Helen Petousis Harris

Dr Helen Petousis-Harris blogs about vaccines and vaccination. Her background is predominantly biological sciences, and she did her PhD in Vaccinology, specifically around vaccine reactions. She worked at the Immunisation Advisory Centre at the University of Auckland between 1998 and 2018 where she has developed a passion for all things vaccine. Currently Helen has an appointment as an associate professor in the Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care and her teaching is largely around vaccination. Her research focuses on a number of aspects of vaccines and vaccination but in particular vaccine effectiveness and vaccine safety. She was previously the chair of the World Health Organization Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety (GACVS). Of course all opinions in this blog are her own. Disclosures: Helen has led a number of industry funded studies. These have all been investigator conceived and led. She does not receive honorarium from industry personally. She has received industry support to attend some conferences and has contributed to Expert Advisory meetings for GSK, Merck, and Pfizer. Helen is a member of the Covid vaccine Science and Technical Advisory Group to MBIE and the MoH and the Covid Immunisation Implementation Advisory groups to the MoH.

COVID-19 vaccines and community immunity (transmission) - Diplomatic Immunity

Jan 22, 2021

Updated, 4 Feb 2021 to reflect new data on the AstraZeneca vaccine.  Q: Will the COVID-19 vaccines prevent the transmission of the coronavirus and bring about community immunity (aka herd immunity)? A: Jury not in yet but vaccines do not have to be perfect to thwart the spread of infection. While vaccines  induce protection against illness, they do not always stop actual infection, so you can be perfectly well but carry a deadly virus or bacteria and spread it to others. Typhoid Mary springs to mind, where in the nineteenth century Mary Mallon unknowingly infected at least 53 people with typhoid fever while perfectly well herself. Vaccines such as the HPV and measles vaccines prevent infection all together so vaccinated people do not transmit the infection, while other vaccines such as pertussis (whooping cough) prevent disease … Read More

The frail elderly and COVID vaccines – should we be concerned? - Unsorted

Jan 16, 2021

(updated 18 Jan to reflect new information) Health authorities in Norway are reporting some concerns about deaths in frail elderly after receiving their COVID-19 vaccine. Is this causally related to the vaccine? Probably not but here are the things to consider. According to the news there have been 23 29 deaths in Norway shortly after vaccine administration and apparently 13 autopsies had some kind of indication that common vaccine side effects might have contributed. We do not have information on these cases and I can’t imagine how an autopsy would reveal that a person died of a fever, muscle aches, fatigue, or a head ache (the common side effects). The more recent report states: Most people have experienced the expected side effects of the vaccine, such as nausea and vomiting, fever, local reactions at the … Read More

How good is the AstraZeneca vaccine looking? Look at the data, not news headlines - Diplomatic Immunity

Jan 15, 2021

Happy New Year! No, experts are not concerned that “…one of New Zealand’s COVID-19 vaccines will fail to protect the country” Here is why. But first I wish to issue an expletive about this journalism (First in Australia and then in NZ). It exhibits utter failure to actually truly consult the experts, other than a passing token quote. I call false journalistic balance. Grump out of the way, here is the story. A virology society in Australia issued a public statement about the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine (AZ). They compared it to the Pfizer RNA vaccine and said it would not be good enough to achieve ‘herd immunity’ and Australia should halt deployment of it. They stated that the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine was 62% and that the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine was 95%. Oh boy … Read More

Pressing the pause button after an adverse event happens to a vaccine trial participant - Diplomatic Immunity

Sep 09, 2020

Today AstraZeneca pushed the pause button on its late-stage trials of a COVID-19 vaccine. A clinical trial participant has experienced a serious health event and an investigation is underway to determine the cause. What does it mean? A cautious approach – trials can halt to assess safety data With over 200 COVID-19 vaccines now under development we are going to start seeing participants in the clinical trials have heath events. These events may or may not be completely unrelated to the vaccine under study. When you have what will ultimately be hundreds of thousands of people under observation in clinical trials, some will get sick, especially when you start recruiting older people into these studies. When this happens sometimes the trial will need to be halted while the event is investigated, and a lot of questions … Read More

