By Aurora Freeman | BA (Hons) | PG Cert Public Health | Qualified Health Advocate
Is the newly added editorial for Wolff’s infamous military research paper erring on the side of bias and unscientific opining?
In January 2020, Greg Wolff published a study involving US military personnel, comparing vaccinated versus unvaccinated in relation to the influenza vaccine. It transpired that vaccinated persons were more likely to exhibit susceptibility to corona viruses than those that were not vaccinated.
In his recently published, ‘Letter to the Editor’, Wolff states that “coronavirus results in this study represented the four endemic, regularly circulating strains of coronavirus (229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1) during the 2017–2018 influenza season, not novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The four circulating strains of coronavirus have existed in the general population for years, first identified in the mid-1960s. At the time of the study, and even at the time of initial electronic publication, COVID-19 was not yet in existence” (Wolff, 2020, Edit.)
He states that “established levels of immunity in the general population for the four circulating strains of coronavirus at the time of the study when compared to lack of immunity for the novel COVID-19 strain make any sort of correlation between vaccination and COVID-19 invalid“ (ibid).
Sette & Crotty (2020) suggest that this may not be the case, as “T cell reactivity against SARS-CoV-2 was observed in unexposed people; however, the source and clinical relevance of the reactivity remains unknown. It is speculated that this reflects T cell memory to circulating ‘common cold’ coronaviruses. It will be important to define specificities of these T cells and assess their association with COVID-19 disease severity and vaccine responses” (Sette & Crotty, 2020).
Therefore, “it is now established that SARS-CoV-2 pre-existing immune reactivity exists to some degree in the general population. It is hypothesized, but not yet proven, that this might be due to immunity to CCCs… [‘common cold’ coronaviruses (CCCs), such as HCoV-OC43, HCoV-HKU1, HCoV-NL63 and HCoV-229E]… This might have implications for COVID-19 disease severity, herd immunity and vaccine development, which still await to be addressed with actual data” (Sette & Crotty, 2020).
These implications are not insignificant given the global magnitude of SARS-CoV-2 and Covid19. Therefore, when Wolff asserts that “the results of this study cannot and should not be interpreted to represent any sort of relationship or association of influenza vaccination receipt and COVID-19 illness” he is opining that his data has no relevance to Covid19, but as Sette & Crotty suggest, how can we know that at this stage, since the implications of such possible relationships “still await to be addressed with actual data” (2020).
Ng et al., (2020) acknowledge that immune “cross-reactivity among seasonally spreading human coronaviruses (HCoVs) has long been hypothesised to provide cross-protection, albeit transient, against infection with distinct HCoV types. To determine the degree of cross-reactivity between HCoVs and the recently introduced zoonotic coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, we developed a sensitive flow cytometry-based assay for detection of SARS-CoV-2-binding antibodies.” (Ng et al., 2020, p3).
They were able to “demonstrate the presence of pre-existing immunity in uninfected and unexposed humans to the new coronavirus. SARS-CoV-2 S-reactive antibodies, exclusively of the IgG class, were readily detectable by a sensitive flow cytometry-based method in SARS-CoV-2-uninfected individuals with recent HCoV infection and targeted the S2 subunit… Notably, HCoV patient sera exhibited specific neutralising activity against SARS-CoV-2 S pseudotypes, according to levels of SARS-CoV-2 S-binding IgG and with efficiencies comparable to those of COVID-19 patient sera. Distinguishing pre-existing and de novo antibody responses to SARS-CoV-2 will be critical for serology, seroprevalence and vaccine studies, as well as for our understanding of susceptibility to and natural course of SARS-CoV-2 infection (Ng K, et al., 2020, p2, italics added).
Thus, when Wolff asserts that “results from this study DO NOT support the anti-vaccination viewpoint of avoiding seasonal influenza vaccination…”, his generalization of the ‘anti-vaccination viewpoint’, which is a complex and multi-faceted term, is his opined view that “vaccine derived virus interference [which] was significantly associated with coronavirus and human metapneumovirus (Wolff, 2020, p350) is not a highly relevant topic for future research in the current Covid19 pandemic in relation to influenza vaccination. How can this be stated without evidence to the contrary? Will his comments effect those researchers who think this is a valid route for further research? Will grant donors be affected by such bias?
He then goes on to say “…and [this study] in fact should be interpreted in the opposite manner, since significant protection against influenza was associated with vaccination receipt, and a slight decrease in the odds of infection from other respiratory viruses was also noted” (ibid). This is a deflection away from concern about vaccine induced virus interference to the coronavirus as SARS-CoV-2 is a corona virus, and influenza is not known to be a contributor to this current pandemic. He concludes that “results from this study should not be applied to or interpreted with COVID-19 in any way” (ibid). This suggests a disregard of the growing body of work surrounding SARS-CoV-2 immunity and common cold viruses such as those he mentions. His work suggests further research is needed into the area of vaccine induced virus interference in relation to SARS-CoV-2 and Covid19 and I implore the Editor in Chief of the journal Vaccine to remove this editorial, as it suggests bias against alternative interpretations, because the author’s opinion is that there are none. His data may provide a vital clue towards understanding the devastating effects on a small number of people, whilst the majority of humanity remain largely unaffected. Let us not forget the SARS vaccine research done by Tseng et al. (2012) on laboratory animals, that were vaccinated with a research SARS vaccine. “Challenge of mice given any of the vaccines led to occurrence of Th2-type immunopathology suggesting hypersensitivity to SARS-CoV components was induced. Caution in proceeding to application of a SARS-CoV vaccine in humans is indicated” (Tseng et al., 2012, p1).
Ng K, et al. (2020). Pre-existing and de novo humoral immunity to SARS-CoV-2 in humans. bioRxiv. 2020 doi: 10.1101/2020.05.14.095414.
Sette, A., Crotty, S. (2020). Pre-existing immunity to SARS-CoV-2: the knowns and unknowns. Nat Rev Immunol 20, 457–458. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41577-020-0389-z
Tseng C-T, Sbrana E, Iwata-Yoshikawa N, Newman PC, Garron T, et al. (2012) Immunization with SARS Coronavirus Vaccines Leads to Pulmonary Immunopathology on Challenge with the SARS Virus. PLoS ONE 7(4): e35421. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0035421
Wolff, G. (2020). Influenza vaccination and respiratory virus interference among Department of Defense personnel during the 2017–2018 influenza season. [Editorial]. Vaccine, Volume 38, Issue 2, 10 January 2020, Pages 350-354. [Online]. Accessed on 31st Aug 2020: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264410X20304862
Wolff, G. (2020). Influenza vaccination and respiratory virus interference among Department of Defense personnel during the 2017–2018 influenza season. Vaccine, Volume 38, Issue 2, 10 January 2020, Pages 350-354. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264410X19313647?via%3Dihub
...as always, we should do our own research and decide for ourselves!