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Could Vaccines Make SARS-CoV-2 Infection Worse? Scientists Weigh in on Antibody-Dependent Enhancement

Could Vaccines Make SARS-CoV-2 Infection Worse? Scientists Weigh in on Antibody-Dependent Enhancement
The word "COVID-19" is reflected in a drop on a syringe needle in this illustration taken on Nov. 9, 2020. (Dado Ruvic/Illustration/Reuters)


In October 2020, when the world was under the dark cloud of COVID-19, and the United States was in the midst of massive political upheaval, some scientists were working hard to make sense of the virus. Others were trying to figure out an effective treatment and public health protocols. Others, knowing the ongoing expedited vaccine development might compromise the safety, tried to warn us of the risk of a phenomenon called Antibody Dependent Enhancement, or ADE. ADE happens when non-neutralizing antibodies generated from vaccination exacerbate viral infection, making the disease the vaccine is supposed to prevent worse for some people.

Of particular note was an article by an international team of scientists, published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature.

This article outlined the characteristics and mechanisms of ADE before the COVID-19 vaccines were rolled out.

The scientists explained that “ADE and ERD (enhanced respiratory disease) have been reported for SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV both in vitro and in vivo.”

In other words, the closest relatives to SARS-CoV-2, the SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV viruses, both have the problem of ADE. It would be reasonable to investigate the “extent to which ADE contributes to COVID-19 immunopathology,” the scientists wrote.

According to the authors, ADE “can occur when non-neutralizing antibodies or antibodies at sub-neutralizing levels bind to viral antigens without blocking or clearing the infection.”

The team called ADE a “real risk … for SARS-CoV-2 vaccines and antibody-based interventions.”

We know now that it is common for people vaccinated against COVID-19 to be infected and re-infected by SARS-CoV-2. The antibodies generated from the vaccines are not sterilizing (that is, they are not clearing infection), and non-neutralizing.

This begs the question: Do the vaccines actually help the virus infect people through ADE? If so, should the vaccines be pulled, as many doctors are now advising?

Lessons From the Dengue Fever Debacle

A closer look at what happened with the dengue fever vaccine is instructive. Dengue fever is an infection so painful that people in the Philippines and other countries where it’s endemic call it “breakbone fever.”

A viral illness passed to humans from mosquitoes, there are different serotypes of dengue fever. So even if you get it once, you can be infected up to four times, according to the World Health Organization.

Between 2000 and 2010, cases of dengue reported to the WHO increased sharply. Worldwide, there are thought to be 50 million infections every year and 22,000 deaths, mostly in the youngest children, according to the National Institutes of Health.

So in 2016 when a little girl from the Philippines sporting a T-shirt that read “Dengue is dangerous” got a shot in her arm to protect against Dengue fever, there was a feeling of relief and optimism in Southeast Asia.

The Philippines, led by Health Secretary Dr. Janette Garin, launched an aggressive campaign with the goal to vaccinate a million children with the brand-new vaccine, called Dengvaxia.

Developed by a French pharmaceutical giant, Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccine underwent large safety trials, the results of which were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Co-authored by nearly 25 eminent scientists, the study found that the “risk of hospitalization among children 2 to 16 years of age was lower in the vaccine group than in the control group.”

This industry-sponsored peer-reviewed study was the green light the world needed to get a needle in the arms of children where dengue fever could make them sick.

But there was a problem. When some children caught dengue fever after being vaccinated, they sometimes had worse outcomes than children who had not been vaccinated. In fact, the vaccine seemed to cause a complication called plasma leakage syndrome, a potentially lethal vascular disorder also associated with the disease itself.

At Least 600 Children Died After Dengue Vaccine

It took almost two years, but the WHO’s recommendation to vaccinate children ages 9 to 16 against dengue fever was rescinded.

Interestingly, it was the company itself—Sanofi Pasteur—that found that children who had not previously had dengue could not be safely vaccinated.

But by then at least 10 families in the Philippines spoke out publicly that the vaccine had caused their children to die.

In April of 2019, the South China Morning Post reported that forensic investigators were looking into the cause of death of some 600 children who died after the vaccine. The bodies of these children exhibited swollen organs and internal hemorrhaging, especially in the brain and lungs, according to the article.

