Dr. Walter Veith, a retired zoologist who is fairly well-known in Adventist circles, recently put out a video (April 12, 2021) promoting the claims of Dr. Geert Vanden Bossche against the COVID-19 vaccines (a virologist with a Ph.D. from the University of Hohenheim, Germany). Since Dr. Walter Veith is fairly well-known and carries a lot of weight with many in the Adventist Church, I was disappointed to learn of his promotion of the recent arguments of Dr. Bossche against the COVID-19 vaccines during this pandemic – which have themselves gone “viral” around the internet and social media platforms. Dr. Bossche recently published a letter (March 31, 2021) as well as interviews in which he argues that the vaccination campaign against COVID-19 is going to precipitate a public health disaster because the vaccines will select for viral variants that can escape their protection and drive them towards higher virulence. This letter, as well as his videos, went, well, “viral” – being extensively promoted on social media platforms by anti-vax enthusiasts and anti-government conspiracy theorists.
As an alternative to the current vaccines that strive to educate the adaptive immune system to recognize the SARS-CoV-2 virus and eliminate it before serious infection sets in, Bossche wants to promote the innate immune system:
This innate immunity gambit on the part of Dr. Bossche is something typically seen in wellness communities obsessed with the naturalistic fallacy, where strengthening your immune system is as simple and as natural as taking in the sun, walking in the woods, and hugging people. For Dr. Bossche, however, the solution is not long walks on the beach, but an alleged new type of vaccine focused on training the innate immune system. One of the cell types of the innate immune system is a natural killer cell, and Dr. Bossche claims to be developing a natural killer cell vaccine. Have we seen any evidence of this? No. I believe I speak for many scientists when I say: show us the evidence.
As it turns out, the main claims and concerns of Dr. Bossche are completely unfounded and, despite his Ph.D. in virology, are based on a number of fundamental misunderstandings of the sciences of virology and immunology – which have been extensively addressed by numerous scientists and medical experts on this topic. Consider, for example, this opening statement from biochemist, Dr. Edward Nirenberg, discussing the anti-vaccine claims forwarded by Bossche:
His claims are speculative, he offers no evidence to support his arguments, and makes several comments which are blatantly incorrect. The core of his argument relies on the assumption that COVID-19 vaccines do not have a significant effect on transmission. This has been repeatedly confirmed to be false in multiple studies. Furthermore, even if his assumptions about the effects of the vaccine on transmission are true, his conclusions are incorrect based on established precedent from Marek’s disease, a viral illness of birds with a vaccine that does not strongly affect transmission- but it still shows meaningful public health benefits in the populations of chickens where it is used. The vaccines will absolutely be critical to ending the pandemic, and fortunately the modular nature of the technology allows for rapid reformulation and adjustment as necessary (and thus far, though precautions are being taken with novel variants to produce vaccines specific to their set of problematic mutations, there isn’t significant enough evidence to suggest that total reformulation of the vaccines is needed), but no issues raised in this letter warrant a re-evaluation of our current COVID-19 vaccination policy.
I won’t be addressing the contents of Dr. Vanden Bossche’s resume as it’s irrelevant to the fact that he is currently making unsupportable claims, but for those seeking a backgrounder on the subject, Dr. Iannelli [a board certified pediatrician] has graciously obliged. I also won’t be linking to his original letter.
It’s certainly worth reading through the rest of Dr. Nirenberg’s rebuttal of Bossche (Link).
Also, Dr. Zubin Damania (with his well-known and very informative website zdoggmd.com, has reviewed the claims of Dr. Bossche in an informative video (Link), with a portion of the transcript as follows:
He’s a veterinary medicine doctor, so he’s not a human doctor, but he does have post-doctoral training and PhD in virology. He’s worked in various institutions including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Gavi, and as project managers and supervisors in certain pharmaceutical companies in the vaccine space. So he has experienced in vaccines, there’s no doubt about it. Is he a world expert on it? Well, it’s impossible to tell because he hasn’t really published extensively on vaccines that I can find. He’s done conferences and things like that, but he claims he has this thing in the works for a natural killer cell vaccine but I can’t seem to find any patents or anything like that.
That’s fine. So let’s assume he has some credentials, even though again, and remember it fits this narrative of this very romantic figure of the mad vaccine scientist who no one’s listening to who’s right about this thing. Now what’s he saying he’s right about and the rest of the world is wrong? He’s saying that when you have a pandemic and the coronavirus is replicating everywhere, things like lockdowns, viral mitigation, things like masks, trying to slow the spread of the virus and vaccines are gonna cause the opposite effect because what you’re doing is you’re preventing people from developing natural immunity that isn’t necessarily purely antibody based, it has other aspects of innate immunity like natural killer cells and T-cells and things like that that can prevent infection and we should be allowing that. Basically his philosophy is let it rip…
We’re vaccinating in the midst of a rapidly replicating virus. What you’re doing is you’re creating an antibody defense with the vaccine that he claims does not prevent the virus from actually replicating in vaccinated people, does not prevent asymptomatic shedding of virus in vaccinated people, and therefore, you are putting selective evolutionary pressure on the virus to evade the vaccine defense and mutate, and you select for mutations that then escape vaccine, these vaccine escape variants. And he’s saying in the setting of this, when there’s so much viral replication, the vaccine is going to encourage these variants to occur and these variants are going to be vastly more dangerous, deadly and plague-like than the current natural pandemic which should have just been allowed basically to unfold is what you’re reading between the lines of what he’s saying…
The first claim is that the vaccines do not prevent or reduce even, he’s saying, asymptomatic transmission in people who are vaccinated or viral replication in people who are vaccinated. This is just wrong. So the data and especially data out of Israel, et cetera, in real-world applications, show that asymptomatic transmission plummets, and of course, viral replication is going to drop in a properly vaccinated person because you’re binding antibodies that you’ve made because you’ve got vaccinated to the spike protein with very high affinity and you’re preventing the virus from entering cells and you’re actually activating aspects of your immune system, which I’m going to talk about, that prevent the virus from replicating…
And this idea that the vaccine doesn’t prevent replication is not correct. In which case, one of the fundamental pillars of what he’s saying is, well, you’re vaccinating people, you’re preventing them from getting sick with this variant but you’re allowing it still to replicate and thereby escape the vaccine and generate new variants. That’s just not true. Now he’s right in that, if you partially vaccinate a population or partially vaccinate an individual, then you absolutely allow for partial viral replication in that person because they don’t have full immunity or in that population because there are a lot of people who aren’t vaccinated…
So what’s gonna happen? More viral replication, which means more chance for the emergent of variants. Note this, the variants that have emerged so far emerged in the absence of vaccine pressure, without any vaccine pressure those already emerged, more contagious variants. And the study so far with the existing mRNA vaccines, for example, show that even though these vaccines bind with less affinity to the new variants, they still clinically work. They still actually prevent severe disease and hospitalization, which is what you care about. So this idea of rapid viral vaccine escape has not been shown so far. Now, could it happen? Absolutely. Does he have a point in that you want to reduce viral replication as much as possible to prevent a vaccine escape? Yes. So how do you do that? Vaccinate as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, to lower the pool of circulating virus.
Bio of Dr. Sean Pitman
Dr. Sean Pitman is a pathologist, with subspecialties in anatomic, clinical, and hematopathology, currently working in N. California.