“There is no agenda, there is no deep state conspiracy. Nobody is trying to inject you with microchips. Look at who you get your information from. Do you get your information from renowned scientists, big academic departments, your local doctors and medical staff or do you get it from something that a person has posted anonymously on Facebook?”
That is the point being made by Dr David Hepburn, an intensive care consultant at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport who at one point contracted the virus himself.
In an interview with WalesOnline Dr Hepburn spoke in depth about the vaccine including about possible side effects and how it is produced.
He also explained why it as been able to be produced so quickly and stay safe.
From Tuesday the vaccine will be rolled out across Wales. You can read the full details of the roll out including how you get a vaccine here.
WalesOnline: What was your reaction when you first heard about the new vaccine being approved?
David Hepburn: It was fantastic news. I was absolutely elated because it was never a certainty we would get an effective vaccine so the fact they had one which was more than 90% effective could be a complete game-changer. I am and most of my colleagues are very pleased about that. Anything that can shorten the life of this pandemic has to be a good thing in my book.
Some people are not necessarily anti-vaccine but they are concerned about how quickly it has been turned around. What do you say to those people?
It may seem to have come along very fast and a lot of people are a bit worried about that. But when it normally takes 10 years to produce a vaccine a lot of that is dead time.
If I wanted to develop a new vaccine the first thing you need to do is get seed money to do it and then I need to do investment rounds to get companies interested in putting the money into producing it.
What I am also making the vaccine for can also be is a big problem. For example, say I come up with an idea for a vaccine for herpes. That is a disease that affects people fairly commonly but it is a bit niche and doesn’t have the huge huge numbers we are seeing with Covid.
One of the problems with getting a vaccine for something like that is that you need volunteers who are willing to try the vaccine and you also need a certain level of incidence in the community because the way studies are run in phase three is that you give half a people the vaccine and half the people a placebo. You follow those two groups till you get a trigger number of patients developing the disease. You are hoping that will be in the placebo group not in the vaccine group.
If you have a disease which isn’t very common in the community it can take years to reach the correct number before you can stop the trial. Because Covid is very widespread in the community and lots of people are catching it you can reach that level very quickly.
Are there any other reasons that is has been produced so quickly?
The other thing to say is there is no shortage of volunteers because everybody wants to see a vaccine for this disease so people were queuing up to be guinea pigs, essentially, for the first trial.
Normally in vaccine trials the recruitment of your test groups takes an awfully long time so that cuts down the speed significantly.
Also the key is getting funding from drug companies or governments to pay for the research and that can often involve lots of resubmissions of funding applications which can be rejected or need to be changed. That red tape really slows things down. With Covid-19 lots of those barriers were removed because everybody is looking for a Covid-19 vaccine.
Bringing out a vaccine and bringing it to trial takes a lot of money because you need to set up centres for recruitment etc.
The whole process of finding funding and getting it approved and finding groups takes an awfully long time. But this has been made much quicker because Covid is the only game in town.
Every single vaccine and treatment could have side effects. You’ve mentioned before it is a balance and weighing up the risks. Can you explain more about this?
Vaccines are one of the safest treatments you can give people. We know that because there are lots and lots of vaccines out there that have been given for a number of years.
You have the early reactions which are things like allergic reactions or short-term effects like feeling a bit rundown and a headache etc. These are very common with lots of vaccines. They usually happen within a couple of days of having it.
There are rarer and more unusual side effects and here we are talking like between one in 100,000 to a one in a 1,000,000 chance.
You’ve got to remember that vaccines are not a drug so they have got no pharmacological ingredients that are going to affect you in the same way that drugs do. They are either dead viruses that are injected into you so the body can recognise the viral proteins – and that is the basis of the Oxford vaccine – [or] alternatively they are a new type of vaccine called the mRNA vaccine which tells your body to produce a protein which is part of the virus so you are basically, rather than injecting a bit of dead virus into yourself, you are making your own bits of virus using your protein factories in your bodies so your antibodies can recognise it as foreign and deal with it.
So is it up to the person taking it to weigh up the risks?
Every time we have a new set of flu vaccines there will be one or two people who suffer a form of vaccine reaction which is called antibody-mediated.
This is when you get a vaccine and your body makes antibodies which are little proteins which recognise foreign invaders. What can happen is when you get a vaccine that instead of recognising the viral proteins of a foreign invader your body can accidentally, due to cross-reactivity, recognise some of your own cells as foreign Invaders and then they prime your immune system to attack those cells.
This can create something called Guillain-Barre syndrome and can happen after jabs but they can also happen after infections as well. That can cause worsening paralysis but generally does get better.
There have been a few cases of that associated with the flu vaccine every year but in terms of the numbers of people who have a flu vaccine it’s very, very small and very, very unlikely.
You are more likely to get Guillain-Barre syndrome as a result of having food poisoning you get in your local takeaway then you are from a vaccine.
It is all relative risk. You have up to one in a million chance of getting it from a vaccination but you have one in 100 risk of dying of Covid and probably a much higher risk of Long Covid.
Think about operations. With operations there is a risk. There is a risk of bleeding and there is a risk of infection as well as blood clots and other things going wrong. But if the operation is going to make you better you accept those risks – and vaccinations are exactly the same.
You’re probably at more risk getting in your car every morning to take the kids to school. Our lives are all about calculated risks.
Can misinformation about vaccinations be damaging?
You have to weigh up the risks. I think most people are intelligent enough that they can weigh up the various risks. You only have to look at the very much discredited and false work of someone one called Andrew Wakefield, who has now been struck off, who suggested there was a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. This has been categorically disproved and he had a big agenda in this, carried out very unethical experiments and then drew a conclusion but no-one has ever been able to replicate.
But even the suggestion of this put people off vaccinating their kids.
Do you think there is a problem with the amount of people who are getting their information from social media?
Lately there has been a move to, if I quote Michael Gove, have had enough of experts.
This vaccine has come about because of a lot of work by scientists and assessed by the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency who are very, very vigorous and independent scrutineers of these things.
There is no agenda, there is no deep state conspiracy. Nobody is trying to inject you with microchips. Look at who you get your information from. Do you get your information from renowned scientists, big academic departments and your local doctors and medical staff or do you get it from something that a person has posted anonymously on Facebook?
We all need to be looking at where we get our sources of information from. Are they credible? If a guy on Facebook is saying this is all a conspiracy but you’ve got most of the world’s scientists saying ‘This is not a conspiracy and here is the science behind it’ an intelligent person should be able to work out what is a more reliable source of information.
I can understand people having misgivings of anything new and it does seem to have come about very quickly but actually understanding why it has come out quickly is important.
If there was a cover-up surely someone would make their name by exposing it?
If it was a conspiracy surely there would be someone who is within the conspiracy who would expose it. They could have the biggest scoop since Watergate. It would be Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism if someone could stand up an actual story about coronavirus, Bill Gates, and 5G. But why isn’t anybody doing it? Why hasn’t anybody given us a scrap of evidence to prove it?
Do you agree with the order that the Welsh Government are going to be vaccinating people?
Definitely. We have seen young people dying in intensive care but by far the biggest number of deaths have been over-80s and those in care homes. Certainly at the beginning of the pandemic people in care homes were much more likely to die than survive if they caught it.
It will allow people to have visitors again which has been so difficult for people. I think it’s absolutely right.
It would be great to vaccinate everybody but if we can just do the over-50s and people with other medical conditions I think that would make a huge difference to the number of people needing hospital and critical care.