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Why do the COVID vaccines contain the cationic lipids they do?

Why do the COVID vaccines contain the cationic lipids they do?


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Why did Moderna & Pfizer specifically pick their SM-102 and ALC-0315 cationic lipids with tertiary amines, branched tails, long linker chains, and small hydroxyl head groups? Are the large tails and packing parameter to keep the lipid from leaking out of the liposomal membrane? Why not use any other large hydrophobic groups? Thanks!


COVID-19 Vaccine Frontrunners and Their Nanotechnology Design

Humanity is experiencing a catastrophic pandemic. SARS-CoV-2 has spread globally to cause significant morbidity and mortality, and there still remain unknowns about the biology and pathology of the virus. Even with testing, tracing, and social distancing, many countries are struggling to contain SARS-CoV-2. COVID-19 will only be suppressible when herd immunity develops, either because of an effective vaccine or if the population has been infected and is resistant to reinfection. There is virtually no chance of a return to pre-COVID-19 societal behavior until there is an effective vaccine. Concerted efforts by physicians, academic laboratories, and companies around the world have improved detection and treatment and made promising early steps, developing many vaccine candidates at a pace that has been unmatched for prior diseases. As of August 11, 2020, 28 of these companies have advanced into clinical trials with Moderna, CanSino, the University of Oxford, BioNTech, Sinovac, Sinopharm, Anhui Zhifei Longcom, Inovio, Novavax, Vaxine, Zydus Cadila, Institute of Medical Biology, and the Gamaleya Research Institute having moved beyond their initial safety and immunogenicity studies. This review analyzes these frontrunners in the vaccine development space and delves into their posted results while highlighting the role of the nanotechnologies applied by all the vaccine developers.


What is the vaccine?

The vaccine is a messenger RNA molecule that consists of two parts, said Dix.

A lipid nanoparticle with the code for making a spike protein.

The lipid nanoparticle is composed of lipids, or fatty acids. And it acts as a safe agent for entering the body and carrying the code to the cell, according to Dix.

The spike protein code is a replication of a small portion of the COVID-19 illness, the portion that infects the cells.

But the code that enters with the lipid nanoparticle is just a structural replication of the virus, not the virus itself. In other words, it cannot give you COVID-19.


Common COVID-19 Vaccine Myths Explained

Even if you understand the scientific process, trust medical experts and know how important vaccines are for fighting infectious diseases, you might still have some questions or concerns about the new COVID-19 vaccines – especially with so many rumors floating around online.

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It’s normal and healthy to have questions, says Thaddeus Stappenbeck, MD, PhD, Chairman of the Department of Inflammation and Immunity at Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute.

“These are new therapeutics and it’s totally reasonable to be asking constructive questions with an open mind,” he reassures.

That said, it’s also important to seek out trusted sources of information. Here, Dr. Stappenbeck helps set the record straight on some common questions, concerns and myths that have emerged about COVID-19 vaccines.

Myth 1: We can’t trust COVID-19 vaccines because they were rushed.

The first vaccines for COVID-19 do involve new technology, and they were developed in record time. But it’s not because there were shortcuts in the process.

The new technology at the center of Pfizer’s and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines is called messenger RNA, or mRNA. While this is the first time it’s being widely used in a vaccine for the public, researchers have actually been working on this vaccine strategy for more than three decades.

“It was a lucky thing that the technology has been robustly developed quite well over the last few years and tested in several animal models of infection, so we knew that it was safe and worked quite well in these animal models,” Dr. Stappenbeck says.

“When COVID-19 came around, this was an obvious opportunity to use this novel technology, and vaccine developers were poised to do it.”

The companies put their vaccines through rigorous clinical trials involving tens of thousands of volunteers. In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration requires them to follow up with volunteers for up to two years after receiving the vaccines to make sure they are safe and effective. Because of how prevalent COVID-19 is, it only took a few months for the clinical trials to collect enough data to make an initial evaluation. The FDA, as well as an independent panel of vaccine experts, closely scrutinized the data from those trials and deemed Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines safe and effective for emergency use. Similar independent panels in several other countries are in agreement.

