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In this interview with BizNews founder Alec Hogg, Nick Hudson, the co-founder of PANDA, gives his thoughts on the resignation of Professor Salim Karim as government advisor and what he thinks of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Nick Hudson on the vaccine rollout in SA:
The first thing that’s really been very strange, in connection with the vaccines, is this messaging around the percentage of people that he thinks ought to be vaccinated in order to achieve the so-called herd immunity in the country. We’ve heard various estimates coming out of government (and its various advisors) of 60%,70% [or] 80% of the country that needs to be vaccinated.
That’s an enormous and hugely costly programme for a country like ours – especially in the light of news that we hear of collapsing healthcare in the Eastern Cape. It makes one wonder about where the priorities lie and whether they shouldn’t be rethought.
On the vaccine:
These vaccines present segments of the virus to your immune system and it then learns how to recognise those segments. Whereas if you’ve had the actual disease, then the immune system recognises multiple locations on that virus – not just from the spike protein (which is the object of interest of the Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines) but the membrane and the other parts of the virus, the other proteins that are presented when your immune system goes to work on that virus. It’s almost inconceivable – I would drop the almost. It’s inconceivable that vaccines will generate broader immunity than natural infection.
So yes, I would agree with the comment about 50% or more – it’s probably more since Adrian Gore made that statement – and you’ve got to bear in mind as well that 70% of our population is under the age of 45. Almost all of them would be at, basically, negligible risk to death from coronavirus in any event. If you just take those two things together and say, ‘well, we’re talking about a vulnerable population that is definitely not bigger than 30% of the population – and half of them would have been infected and recovered – you should be able to get to a situation where you, pretty much, eliminate coronavirus deaths as a significant feature in the healthcare landscape, with 10% or 15% vaccination – which is a lot less than what’s being spoken about here.
On the AstraZeneca vaccine:
It was a very unusual situation, that whole story. There was a study conducted on the AstraZeneca vaccine in South Africa. The conclusion of that study was that it was only modestly effective. The proposed reason was very interesting. There are basically three things you could infer from that study.
The one would be to say it’s because the manufacturer’s have overstated the efficacy in their trials – they’ve manipulated their trials in some way. The other one would be to say that the study is underpowered, [that] we didn’t have enough people in the study, which seems to be suggested by the actual wording of the study paper itself. The third thing would be that there’s something strange about the South African population or the virus that has spread amongst it, that makes the vaccine ineffective in South Africa.
That third option is the route that everybody went with, when they decided to jettison this expensively procured vaccine. That, in light of the earlier comments I made, is very strange. Because it is the least plausible explanation. for the same reason that you don’t find that one, little mutation of a virus – or a couple of mutations – cause the human body to suddenly miss the virus altogether, namely that you have a very broad response to different parts of the virus – different elements of the virus.
On the spike protein:
The spike protein that these vaccines are based on is also itself a fairly long chain of proteins and gets recognised at multiple points. So it would be extremely unusual for a couple of mutations in the spike protein to suddenly make that vaccine ineffective. I would go as far as far as to say implausible. And so, without doing a whole lot more work and spelling out exactly what part of the cellular immune system is suddenly evaded by these mutations and why, it is a kind of strange business for us that the whole thing was suddenly just tossed out on the back of a fairly small study.
On the resignation of Salim Abdool Karim:
It is welcome to us. We’ve always felt that he prevaricated around whether lockdown should be implemented or not, initially saying that he thought they’d done their work. Then again in October, changing his mind and starting to suggest that we would need them again. More recently, he’s made noise about a lockdown over the Easter weekend.
For any academic – any scientist at this point – to be talking about restrictions is absolutely absurd, because now the evidence against the effectiveness of these non-pharmaceutical interventions is so incredibly strong that it just makes no sense. You’ve got to wonder what was motivating him to do that. So from Panda’s perspective, we absolutely welcome it. We’ve never seen eye-to-eye with him and his opinions.
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