapfrog media platforms and continents, rapidly imposing a toll on the health of millions. “When populism and polarization drive a wedge into the heart of democracy, and vaccine decisions are politicized, immunity suffers.” Geert Vanden Bossche doesn’t mention any prophylactic alternatives to vaccines. His central argument is around ‘immune escape’ risks that may arise as a result of current antigen-based vaccine strategies, lockdowns and social isolation. He is thus feeding the flames of vaccine hesitancy in relation to the current crop of antigen-based vaccines. Ironically, he makes the subsidiary point that another type of vaccine may resolve the crisis. Concluding remarks For those grasping at scientific arguments to underpin their distrust of the mass vaccination program, Geert Vanden Bossche, may have provided an imperfect but nonetheless useful articulation of the problem. For me, his assertions are overly emphatic and insufficiently evidence-based given the uncertainty and complexity of the science involved. It’s a tough ask to try to predict what might happen as a result of Dr. Vanden Bossche’s outpourings. If I was a betting man, I’d say very little. Why? Just like with the Lockdown Skeptics or the Great Barrington scientists, the latter now supported by over 750,000 citizens, nearly 14,000 medical and public health scientists and almost 42,000 medical practitioners, ‘the system‘ really knows how to prevent the bomb going off. It’s called doing nothing — simply not engaging. With a propagandist media, a heavily censored social media, and near-police states in operation, there’s never been a better time to ignore dissenters. As I alluded to earlier, if we see a dramatic ‘third wave’ later in 2021 and that includes a significant number of vaccinated individuals, Geert Vanden Bossche may well be vindicated. Will the WHO and ‘the establishment’ rush to him to deliver his NK cell-based vaccines to save the world? Probably not. Might he get funding to work with biotech companies to further explore the potential of NK cell-based vaccines? My view is he might have a lesser, not a greater, chance of being invited into the fold after being perceived as a prostitute to the skeptics of the mainstream narrative. Has he justified his arguments with enough plausible science? No, in my view. Is there a chance that some of his assertions will be proven right? Yes, again in my view (as I’ve argued above). I want to finish by saying I have the greatest respect for any scientist who wears his scientific views and emotions on his sleeve. Geert Vanden Bossche clearly has passion. It is a travesty of the currently dominant scientific narrative that Vanden Bossche can’t open the doors of the WHO or the Gates Foundation, both of which he’s worked with previously, and have an in-depth discussion about his concerns. Chances are there is some kind of back story. Possibly one that wouldn’t work in Dr. Vanden Bossche’s favor if it was accessible in the public domain. But, equally, it could also be linked to ideological differences. Could the mainstream vaccine establishment’s disinterest in NK cell-based vaccines be down to the fact that they would be akin to a magic bullet? Being polyspecific, you wouldn’t need to have lots of different vaccines. In fact, if they didn’t like the idea of polyspecific NK cell-based vaccines, Vanden Bossche would find himself in much the same place as those of us who promote the importance of natural therapies, nutrients or lifestyle modifications to help modulate immune systems. All things the patent-hungry, ‘business with disease’ system doesn’t consider to be part of a viable or profitable business model.