Konstantin Chumakov: ‘COVID-19 numbers in Russia are manipulated, without doubt’
Part 2 of the interview with the American virologist about coronavirus and how to restrain “wild” poliomyelitis
The second part of the interview of one of the most famous American virologist of Russian origin, Director of the Global Virus Network, an adviser to the World Health Organization, a grandson of Kazan Imperial University’s rector Konstantin Chumakov. In this interview, read why COVID-19 spreads faster in some countries than others, why men die from COVID-19 almost twice as often as women and the prospects of defeating poliomyelitis around the world.
“Men in general die more often than women”
Men die from COVID-19 1,7 times more often than women, due to the difference in chromosomes. Yale scientists in the USA came to such a conclusion. Do you think this discovery can expose some peculiarities of the novel infection?
I wouldn’t call this a discovery. Men in general die more often than women. Men are weak. And men’s average lifespan is shorter than that of women. The role of women in procreation is much more important because their organism was created firmer, so no wonder. It is fair not only for COVID-19. Many other diseases affect women more often than women. Though there are exceptions. Men and women differ anyway no matter how much some try to reassure us.
But it is important to know about the results of the research you are asking about. Though it is not surprising. Many suspected this was true.
Why do you think the coronavirus infection doesn’t spread as intensively as it does in other countries?
There are a lot of reasons for this. The difference in the incidence in different countries is defined by a myriad of factors — genetic and climatic and circulation of some other viruses because viruses compete with each other. For instance, even the gut microbiome strongly influences on how often we are exposed to other infections that stimulate our immunity.
There is a surprising law the bigger national product is per capita the more COVID-19 the country has. It is called a disease of clean hands. People living with lower incomes and in unsanitary conditions turn out to be protected from infection more. For instance, up to 70% of the population recovered from the disease in some African countries, according to some data. While there was almost no incidence. That’s to say, COVID-19 has affected nearly the whole population, people produced antibodies, while a very low percentage fell ill.
This probably happened not because they lied or manipulate data but because people didn’t have symptoms. And this depends on many reasons. For instance, even on diet. People eat other products more that stimulate immunity — herbs, spices, spicy foods. All this can stimulate immunity. It is an interesting question but there is no accurate answer to it yet.
Do you believe the Russian statistics on the incidence and mortality rate from COVID-19?
Somebody is obviously playing with the statistics. It is not my opinion. I have read such research on different regions. Some Russian regions tell the truth, while some lie looking us in the eyes. It is human nature — nobody wants to report you feel bad to the boss.
Of course, these numbers are manipulated, without doubt. But I think it is not only Russian trouble.
Men in general die more often than women. Men are weak. And men’s average lifespan is shorter than that of women. The role of women in procreation is much more important because their organism was created firmer
“The WHO made a huge mistake, stupidity"
Let’s speak not only about COVID-19 because nobody has cancelled the rest of the issues of medicine. The World Health Organization has approved a vaccine to use in emergency cases for the first time. It is Indonesian nOPV2 created against a vaccine-derived strain of poliomyelitis. The new vaccine is designed to solve the problems created by the old one. In fact, can we say it is just a vaccine against the vaccine against polio?
Not exactly. I will explain: the vaccine against poliomyelitis Polish-born American virologist Albert Sabin created around 60 years ago is based on live viruses. It was successfully used for vaccination almost around the world and led to a significant fall in the incidence.
The WHO that was inspired by this success 30 years ago decided to get rid of poliomyelitis completely, stop the circulation of the virus with the help of this live vaccine. And in fact, it is a very effective vaccine — it is one of the most effective ones. Unfortunately, it has a drawback — the vaccine can mutate in certain conditions, and the virus becomes pathogenic. It has an unpleasant propensity to revert, become more pathogenic. It happens only in those cases when this vaccine-derived virus starts to be transmitted from one person to another in the population. If everybody is vaccinated at once, this doesn’t happen. But if immunity in a place isn’t high and this virus can spread from a child to a parent, from the parent to another child or adult, it starts to circulate and gradually turns from a vaccine-derived virus to pathogenic. In other words, the virus goes wild. This is what we see now.
Unfortunately, the WHO made a huge mistake, stupidity, I’d say. This can’t be even called a mistake because scientists warned that this shouldn’t be done. Nevertheless, the WHO made a decision to stop the vaccination of the population in developing countries against poliovirus type 2 five years ago. And instead of inoculation children with a trivalent vaccine that contained all three components, they removed the type 2 from it and started to use a bivalent one.
