Most of us looked forward to the day a COVID-19 vaccine arrived in America. So why has it been received with mixed emotions? This is in large part due to misinformation claiming that taking the vaccine is unsafe. However, understanding the facts behind the vaccine should help set your mind at ease. Here is what you need to know about COVID-19 vaccines and “antibody-dependent enhancement” based on science. (1)

The Vaccines Are FDA Approved, Not “Experimental”

First, let’s look at claims the coronavirus vaccines currently being administered by the U.S. government are actually “experimental”. This is not the case. On December 11, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued emergency use authorization (EUA) for use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for the prevention of COVID-19 for people 16-years of age and older. A few days later on December 18, 2020, the FDA issued another EUA for the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine for those 18 years of age and older. This means they are safe, tested, and approved vaccines, not “experimental” coronavirus vaccines. (2,3)

What About The Dangers of Antibody-Dependent Enhancement (ADE)?

ADE does not make the approved coronavirus vaccines more dangerous than the virus itself. Again, these comments are based on some people claiming the vaccines are experimental as opposed to approved. There is a big difference because through trials of testing these vaccines have been approved. (1)

So What Is Antibody-Dependent Enhancement?

According to vaccine developers and experts Dr. Peter Hotez, and Dr. Paul Offit, ADE refers to “components of the virus that generate an immune response to parts of a virus that don’t knock the virus out of commission.” What we want a vaccine to do is to generate a “neutralizing response”, so the virus is neutralized. In the case of the approved vaccines, the right protein was identified to allow your immune cells to use the vaccine to rid your body of the virus. However, if the right protein or component is not identified, what happens is you actually don’t neutralize the virus, but instead help the virus replicate and even become more lethal. The result in this case is you would become sicker. Although this wouldn’t happen to every person that receives the vaccine, it is possible. It’s just not something to worry about when taking the currently approved vaccines. (1)

Why Are Some Saying Antibody-Dependent Enhancement Is Dangerous?

It goes back to the 1960s with the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). A vaccine was used with antibodies that didn’t neutralize the virus. RSV led to hospitalizations, injuries, and even death in children. Unfortunately, in the case of the RSV vaccine, some children vaccinated suffered from worse lung diseases and even died when they were infected with RSV. The reason for this tragedy was that the antibodies didn’t neutralize the virus but instead formed “immune complexes”. The virus and the antibodies triggered the immune system to have an inflammatory response that generated lung obstructions and acute respiratory distress syndrome, or even lung disease. So considering this incident you can see why some might worry the COVID-19 vaccine isn’t safe since the RSV vaccine proved to be so dangerous. (1)

Why Don’t The COVID-19 Vaccines Cause Antibody-Dependent Enhancement?

The COVID-19 vaccines don’t cause antibody-dependent enhancement, because: (1)

  • Convalescent plasma: These vaccines use convalescent plasma which are antibodies generated by people who were naturally infected by the virus but didn’t experience worsening of their disease.
  • No ADE in trials: During the large phase 3 trials using tens of thousands of people, those given the vaccine did not get sicker as a result of antibody-dependent enhancement.
  • No evidence of ADE: In the 10 million or so people vaccinated with the approved vaccines to date, there is no evidence of ADE.

This all means that the vaccine was safely tested without evidence of ADE either in the trials or in those who have received the vaccine so far. This should set your mind at ease. (1)

Conspiracy Theories And Misinformation About COVID-19

If you still feel uncertain, consider this. There are three popular conspiracy theories that are very dangerous right now. 

The first, and perhaps most damaging of all, is that the virus is not that serious, so there is no reason for you to take the vaccine. It is easy to dispute this myth by pointing out over 400,000 Americans have died to date, and 2,087,018 people have died around the world.  The second conspiracy is that the vaccine being administered today is not approved but instead still in the experimental phase. In other words, people are being given the vaccine in mass quantities to make sure it actually works. This is simply not the case. The FDA has approved use, and it is being administered in light of that approval. The third conspiracy is that the virus was approved too soon and therefore there is a danger of ADE. This also is untrue with both those who received the vaccines in the trials and those who have since received the approved vaccines showing no evidence of ADE. (1, 4)

While it is difficult to know who to trust in today’s world of misinformation, these science-based facts are the reason the FDA approved the COVID-19 vaccines for safe use in America.