The Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada is typically best known for its wineries, fruit orchards, and beautiful Okanagan Lake. But this week it’s making headlines based on a misguided misinterpretation of how the Covid-19 vaccines work. Steve Miller, owner of Sun City Silver and Gold Exchange, in the Okanagan city of Kelowna, spoke to Global News earlier this week: “We would rather not be exposed to people who have been vaccinated and who could shed the virus...Shedding is real, it’s a problem now and it is going to be a bigger problem as more and more people line up for these experimental vaccines.” There is also a sign banning mask-wearing inside the store. According to the city’s risk manager, the store is operating without a business license, and is promoting orders against those stated by local and regional public health officials.
Where does this notion of viral shedding after vaccination stem from, and is there any validity to this? As detailed in Victoria Forster’s recent Forbes piece, not only can’t you contract Covid-19 infection from the Covid-19 vaccine, you also cannot spread or shed virus from receiving the vaccine. This goes for any of the currently available Covid-19 vaccines, including those made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca.
Historically, and in some instances currently, some vaccines were made with either a reduced amount of live virus, such as smallpox, chickenpox, or measles, mumps rubella (MMR) or a small amount of inactivated/killed virus, such as hepatitis A, flu, or polio. Other vaccines, such as hepatitis B, human papillomavirus (HPV), and shingles (herpes zoster) use a tiny piece of a protein or sugar fragment from the pathogen. Still others are what’s know as toxoids, and are much shorter acting, as they provide only a miniscule amount of a toxin from the germ. Toxoid vaccines include diphtheria and tetanus, which last only five to ten years and require regular booster shots.
Both mRNA vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna) as well as both adenovirus-vector DNA vaccines (Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca) provide protection by enabling the recipient’s cells to produce the now infamous spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, or Covid-19. None of these vaccines enable the recipient to internally manufacture a virus. None of them. As Dr. Forster explained, “It’s like four tires on the starting grid of a racetrack, you know that they are car parts, but there’s no way someone can drive them around without the rest of it.” Spike proteins alone do not make a virus. The virus is comprised of RNA at its core, nucleoproteins, and the critical viral envelope, which protects it when it’s floating around looking for a host cell to grab onto with those spikes. Picture the image below with just the red spikes. They would fall to the bottom, as if a toddler smashed a well-constructed Lego set after you’ve already thrown out the instruction book, and managed to throw out a random number of critical pieces.
Thankfully a toddler is not behind mRNA technology, which uniquely enables formation of a specific spike protein, not a whole virus. Forming spike proteins simply primes one’s own immune system to form antibodies to bind to spike proteins, preventing viral replication if the real deal coronavirus sneaks into the vaccinated individual’s respiratory tract. If the spike proteins get blocked with said antibodies, the virus can’t replicate, can’t make you sick, and will be less likely to spread to others. But getting vaccinated has absolutely nothing to do with viral shedding. There is no virus formed internally after receiving any Covid-19 vaccine. That said, as more and more people get vaccinated (as of today, over 1 billion individuals worldwide have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine), immunity to getting infected, sick, and contagious does not fully develop until two weeks after the second dose of a two-dose regimen, or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine. In the early weeks following an individual’s vaccination, they remain just as susceptible for infection and spread as un-vaccinated people. But they won’t shed virus from the vaccine.