Myth 2: The vaccine will give me COVID-19.

Vaccines prime your immune system to recognize and fight off a disease, but they don’t actually cause an infection.

The first two COVID-19 vaccines that are available in the U.S. contain a strand of genetic material called mRNA. When the mRNA enters your cells, it instructs them to make a piece of the “spike” protein that’s present on the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Those protein pieces don’t actually harm your body, but they do trigger your immune system to mount a response to fight them off.

You might have some fatigue, muscle aches, a headache or a fever after you get the vaccine. That’s normal with any vaccine – it’s a sign that your immune system is responding.

Myth 3: We don’t know what’s in these vaccines.

Both Pfizer and Moderna have published the ingredient lists for their vaccines. In addition to the star ingredient, the COVID-19 mRNA for the spike protein, both vaccines contain lipids (fats) that help deliver the mRNA into your cells and a few other common ingredients that help maintain the pH and stability of the vaccine. Despite theories circulated on social media, they do not contain microchips or any form of tracking device.

Myth 4: These vaccines will alter my DNA.

The vaccines use mRNA to instruct our cells to make a piece of the coronavirus’s hallmark spike protein in order to spark an immune system response. Once the mRNA does that, our cells break it down and get rid of it.

“Messenger RNA is something that’s made from DNA, but it’s not designed to integrate with our DNA, and it doesn’t permanently change our genome and who we are in any way,” Dr. Stappenbeck says.

Myth 5: I already had COVID-19, so I won’t benefit from the vaccine.

We don’t yet know how long natural immunity to COVID-19 lasts, Dr. Stappenbeck says. Right now, it seems that getting COVID-19 more than once is not common, but there are still many questions that remain unanswered. Experts say that, even if you’ve had COVID-19, it would still be appropriate for you to get the vaccine to make sure you’re protected.

Myth 6: Since COVID-19’s survival rate is so high, I don’t need a vaccine.

It’s true that most people who get COVID-19 are able to recover. But it’s also true that some people develop severe complications. So far, more than 1.7 million people around the world have died from COVID-19 – and that doesn’t account for people who survived but needed to be hospitalized. Because the disease can damage the lungs, heart and brain, it may also cause long-term health problems that experts are still working to understand.

There’s another reason to consider getting the vaccine: It protects those around you. Even if COVID-19 doesn’t make you very sick, you could pass it on to someone else who might be more severely affected. Widespread vaccination protects populations, including those who are most at risk and those who can’t be vaccinated. It will be important for ending the pandemic.

Myth 7: Once I get the vaccine, I won’t have to wear a mask or worry about social distancing.

Even if you get the vaccine, you should continue to wear a mask around others, wash your hands and practice physical distancing. There are a few reasons for this. The first is that both of the authorized vaccines require two doses given three to four weeks apart to achieve the best possible immunity.

When you get your first shot, you don’t become immediately immune. “It takes at least a week to 10 days for your body to begin to develop antibodies, and then those antibodies continue to increase over the next several weeks,” Dr. Stappenbeck says.

The second is that these vaccines were developed and tested for their ability to prevent severe illness and death from COVID-19. It’s not clear whether they also protect against asymptomatic infection and spread.

“There will be ongoing studies to evaluate this question, but it will be some time before we actually know,” Dr. Stappenbeck says. “So after you get the vaccine, you should still take steps to protect other people who haven’t been vaccinated yet.”

Myth 8: Now that we have vaccines, the pandemic will be over very soon.

“I would love to say that we’re going to flip a switch and everything’s going to be back to normal, but it’s actually going to take a long time for us to be able to vaccinate an adequate number of people to where we’ll start to see the cases really dropping,” Dr. Stappenbeck explains.

In order to achieve what’s called herd immunity – the point at which the disease is no longer likely to spread – about 70% of the population will need to have been vaccinated or infected, he says. But the companies that make these vaccines can only make so many at a time. So the vaccines will be distributed in phases, with priority given to people with greatest need. They may not be widely available to the general public until several months into 2021.

For now, we should all continue to do our part to help slow the spread of the virus, including wearing a mask, washing our hands and physical distancing.