Antibody-Dependent Enhancement Explained

The body’s immune response to viral and bacterial infections—as well as to other assaults that it considers foreign—is complicated and multi-faceted. After a virus or a bacterium invades, the body develops an adaptive immune response, which is specific to the pathogen. Antibodies are one facet of this response.

Antibodies are Y-shaped proteins that can neutralize infectious agents so they don’t cause harm. When the system works well, these protective proteins, produced by white blood cells, attach to the foreign substances and remove them from the body. During an infection, millions of antibodies will be released into your bloodstream and lymphatic system.

But some pathogens override the body’s immune response by using the antibodies themselves to enter your cells. When this happens, your body’s immune response can actually cause the disease to be more severe. This is called antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE).

Unfortunately, ADE occurred in some children who were vaccinated against dengue fever. The vaccine-induced antibodies actually helped the virus infect more cells than it would have on its own.

With children who had not previously had dengue fever, the effect seemed to be the most pronounced.

Because of the risk of ADE, the WHO no longer recommends dengue fever vaccines for children with no prior history of infection.

“Most diseases do not cause ADE,” explains an article about antibody-dependent enhancement and vaccines on the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s website. Dengue fever, the article goes on, “has four different forms … [that are] very similar, but the slight differences among them set the stage for ADE.”

The article also points out that we have seen ADE with other vaccines, including an early version of a vaccine against the measles that was made with formaldehyde, as well as a vaccine against the respiratory syncytial virus, RSV.

Children given the RSV vaccine in clinical trials were more likely to sicken and die from pneumonia after an RSV infection than children who were not vaccinated.

To date, scientists have not successfully developed a safe vaccination against RSV. However, both Moderna and Pfizer are fast-tracking the development of mRNA vaccines to protect against this disease.

SARS-CoV-2 Vaccines and ADE

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists have raised concerns about the possibility that vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 could cause ADE. Dr. Scott Halstead, one of the world’s foremost experts on dengue fever, is a scientist who sounded the safety alarm many times over about Dengvaxia.

Writing in The Journal of Infectious Diseases in December of 2020, Halstead and his co-author asserted that ADE was “unlikely” because the SARS-CoV-2 virus did not seem to have the same attributes as the dengue virus.

However, the same article pointed out that, “Live virus challenge of animals given SARS or MERS vaccine resulted in vaccine hypersensitivity reactions … similar to those in humans given inactivated measles or respiratory syncytial vaccines,” concluding that in order to create a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines scientists must avoid vaccine hypersensitivity reactions.

Since early 2021 scientists have stated that ADE is a real risk (in their words, “non-theoretical”). Seven months later, a 2021 article in The International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology confirmed that ADE does exist for SARS-CoV-2, and explored the possible mechanisms and how to avoid it.

More recent research, including 2022 in vitro study in Nature, also shows that ADE happens in SARS-CoV-2 infections.

Scientist James Lyons-Weiler, Ph.D., told The Epoch Times that although the antibodies against the original strain of the virus were “nominally tested” for ADE, they have “not been sufficiently tested” for ADE against the more recent variants.

According to Lyons-Weiler, who has published over 50 peer-reviewed articles and is the founder of the Institute of Pure and Applied Knowledge, a non-profit that conducts scientific research in the public interest, “Given the repeated rounds of studies showing negative effectiveness with real-world data, and the fact of higher incidence of COVID-19 diagnoses and higher numbers of hospitalizations from COVID-19, and higher rates of severe COVID-19 infections in the vaccinated, we can only conclude that ADE must be occurring.”

Lyons-Weiler called it “unconscionable” that the FDA and CDC have turned a blind eye to the myriad health problems associated with these vaccines.

The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times. Epoch Health welcomes professional discussion and friendly debate. To submit an opinion piece, please follow these guidelines and submit through our form here.

Jennifer Margulis

Jennifer MargulisFollowJennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is an award-winning journalist and author of “Your Baby, Your Way: Taking Charge of Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Parenting Decisions for a Happier, Healthier Family.” A Fulbright awardee and mother of four, she has worked on a child survival campaign in West Africa, advocated for an end to child slavery in Pakistan on prime-time TV in France, and taught post-colonial literature to non-traditional students in inner-city Atlanta. Learn more about her at JenniferMargulis.net

Joe Wang

Joe WangFollowJoe Wang, Ph.D., was a lead scientist for Sanofi Pasteur’s SARS vaccine project in 2003. He is now the president of New Tang Dynasty TV (Canada).

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