At the end of 2020 everyone thought that 2021 would bring a huge change to the covid-19 pandemic. Vaccines were passing the testing and trial phases and people started getting injected with them. These vaccines, along with the immunity of people that had recovered from the infection was meant to make us all safe. But vegans had a dilemma; vegans know that almost every medicine involves some form of animal use before it is released for humans to use. This could be using animals to produce the medicine, such as adding oil from shark fins to vaccines to testing the vaccine on animals to see if it works. This can make many vegans uncomfortable about using the medicine.
What Are Vaccines?
Vaccines are a type of medicine that teach your body’s immune system to fight a disease it has not come into contact with before. Most vaccines involve giving people a weakened version of the disease. This version can't replicate inside the body and doesn't usually make people sick, but it gives your immune system a chance to see the disease, to recognise it and to be ready to fight the disease if it comes into your body again. Most of the new covid-19 vaccines don't contain the whole disease particle, in this case a virus. Viruses have spikes on the outside of them that allow them to attach to the cells inside your body, once attached the virus will put it's genetic material inside your cells and force them to make more virus, your cells get hijacked. Your cells will produce so much virus that they can explode, releasing more virus for the process to start again. The new covid-19 vaccines also get into the cells of your body, but instead of making new virus, they get your cells to make the spikes for the outside. It is these spikes that your immune system learns from so that next time it sees the spikes it recognises them and destroys them, even when they are part of a whole virus. The problem is that vaccines are designed to prevent disease, rather than treat a disease once you have caught it. People that already have covid-19 will not be made better by a vaccine.
Companies that make vaccines and other medicines are required by law to carry out certain tests before they can be released for humans to use. These tests can involve using animals and are carried out to see if the vaccine is safe, first of all and then that it works. The problem is that many tests are carried out on animals that aren't similar enough to humans to make the results relevant, or even useful. Covid-19, although it came from animals and was passed on to humans, does not infect all animals and most animals that can get covid-19 don't become very ill, if at all, they just pass it on. When testing vaccines on mice scientists infected mice with covid-19, but the mice didn't get sick. They then started breeding mice that would get sick, mice that would be weaker; they still didn't get sick. They gave the vaccine to these mice anyway and nothing happened. Because the mice couldn't become ill with covid-19 there was no way to test the vaccines on them, it was impossible to know if the vaccine was working. The mice suffered for nothing. The Science Advisor of the Animal Justice Project, Dr Andre Menache said, “Faced with this viral tsunami, scientists have not had time to find one or more animal species to serve as a ‘model’ to study this disease in the laboratory.” He went on to say, “To try to reproduce a human disease in an animal is a perversion of science, a complete misunderstanding of the complex system that we are... This is a golden opportunity to get rid of the ‘animal model. A concept that belongs to the 20th century.”
In Seattle, at a Kaiser Permanente hospital, four people were injected with one of the first potential coronavirus vaccines. The vaccine, mRNA-1273, was developed by Moderna Therapeutics without animal testing. Developing a test that could be performed on animals that would give useful results would take too long so they went straight to testing on humans. The tests went well and the vaccine was considered a success, it is now being given to people around the world.
Being Vegan and Taking Medicines
“[t]he principle of the emancipation of animals from exploitation by man”
Leslie J Cross
The goal of being vegan is to live in a way that aims to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. However, as long as tests on animals are a legal requirement, refusing to take a medicine on ethical grounds will not help animals who have already been used in tests or spare any the same fate in the future. It will not stop companies or governments from continuing the practice and it will certainly not help you or keep you safe. Another way to look at it is that getting the vaccine will protect those animals that can get covid, the ones that will sick. But, you're also protecting your loved ones, your friends and your neighbours.