If you have more questions about the vaccine, talk with your trusted healthcare provider or look to reliable sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization.

Myth 9: The vaccine will cause infertility.

Because the COVID-19 vaccines do not contain the live virus (remember, it’s an mRNA vaccine), they are not thought to cause increased risk of infertility, first or second trimester loss, still birth or congenital anomalies. Additionally, there is no evidence to suggest that the vaccine is a risk to a breastfeeding baby.

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Here’s why COVID-19 vaccines like Pfizer’s need to be kept so cold

Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine needs to be stored at temperatures colder than in Antarctica. Special freezers, like these pictured at a Pfizer facility in Belgium, and shipping containers are needed to keep the vaccine ultracold.

Pfizer/Handout via REUTERS

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November 20, 2020 at 5:59 pm

Pfizer is racing to get approval for its COVID-19 vaccine, applying for emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on November 20. But the pharmaceutical giant faces a huge challenge in distributing its vaccine, which has to be kept an ultrafrosty –70° Celsius, requiring special storage freezers and shipping containers.

It “has some unique storage requirements,” says Kurt Seetoo, the immunization program manager at the Maryland Department of Public Health in Baltimore. “We don’t normally store vaccines at that temperature, so that definitely is a challenge.”

That means that even though the vaccine developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech is likely to be the first vaccine to reach the finish line in the United States, its adoption may ultimately be limited. The FDA’s committee overseeing vaccines will meet on December 10 to discuss the emergency use request. That meeting will be streamed live on the agency’s web site and YouTube, Facebook and Twitter channels.

The companies are also seeking authorization to distribute the vaccine in Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan, the United Kingdom and other parts of the world, making its deep-freeze problem a global challenge.

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A similar vaccine developed by Moderna and the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases also requires freezing. But it survives at a balmier –20° C, so can be kept in a standard freezer, and can even be stored at refrigerator temperatures for up to a month. Most vaccines don’t require freezing at all, but both Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines are a new type of vaccine for which the low temperatures are necessary to keep the vaccines from breaking down and becoming useless.

Both vaccines are based on messenger RNA, or mRNA, which carries instructions for building copies of the coronavirus’ spike protein. Human cells read those instructions and produce copies of the protein, which, in turn prime the immune system to attack the coronavirus should it come calling.

So why does Pfizer’s vaccine need to be frozen at sub-Antarctica temperatures and Moderna’s does not?

Answering that question requires some speculation. The companies aren’t likely to reveal all the tricks and commercial secrets they used to make the vaccines, says Sanjay Mishra, a protein chemist and data scientist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

But there are at least four things that may determine how fragile an mRNA vaccine is and how deeply it needs to be frozen to keep it fresh and effective. How the companies addressed those four challenges is likely the key to how cold the vaccines need to be, Mishra says.

The cold requirement conundrum starts with the difference in chemistry between RNA and its cousin, DNA.

One reason RNA is much less stable than DNA is due to an important difference in the sugars that make up the molecules’ backbones. RNA’s spine is a sugar called ribose, while DNA’s is deoxyribose. The difference: DNA is missing an oxygen molecule. As a result, “DNA can survive for generations,” Mishra says, but RNA is much more transient. “And for biology, that’s a good thing.”

When cells have a job to do, they usually need to call proteins into service. But like most manufacturers, cells don’t have a stockpile of proteins. They have to make new batches each time. The recipe for making proteins is stored in DNA.

Rather than risk damaging DNA recipes by putting them on the molecular kitchen counter while cooking up a batch of proteins, cells instead make RNA copies of the recipe. Those copies are read by cellular machinery and used to produce proteins.

See all our coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

Like a Mission Impossible message that self-destructs once it has been played, many RNAs are quickly degraded once read. Quickly disposing of RNA is one way to control how much of a particular protein is made. There are a host of enzymes dedicated to RNA’s destruction floating around inside cells and nearly everywhere else. Sticking RNA-based vaccines in the blast freezer prevents such enzymes from tearing apart the RNA and rendering the vaccine inert.

