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What’s in the vaccine?

“I heard you can still get sick,” some people say; or “The flu vaccine got me sick the one time I took it.” A guy at the laundromat told me that he was better off to smoke his all-natural herbal cure than to take the artificial cure produced by the pharmaceutical industry.

I’m not a doctor. I have two years of high school biology (the second of which was just kinesiology and, weirdly, EMT training), a semester of college microbiology, and… I wanna say it was a year of general college biology.  I was in a long-distance relationship with a med student once. I’m not a doctor. But I’ve got the couple years of classroom and microscopes and books, and I have the internet.

“What’s in it, then?” said the guy at the laundromat. I didn’t have a good answer.

What are potatoes made out of?

Suppose your kid is playing the “why” game – why is the sky blue, why does the dog bark, why do we have carpet. You can get through a few questions, but then you have to stop, right? You have to say “Well, buddy, I don’t know.” If the kid starts with “What are potatoes made out of,” and you’re anything like me, you’re going to tell him that potatoes are made out of potatoes and that’s that. Maybe you can say potatoes are made mostly out of water and starch. “What’s starch?” It’s the thing potatoes are made out of, dammit, leave me alone. I’m pretty sure that’s why they invented tablets, was so that the kids could play Among Us and stop asking why.

But we still eat potatoes. We don’t know what’s in them. I googled it, just now, trying to write this part. There’s a bunch of PDFs of research into the variations in starch content, lipid content, water content, and consumer satisfaction between potato varieties and differences in cultivation. Somewhere there’s a list of chemicals with names like 9-(bis)-polymerase-catabolis-nabiscoline. If you can find it, send it to me. But for conversational purposes it’s enough to say “mostly water and starch.” If the potato is exposed to sunlight before harvest it’s a little bit green on the outside. The green is chlorophyll.

“What is chlorophyll made out of?”

Go play Among Us, you little shit.

What’s in the vaccine

The Pfizer vaccine – the one I got – contains mRNA, (4-hydroxybutyl)azanediyl)bis(hexane-6,1-diyl)bis(2-hexyldecanoate), 2
[(polyethylene glycol)-2000]-N,N-ditetradecylacetamide, 1,2-Distearoyl-sn-glycero-3-
phosphocholine, and cholesterol, potassium chloride, monobasic potassium
phosphate, sodium chloride, dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate, and sucrose.

The crazy-looking chemical names up there are all lipids. Lipids, if you remember high school biology, are fatty acids. Your cell membranes consist of a phospholipid bilayer that keeps the outside out and the inside in. What’s a phospholipid bilayer? It’s the thing your cell membranes are, okay? I took bio in college, not chem.

Cholesterol we can talk about more directly – we’re familiar with dietary cholesterol and with the cholesterol in our blood. It’s a necessary part of our diets and of our bodies. Is cholesterol a lipid? I don’t think so. Pretty sure it’s a sterol. I dunno what sterols are.

Potassium chloride is an ingredient in plenty of the food we eat. That doesn’t necessarily mean you can inject it into yourself, but it does mean that it’s not some scary illuminati chemical that’s totally unfamiliar. The same is true of “monobasic potassium phosphate,” just for the record. Both of ’em are also used in fertilizer. You can get potassium chloride from dried up lake beds. It’s “natural” like the gentleman’s herbal supplement.

Sodium chloride is table salt. I will inject a solution of sodium chloride in water if you ask me to.

Dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate is the same thing as monobasic sodium phosphate dihydrate, of course, but it’s got di bases instead of mono bases. I’m being glib. It’s another food additive. It’s in Cream of Wheat and instant Jell-o pudding.

Sucrose is table sugar. Again, in the quantities the vaccines contain, I’ll gladly inject a solution of sugar water.

It does bother me a little that the CDC page above doesn’t mention the water, or explain that the salt is there to make the injection isotonic to your intramuscular fluid so the cells in the vicinity don’t lyse and cause unnecessary additional soreness – but that’s what it’s for, just like when they give you that IV of saline when you’re dehydrated.

All the lipids are there for the same reason that your own body is using them in your cells – remember when I said “phospholipid bilayer” and then all the chemical names in the lipids had “phospho” in ’em? My guess is that they’re making little cell-membrane-type envelopes to hold the mRNA in long enough that it can get around a little bit before your white blood cells eat all of it.

Okay, but what’s mRNA? That’s the part that scares me!

Well, okay. You can read, so you have probably heard the term “DNA” before. You have your daddy’s DNA and your mommy’s DNA and that’s why you’re bad at sports, right? DNA’s that twisty cartoon thing that sang about dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park.” It’s a set of instructions that your cells use to make proteins, and ultimately to make more cells, when it’s time to do that.

But DNA isn’t the only set of instructions. DNA is like a two-sided zipper which, under some circumstances, unzips – the two sides float around in the soup that is the cell (does this happen in the nucleus? I don’t remember. There’s chromosomes. Shut up. You asked what’s in the vaccine everyone else got) and hook up with a bunch of free molecules that eventually start looking like the other side of the zipper. Then they unzip again, and either find more of the same molecules and make another DNA strand or unzip and go off to the endoplasmic reticulum to make proteins. The part that goes to the ER to make proteins is called RNA – it has Uracil instead of… Guanine? One of ’em. DNA is Adenine, Guanine, Cytosine, and Thymine. RNA has Uracil. How does the DNA decide that this time there’s gonna be Uracil and it’s gonna be RNA? Why does there need to be Uracil at all? I don’t know. My cells still seem to work without my knowing. There’s a limit, okay? Go play Among Us.