COVID-19 vaccines and human cell lines - Diplomatic Immunity

Aug 26, 2020

When science meets ethics and morality. Vaccines are biological products and will have be exposed to various organic and inorganic products during their manufacture, depending on vaccine type. This includes exposure to human cells. Research that informs vaccine development will certainly have relied on such products along the way. Some people have faith, morality or safety-based concerns about the use products sourced from animals, such as gelatin. Animal products used during the manufacturing process, if still present in the finished vaccine, are only present in minute (trace) amounts and are not ‘vaccine ingredients’ per se. If you have ever had a medical intervention of pretty much any kind you will probably have ultimately benefited from the use of animal cells or product. But what about human cells? No COVID-19 vaccines are not made from aborted fetuses! Also (other than the … Read More

That Russian COVID-19 vaccine – not for us thanks - Diplomatic Immunity

Aug 12, 2020

Updated 3 Feb 2021 to reflect peer reviewed data on Sputnik. Note this blog was originally published 21 Aug – a month before the developers of this vaccine began recruiting into a phase III trial and a month before the early Phase I-II data was published so I absolutely stand by my critique. As of today Phase III data has been published and the trial appropriately registered. The first data includes over 20,000 randomised adults (3:1 so more received the vaccine) over 18-years. The efficacy against COVID disease was estimated to be 91.6% after two doses and 73.1% after one dose. This vaccine appears effective and there were no safety concerns identified. Pity they failed to be transparent and appeared to be cutting corners early on.  Russia are deploying … Read More

COVID-19 vaccine safety – are vital steps being skipped? - Diplomatic Immunity

May 12, 2020

Five months into the COVID-19 pandemic the conversation is shifting to vaccines. One of the key concerns voiced by some experts and public are that in the rush to get vaccines deployed, safety will be compromised. Here I outline, in part, the COVID-19 vaccine safety landscape of activities. First, let me introduce you to some of the key entities tasked with advising, measuring, monitoring, and assessing vaccine safety. This is not complete but gives an idea of some of the agents involved. As you see, NZ has fingers in all the pies. Entity Role Animal studies Animal models are used to study vaccines prior to moving into humans as well as throughout the life of a product. NZ have COVID-19 relevant animal models and relevant scientific expertise. Clinical trial independent drug safety monitoring board (DSMB) All … Read More

Plandemic – effective fact-free marketing - Diplomatic Immunity

May 12, 2020

And now for a new professionally edited conspiracy video with scary music. Before COVID-19 emerged the world already had a problem with information overload – an infodemic. Misinformation had gained a wide forum on many social media platforms, increasing the reach, polarisation, and overall confusion of the population (a misinfodemic). In response many platforms began to take some kind of responsibility for the role their products played in all this and moved to remove content that was demonstrably untrue. As if the world hasn’t enough problems right now, a virologist of dubious standing (i.e. has not published anything in the scientific literature since 2012, does not contribute to scientific discourse in the field, is at odds with her peers…) is presenting a whole bunch of hocus as fact … Read More

Smashing down the barriers: Where are we at with COVID vaccines? - Diplomatic Immunity

Mar 31, 2020

In the absence of a vaccine or a cure for a deadly disease, staying home in your bubble is what you do, the concept is not new.  To the best of my knowledge last time we did this in NZ was for polio, in the years before a vaccine came along. So, what can we expect for COVID-19? This blog is a little lengthy but hopefully summarises the vaccine scene with respect to COVID-19 under these headings: Traditional vaccine approaches are not a great fast track option All vaccines need testing in people before wider use Breaking the first barrier to getting a vaccine through human testing Traditional vaccine technology New technologies – breaking down the barriers to getting a vaccine FAST. Some key technologies for fast vaccine development COVID-19 vaccines in the front running COVID-19 vaccines – … Read More

Beating the evolving COVID-19 pandemic – unprecedented human collaboration in discovery and innovation - Diplomatic Immunity

Feb 26, 2020

Less than two months after China told the WHO there was a problem, a lot has happened. Sadly, deaths, confirmed cases and countries affected are increasing every day. However, on a scientific and medical level, what is going on to contain, cure and prevent this new disease is truly inspirational. Let’s look at the build-up to this global health emergency and what is being done by scientific teams all over the world to combat its effects. What we generally know COVID-19 is likely to have jumped from an animal to a human towards the end of last year (as with MERS and SARS, most likely bats). We can estimate this timing by looking at mutations accumulated by the virus over time, like a clock. The genetic sequence of COVID is very close (96 percent similar) to some coronaviruses in China’s … Read More