Another way the molecules’ stability differs lies in their architecture. DNA’s dual strands twine into a graceful double helix. But RNA goes it alone in a single strand that pairs with itself in some spots, creating fantastical shapes reminiscent of lollipops, hair pins and traffic circles. Those “secondary structures” can make some RNAs more fragile than others.

Yet another place that DNA’s and RNA’s chemical differences make things hard on RNA is the part of the molecules that spell out the instructions and ingredients of the recipe. The information-carry subunits of the molecules are known as nucleotides. DNA’s nucleotides are often represented by the letters A, T, C and G for adenine, thymine, cytosine and guanine. RNA uses the same A, C and G, but in place of thymine it has a different letter: uracil, or U.

“Uracil is a problem because it juts out,” Mishra says. Those jutting Us are like a flag waving to special immune system proteins called Toll-like receptors. Those proteins help detect RNAs from viruses, such as SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and slate the invaders for destruction.

All these ways mRNA can fall apart or get waylaid by the immune system create an obstacle course for vaccine makers. The companies need to ensure that the RNA stays intact long enough to get into cells and bake up batches of spike protein. Both Moderna and Pfizer probably tinkered with the RNA’s chemistry to make a vaccine that could get the job done: Both have reported that their vaccines are about 95 percent effective at preventing illness in clinical trials (SN: 11/16/20 SN: 11/18/20).

While the details of each company’s approach aren’t known, they both probably fiddled slightly with the chemical letters of the mRNAs in order to make it easier for human cellular machinery to read the instructions. The companies also need to add additional RNA — a cap and tail — flanking the spike protein instructions to make the molecule stable and readable in human cells. That tampering may have disrupted or created secondary structures that could affect the RNA’s stability, Mishra says.

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The uracil problem can be dealt with by adding a modified version of the nucleotide, which Toll-like receptors overlook, sparing the RNA from an initial immune system attack so that the vaccine has a better chance of making the protein that will build immune defenses against the virus. Exactly which modified version of uracil the companies may have introduced into the vaccine could also affect RNA stability, and thus the temperature at which each vaccine needs to be stored.

Finally, by itself, an RNA molecule is beneath a cell’s notice because it’s just too small, Mishra says. So the companies coat the mRNA with an emulsion of lipids, creating little bubbles known as lipid nanoparticles. Those nanoparticles need to big enough that cells will grab them, bring them inside and break open the particle to release the RNA.

Some types of lipids stand up to heat better than others. It’s “like regular oil versus fat. You know how lard is solid at room temperature” while oil is liquid, Mishra says. For nanoparticles, “what they’re made of makes a giant difference in how stable they will be in general to [maintain] the things inside.” The lipids the companies used could make a big difference in the vaccine’s ability to stand heat.

The need for ultracold storage might ultimately limit how many people end up getting vaccinated with Pfizer’s vaccine. “We anticipate that this Pfizer vaccine is pretty much only going to be used in this early phase,” Seetoo says.

The first wave of immunizations is expected to go to health care workers and other essential employees, such as firefighters and police, and to people who are at high risk of becoming severely ill or dying of COVID-19 should they contract it such as elderly people living in nursing facilities.

Pfizer has told health officials that the vaccine can be stored in special shipping containers that are recharged with dry ice for 15 days and stay refrigerated for another five days after thawing, Seetoo says. That gives health officials 20 days to get the vaccine into people’s arms once it’s delivered. But Moderna’s vaccine and a host of others that are still in testing seem to last longer at warmer temperatures. If those vaccines are as effective as Pfizer’s, they may be more attractive candidates in the long run because they don’t need such extreme special handling.


Suspicions Grow That Nanoparticles in Pfizer’s COVID-19 Vaccine Trigger Rare Allergic Reactions

Veteran public health journalists from Science magazine explore what science knows—and is learning.

Science's COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center and the Heising-Simons Foundation.

Severe allergy-like reactions in at least eight people who received the COVID-19 vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech over the past 2 weeks may be due to a compound in the packaging of the messenger RNA (mRNA) that forms the vaccine's main ingredient, scientists say. A similar mRNA vaccine developed by Moderna, which was authorized for emergency use in the United States on Friday, also contains the compound, polyethylene glycol (PEG).