mRNA stands for “messenger RNA.” It’s not clear to me what the non-messenger kind of RNA is – maybe it’s sit-on-cellular-couch-and-smoke-ribosomal-weed-and-play-Among-Us RNA. But anyway the mRNA takes the information from the DNA over to the Endoplasmic Reticulum where the molecules that end up being the other side of the zipper are some protein or another – carefully planned and coordinated by the instructions in the RNA so that you end up with the right protein instead of some gibberish goop that doesn’t do anything. And the fact that we can now just write our own mRNA instructions – we can just send these instructions into your body, have your white blood cells eat the instructions, and then as they digest the foreign substance that is the lipid envelope, the cellular machinery just grabs the mRNA and starts making whatever the protein is – it’s really, really cool. We program our own cells to make arbitrary proteins, and then those proteins float around in our bodies, and our immune system says “Hey! This protein doesn’t belong here!” and recognizes – quickly – that that protein is a threat. Our immune system recognizes the threat in the future, which is how we get resistance to a disease we’ve seen before. But with the mRNA vaccine, we can prompt that immune response without needing to get sick at all to begin with!

But if we’re making arbitrary proteins, doesn’t that mean Bill Gates can turn me into a lizard?

No! Remember, this is mRNA, not a cell, not even DNA. It’s plans to make proteins – it’s not plans to make factories that make proteins, for instance. A real virus is a complete set of instructions to make new viruses – instructions to make their own envelopes to hold their DNA or RNA, and usually some way to get themselves into our cells to hijack the machinery so that our cells make more viruses. In fact they take over our cells’ factories so effectively that they stop doing the rest of the job they’re supposed to do and just make a bunch of viruses until they die, lyse (pop) and release all those other viruses into our bodies.

The mRNA vaccines, though, aren’t instructions to make all the extra machinery – it’s not instructions for how to make more invaders, more factories. It’s just a set of instructions to make some of the stuff that goes on the outside of those invaders, so that our immune systems learn to recognize what those invaders look like, and shut down the invasion before it starts.

Skip everything else and start reading here

COVID-19 is “just” a coronavirus. Coronaviruses have been around for as long as we’ve been writing – they cause about 20% of cases of what we call “the common cold” (the other 80% or so are caused by Rhinoviruses, which despite the name are not pachyderms with horns on their snouts). We call them “Coronaviruses” because under a microscope they look like they have crowns – their envelope has a bunch of these spikes sticking out, which you now recognize, if you’ve ever read a news article or seen a political cartoon.

Think of those spikes as being chainsaws which allow the virus to rip into your cells – they’re specifically good at ripping into lung cells rather than upper respiratory tract cells, which is why COVID-19 causes a dry cough instead of a runny nose and sneezing, like the colds you got before last year. So an individual COVID viroparticle is like a bumper car with a bunch of chainsaws on the outside of it, bouncing around your lungs, and when the chainsaws hit your lung’s cells they tear in and the driver hops out and starts ordering the cellular machinery around to make more of these evil chainsaw bumper cars.

The mRNA vaccines are just instructions for making the chainsaws! They don’t even put gas in the chainsaws. You get the injection of these instructions, and your immune cells say “hey, these envelopes aren’t supposed to be here,” so they eat ’em. But having done so, they find all these interesting-looking instructions for chainsaw making. So they make a bunch of non-working shitty chainsaws, and poop ’em out all over. The rest of your immune cells say “hey! why are we seeing so many chainsaws all over the place?” and they make plans to deal with any chainsaws they see in the future. Your body becomes a no-chainsaw zone, because your immune system – which is, pound for pound, the most powerful force nature has ever seen – has decided that any chainsaw it sees will be met with immediate and disproportionate response.

Picture that Toby Keith song, Courtesy of the Red White and Blue:

Hey Uncle Sam put your name at the top of his list
And the Statue of Liberty started shakin’ her fist
And the eagle will fly man, it’s gonna be hell
When you hear mother freedom start ringin’ her bell
And it feels like the whole wide world is raining down on you
Brought to you courtesy of the red white and blue

Justice will be served and the battle will rage
This big dog will fight when you rattle his cage
And you’ll be sorry that you messed with
The U.S. of A.
‘Cause we’ll put a boot in your ass
It’s the American way

Your body becomes the U. S. of A.! A biological Marine Corps, immune-system Trident Missiles, Macrophage aircraft carriers and probably Histamine AR-15s will roll up in Boss 429 Mustangs and turn anything that’s even vaguely associated with a chainsaw into a pile of chainsaw-colored mist. Metaphorically. There are no Mustangs in your bloodstream.

But if you aren’t vaccinated, and you’re just walking around out there, all that amazing might and power is wasted, because it won’t notice the chainsaw bumper cars full of COVID bumping around. And then COVID will get into your cells and make more COVID. And honestly, you’ll probably be fine, because you’re young and healthy. But you’ll breathe hella chainsaw bumper cars out into the world in the meantime, and this situation… will not end.

bUt If mAsKs WoRk WhY dO wE nEeD VaCcInEs

Masks work if people wear ’em. When’s the last time you wore a mask? When’s the last time you saw anyone else wear a mask?

Fauci is an idiot

Yes, and if you get a vaccine, he will go away and stop being relevant. Dr. Fauci’s risk tolerance is absurdly low. Once you have both doses of vaccine you can go out in public and mouth-kiss strangers and it’ll be fine, and continuing to pretend that we still need to take precautions once we’re vaccinated just makes it so people don’t bother to get the vaccine. So get the vaccine, and then Fauci won’t be on the TV any more, and we can go back to focusing on important things like kneeling at football games and what Cardi B did last week.

I don’t need a vaccine, I have an immune system

The vaccine is a set of instructions for your immune system. It is an intelligence briefing so that your mighty army of immune system warriors knows how to fight, faster and more effectively.