The WHO made a decision to stop the vaccination of the population in developing countries against poliovirus type 2 five years ago. And instead of inoculation children with a trivalent vaccine that contained all three components, they removed the type 2 from it and started to use a bivalent one
“To get rid of poliomyelitis, it was necessary to get rid of the vaccine itself”
To save money or reduce the risks?
Precisely to prevent the creation of the “wild” vaccine-derived virus. They assumed that type 2 didn’t almost exist, so there was no sense in vaccinating people against it. When administering a vaccine, vaccine-derived viruses can allegedly become pathogenic variants. They hoped if the vaccine was removed, they would disappear. Quite the opposite, immunity to this type 2 virus has severely dropped. While almost all newborns under 1-2 years in developing countries where a lot of babies are born became vulnerable to this virus.
In the end, pathogenic derivatives of the virus began to spread like fire in a dry forest. There were just two cases of the disease caused by vaccine derivatives in 2016, in 2020, they totalled 900. Consequently, the WHO faced a dilemma about what to do next. These outbreaks caused by the wild vaccine-derived virus tried to be suppressed by the vaccine, which caused much more outbreaks.
The only decision was to create a new vaccine that would be more stable and wouldn't be able to turn into a wild strain. Thank God, Bill Gates saw the problem, gathered a group of people. I particularly also participated in this project to create a new vaccine. And we created it. It has been approved in the last few years. In December, it was recommended to be used to block arising outbreaks caused the vaccine-derived virus. It is quite a unique situation: to get rid of poliomyelitis, it was necessary to get rid of the vaccine itself. If it is confirmed the new vaccine is more stable and it can prevent polio without causing complications, it means we managed to make a perfect vaccine. And it will significantly help to fight poliomyelitis.
It is an amazing project that can be called a triumph of science. The scientists who figured out the molecular causes of pathogenicity and the creation of vaccines developed an improved a science-based vaccine. This vaccine wasn’t created accidentally but on the basis of accurate scientific calculation.
What has been done with the second vaccine-derived strain in the new vaccine?
In fact, it is a vaccine against the second strain but with much more stable characteristics. New vaccines are against the first and third ones are in the pipeline now. The so-called new improved vaccine against the first and third strains haven’t yet been approved and are tested.
A monovalent vaccine has been created now that will be used to stop outbreaks in Africa that are caused by vaccine derivates. But if this turns out effective, it will be the best vaccine for the future
“No needles and syringes”
Will they be used separately or against all the three types at once?
A monovalent vaccine has been created now that will be used to stop outbreaks in Africa that are caused by vaccine derivates. But if this turns out effective, it will be the best vaccine for the future.
When analogous vaccines against poliomyelitis type 1 and type 3 are ready, they will be combined in a trivalent vaccine, and two drops will be administered orally, that’s it. No needles and syringes. That’s to say, it is an absolutely safe and 100% effective vaccine. Of course, the USA, developed European countries that switched to the killed vaccine that costs a lot of money and out of reach for the majority of less well-off countries a long time ago will unlikely go back to the living vaccine. Simply because there are no reasons. For instance, poliomyelitis hasn’t been registered in the USA for around 30 years. And everybody receives a vaccine that contains a killed poliovirus in combination with others — diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough. All this is one injection. Nobody will replace this vaccine with anything else, it is too complicated and expensive.
Now over 140 countries with the total population of 6 billion people around the world use a live polio vaccine. If a vaccine that potentially rarely can cause problems is replaced with a safer vaccine, it will be the best solution. Also, the new vaccine is very cheap — it costs 15 cents. While the killed vaccine does over $10.
Which vaccine against poliomyelitis is used in Russia?
A killed vaccine is used in Russia. But a live vaccine is still used as a third and fourth vaccine. I mean people are vaccinated in combination: two killed vaccines are administered first to protect children from potentially negative occurrences, then two live vaccines are offered for better immunity. It is very good tactics. Such a scheme should probably be used for the new vaccine too. But we haven’t made sure yet if all this works. So this is rather what we hope for in the future.
When analogous vaccines against poliomyelitis type 1 and type 3 are ready, they will be combined in a trivalent vaccine, and two drops will be administered orally, that’s it. No needles and syringes
How is the new vaccine administered?
A drop in the mouth. It is exactly the same as the usual live vaccine based on the same virus. Only the genetic material of this virus was added some modifications and improvements.