PEG has never been used before in an approved vaccine, but it is found in many drugs that have occasionally triggered anaphylaxis—a potentially life-threatening reaction that can cause rashes, a plummeting blood pressure, shortness of breath, and a fast heartbeat. Some allergists and immunologists believe a small number of people previously exposed to PEG may have high levels of antibodies against PEG, putting them at risk of an anaphylactic reaction to the vaccine.

Others are skeptical of the link. Still, the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) was concerned enough to convene several meetings last week to discuss the allergic reactions with representatives of Pfizer and Moderna, independent scientists and physicians, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

NIAID is also setting up a study in collaboration with FDA to analyze the response to the vaccine in people who have high levels of anti-PEG antibodies or have experienced severe allergic responses to drugs or vaccines before. "Until we know there is truly a PEG story, we need to be very careful in talking about that as a done deal," says Alkis Togias, branch chief of allergy, asthma and airway biology at NIAID.

Pfizer, too, says it is "actively seeking follow-up." A statement emailed to Science noted it already recommends that "appropriate medical treatment and supervision should always be readily available" in case a vaccinee develops anaphylaxis.

Anaphylactic reactions can occur with any vaccine, but are usually extremely rare—about one per 1 million doses. As of 19 December, the United States had seen six cases of anaphylaxis among 272,001 people who received the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a recent presentation by Thomas Clark of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the United Kingdom has recorded two. Because the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines use a new platform, the reactions call for careful scrutiny, says Elizabeth Phillips, a drug hypersensitivity researcher at Vanderbilt University Medical Center who attended an NIAID meeting on 16 December. "This is new."

News reports about the allergic reactions have already created anxiety. "Patients with severe allergies in the US are getting nervous about the possibility that they may not be able to get vaccinated, at least with those two vaccines," Togias wrote in an invitation to meeting participants. "Allergies in general are so common in the population that this could create a resistance against the vaccines in the population," adds Janos Szebeni, an immunologist at Semmelweis University in Budapest, Hungary, who has long studied hypersensitivity reactions to PEG and who also attended the 16 December gathering.

Scientists who believe PEG may be the culprit stress that vaccination should continue. "We need to get vaccinated," Phillips says. "We need to try and curtail this pandemic." But more data are urgently needed, she adds: "These next couple of weeks in the U.S. are going to be extremely important for defining what to do next."

Toothpaste and shampoo

Pfizer's and Moderna's clinical trials of the vaccines, which involved tens of thousands of people, did not find serious adverse events caused by the vaccine. But both studies excluded people with a history of allergies to components of the COVID-19 vaccines Pfizer also excluded those who previously had a severe adverse reaction from any vaccine. People with previous allergic reactions to food or drugs were not excluded, but may have been underrepresented.

The two vaccines both contain mRNA wrapped in lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) that help carry it to human cells but also act as an adjuvant, a vaccine ingredient that bolsters the immune response. The LNPs are "PEGylated"—chemically attached to PEG molecules that cover the outside of the particles and increase their stability and life span.

PEGs are also used in everyday products such as toothpaste and shampoo as thickeners, solvents, softeners, and moisture carriers, and they've been used as a laxative for decades. An increasing number of biopharmaceuticals include PEGylated compounds as well.

PEGs were long thought to be biologically inert, but a growing body of evidence suggests they are not. As much as 72% of people have at least some antibodies against PEGs, according to a 2016 study led by Samuel Lai, a pharmaco-engineer at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, presumably as a result of exposure to cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. About 7% have a level that may be high enough to predispose them to anaphylactic reactions, he found. Other studies have also found antibodies against PEG, but at lower levels.

"Some companies have dropped PEGylated products from their pipeline as a result," Lai says. But he notes that the safety record of many PEGylated drugs has persuaded others that "concerns about anti-PEG antibodies are overstated."

