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

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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 effective treatment and public health protocols. Others, knowing the ongoing expedited vaccine development might compromise 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 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?

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