Szebeni says the mechanism behind PEG-conjugated anaphylaxis is relatively unknown because it does not involve immunoglobulin E (IgE), the antibody type that causes classical allergic reactions. (That's why he prefers to call them "anaphylactoid" reactions.) Instead, PEG triggers two other classes of antibodies, immunoglobulin M (IgM) and immunoglobulin G (IgG), involved in a branch of the body's innate immunity called the complement system, which Szebeni has spent decades studying in a pig model he developed.

In 1999, while working at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Szebeni described a new type of drug-induced reaction he dubbed complement activation-related pseudoallergy (CARPA), a nonspecific immune response to nanoparticle-based medicines, often PEGylated, that are mistakenly recognized by the immune system as viruses.

Szebeni believes CARPA explains the severe anaphylactoid reactions some PEGylated drugs are occasionally known to cause, including cancer blockbuster Doxil. A team assembled by Bruce Sullenger, a surgeon at Duke University, experienced similar issues with an experimental anticoagulant containing PEGylated RNA. The team had to halt a phase III trial in 2014 after about 0.6% of 1600 people who received the drug had severe allergic responses and one participant died. "That stopped the trial," Sullenger says. The team found that every participant with an anaphylaxis had high levels of anti-PEG IgG. But some with no adverse reaction had high levels as well, Sullenger adds. "So, it is not sufficient to just have these antibodies."

At the NIAID meeting, several attendees stressed that PEGylated nanoparticles may cause problems through a mechanism other than CARPA. Just last month, Phillips and scientists at FDA and other institutions published a paper showing patients who suffered an anaphylactic reaction to PEGylated drugs did have IgE antibodies to PEG after all, suggesting those may be involved, rather than IgG and IgM.

Other scientists, meanwhile, are not convinced PEG is involved at all. "There is a lot of exaggeration when it comes to the risk of PEGs and CARPA," says Moein Moghimi, a nanomedicine researcher at Newcastle University who suspects a more conventional mechanism is causing the reactions. "You are technically delivering an adjuvant at the injection site to excite the local immune system. It happens that some people get too much excitement, because they have a relatively high number of local immune cells."

Others note the amount of PEG in the mRNA vaccines is orders of magnitude lower than in most PEGylated drugs. And whereas those drugs are often given intravenously, the two COVID-19 vaccines are injected into a muscle, which leads to a delayed exposure and a much lower level of PEG in the blood, where most anti-PEG antibodies are.

Nevertheless, the companies were aware of the risk. In a stock market prospectus filed on 6 December 2018, Moderna acknowledged the possibility of "reactions to the PEG from some lipids or PEG otherwise associated with the LNP." And in a September paper, BioNTech researchers proposed an alternative to PEG for therapeutic mRNA delivery, noting: "The PEGylation of nanoparticles can also have substantial disadvantages concerning activity and safety.'"

Katalin Karikó, a senior vice president at BioNTech who co-invented the mRNA technology underlying both vaccines, says she discussed with Szebeni whether PEG in the vaccine could be an issue. (The two know each other well both are Hungarian and in the 1980s, Karikó taught Szebeni how to make liposomes in her lab.) They agreed that given the low amount of lipid and the intramuscular administration, the risk was negligible.

Karikó emphasizes that based on what we know so far, the risk is still low. "All vaccines carry some risk. But the benefit of the vaccine outweighs the risk," she says.

Szebeni agrees, but says he hopes that's also true in the long run. He notes that both mRNA vaccines require two shots, and he worries anti-PEG antibodies triggered by the first shot could increase the risk of an allergic reaction to the second or to PEGylated drugs.

Stay for 30 minutes.

To understand the risk, Phillips says, it's crucial to unravel the mechanisms underlying the immune reactions and find out how often they are likely to occur. The known U.S. cases are currently under study, but key clues may have vanished: Anaphylactic reactions produce biomarkers that only remain in the blood for a few hours. At the NIAID meeting, participants discussed ways to ensure that blood samples from future cases are taken immediately and tested for those markers.

If PEG does turn out to be the culprit, the question is, what can be done? Screening millions of people for anti-PEG antibodies before they are vaccinated is not feasible. Instead, CDC guidelines recommend not giving the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to anyone with a history of severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine. For people who have had a severe reaction to another vaccine or injectable medication, the risks and benefits of vaccination should be carefully weighed, CDC says. And people who might be at high risk of an anaphylactic reaction should stay at the vaccination site for 30 minutes after their shot so they can be treated if necessary.

"At least [anaphylaxis] is something that happens quickly," Philips says. "So, it's something that you can be very much alerted to, prepared to recognize early and be prepared to treat early."

COVID-19 Update: The connection between local and global issues–the Pulitzer Center's long standing mantra–has, sadly, never been more evident. We are uniquely positioned to serve the journalists, news media organizations, schools, and universities we partner with by continuing to advance our core mission: enabling great journalism and education about underreported and systemic issues that resonate now–and continue to have relevance in times ahead. We believe that this is a moment for decisive action. Learn more about the steps we are taking.


Pfizer Vaccine Contains Magnetic Particles, Makes Magnet Stick to Injected Area? Viral Video Pushes Conspiracy Theory

A viral conspiracy theory suggesting that COVID-19 vaccines contain metal ingredients or devices, including a magnetic microchip, is found to be fake. The fake theory gained momentum after a social media user posted a video showing a magnet getting stuck to the vaccine spot.

It isn't the first time that the COVID-19 vaccine has been embroiled in a controversy related to its ingredients and possible aftereffects. From suggesting the presence of a microchip to 5G technology, the conspiracies have been plenty.

Viral video shows magnet sticking on vaccinated arm of the woman. Twitter

Magnet Sticks Only on the Vaccinated Arm

In an Instagram post made on May 10, the account, Keep_Canada_Free, uploaded featuring an unidentified masked woman wearing a grey coloured top.

The woman, who is seen holding a circular shaped silver colored magnet, claims that she received the Pfizer COVID 19 vaccine shot on her left arm. Then she goes on to stick the magnet on the spot where she received the vaccine jab. The magnet appears to stick on her arm. Later, she moves the same magnet to the unvaccinated arm where it does not stick. "You go figure it out. We're chipped. We are all f**ked," she tells her viewers.

The video was captioned "Pfizer jab and a magnet experiment! No words left to describe this." The 25-second clip has received over 23,000 views and shared multiple times on various social media platforms.

Following the video, a lot of other social media users to posted similar clippings claiming that the vaccine contains some kind of magnetic particles.

Experts Claim COVID-19 Vaccine Does Not Have Magnetic Properties

Debunking the viral claim AFP Fact Check claimed that the medical experts have called these kind of video part of conspiracy theory "typical of the disinformation about the novel coronavirus."

Speaking to the outlet, Dr Stephen Schrantz, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Chicago Medicine, said that getting a Covid-19 vaccine cannot cause your arm to be magnetized.

This is a hoax, plain and simple. There is absolutely no way that a vaccine can lead to the reaction shown in these videos posted to Instagram and/or YouTube. It is better explained by 2 sided tape on the metal disk being applied to the skin rather than a magnetic reaction," he added.

Claiming that it was impossible for magnets to stick on the vaccinated spot, Dr Thomas Hope, vaccine researcher and professor of cell and developmental biology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine said that there's nothing in the COVID-19 vaccine that a magnet can interact with, it's protein and lipids, salts, water and chemicals that maintain the pH. That's basically it, so this is not possible."


Here’s what experts say is in the COVID-19 vaccine

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Myths about the COVID-19 vaccine continue to spread and many said they won’t take it because they don’t know what’s in it.

However, exactly what is in this groundbreaking vaccine is surprising some people.

Traditionally, vaccines deliver a dead or weakened virus into the body but that is not what the Covid vaccine does.

Let’s start first with the inactive ingredients which are things familiar to many, like salt.

Pfizer’s vaccine contains four salts. The reason is, it maintains the PH of the vaccine and it matches the salt content of our bodies.

“It’s the same PH that we have in human cells so it mimics our PH,” explained FGCU Molecular Virologist Dr. Sharon Isern.

A second inactive ingredient is sugar. It acts as a safeguard to keep the particles in the vaccine from breaking apart.

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More specifically Dr. Isern says the sugar will prevent ice crystals from forming which will disrupt the vaccine or the structure of the vaccine.

A third inactive ingredient includes lipids. Those are fats and cholesterol that stabilize the vaccine and help it to enter our cells.

“The lipids that are used for this vaccine mimic the same lipids we have in our cell membranes. So, the structure that surrounds our cells looks very similar to these lipids,” explained Dr. Isern.

The main ingredient is Messenger RNA or ribonucleic acid. It’s present in all living cells.

Professor Dr. Sharon Isern explained it as a messenger.

“The vaccine contains just the message and it’s not until it gets into our cells to make the spike protein that can then be recognized by our immune response,” she noted.

Simply put, it tricks a person’s own cells to make a protein that is similar to a protein on the virus.

“It actually targets for destruction,” Dr. Isern stressed.

When all of this is mixed together it simply gives your body the ability to recognize the virus.

Dr. Isern noted that all of the components in the vaccine are things that are natural.

Perhaps most important to some receiving the vaccine is that it does not contain any preservatives.

That means no mercury compounds. Anti-Vaxxers claim it can cause autism although there is no scientific evidence to support that.


  • Nucleoside-modified messenger RNA — active ingredient
  • ((4-hydroxybutyl)azanediyl)bis(hexane-6,1-diyl) bis(2-hexyldecanoate) (ALC-0315) — lipid casing
  • 2-[(polyethylene glycol)-2000]-N,N-ditetradecylacetamide (ALC-0159) — lipid casing
  • Distearoylphosphatidylcholine (DSPC) — lipid casing
  • Cholesterol — lipid casing
  • Potassium chloride — salt
  • Monobasic potassium phosphate — salt
  • Sodium chloride — salt
  • Dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate — salt
  • Sucrose — sugar
  • Water for injections

mRNA is a standard part of a cell's day-to-day operations. It ferries messages from the cell nucleus, where our DNA is stored, to ribosomes, structures in our cells that act as protein-building factories.

When an mRNA vaccine is injected into our arm muscle, the message carried by the mRNA is directed to our cells' ribosomes, RMIT University professor of immunology Magdalena Plebanski said.

"For the mRNA coming from the [Pfizer] vaccine, this will be making the spike protein from SARS-CoV-2.

"Once the message is given, it self-destructs [and the mRNA degrades], hence it does not hang around."

Each vial in Australia holds six 30-microgram doses of this vaccine (which is a white or off-white colour), which must be diluted before being injected.

The mRNA — the active part of the vaccine — is very vulnerable to degradation, which is why it must be stored at super-cold temperatures and encased in a lipid or fat particle (made of four different fats including cholesterol) to protect it.

Professor Pouton said both the mRNA and its lipid casing were new technologies, and although both were proving to be safe, some side effects to the jab could be attributed to the lipids.

"Those adverse events are things like soreness, perhaps some flu-like symptoms and some people say headache as well," he said.


Bye-bye Steven Brandenburg

Steven Brandenburg destroyed valuable COVID-19 that could have prevented the disease in his community because he believes that they would harm your DNA. They don’t.

I know that Brandenburg will not be the last person to believe in this nonsense and try to do the same thing. He’s probably a hero to the anti-vaccine world.

The frustrated Orac is ready to explode from the conspiracies and denialism from healthcare workers:

While many physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals bravely risked their lives to care for COVID-19 patients (and some even died of COVID-19), a small but disturbing and impossible-to-ignore number of doctors denied or minimized the pandemic, sold unproven or even quack “cures,” and helped spread conspiracy theories designed to spark resistance to public health interventions, like masking, social distancing, and closures of businesses that involve large numbers of people gathering. Some have even engaged in germ theory denial by claiming that SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that has been shown to cause COVID-19, either doesn’t exist (it’s an exosome!) or doesn’t cause COVID-19. As these examples led me to think about how such people could get through medical school (just as Andrew Wakefield always did), I learned earlier this week that it wasn’t just doctors, but pharmacists as well, who fall prey to conspiracy theories.

The best that people like me and Orac can do is to vigorously debunk these anti-vaccine myths. And maybe we can make the next Steven Brandenburg from destroying these critical vaccines.



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