Biology Lesson

Dear Editor,

For nearly thirty years, I taught Biology II and chemistry at Rutledge High School. I taught about how mysterious particles called viruses invade our bodies and wreak havoc. It was debated for years whether a virus should be considered a living organism or not because it lacks the ability to reproduce on its own. The virus is made up of an RNA or a DNA core and a uniquely shaped protein exterior coat with a distinct tail. This protein tail is the part of the virus that attaches to the cell surface. Once the virus tail attaches to our cell surface, the virus then uses our cells to reproduce. In effect, our cells are turned into virus factories, producing tens of thousands of new virus particles complete with their nucleic acid and protein coats. Our bodies become feverish, dehydrated, sluggish and achy because our very cells are being destroyed by the invading virus.  The respiratory system, including the nose, throat and lungs are often most affected by airborne viral infections.

How do the current vaccines work to provide immunity from COVID-19?  The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines work by injecting the COVID-19 spike protein, a portion of the virus tail, into our arms with the shot. This spike protein from the protein tail does not cause the virus because it contains no RNA or DNA from the virus. The vaccine causes our cells to recognize this protein tail (spike) as a foreign invader. This spike protein is the part of the virus that attaches to the cell’s surface. Once our cells recognize the protein as an intruder, it stimulates our immune system to form antibodies which resist further attempts by these spike proteins to penetrate our cell membranes. We become safe from the virus because it cannot turn our cells into virus factories because it cannot get into the interior of the cell since it cannot attach to the cell surface. 

I knew that there was no way that the COVID-19 vaccine could alter my DNA, thus my husband and I were eager to get the vaccine. We heard that Hancock County had been given several thousand vaccines in late December 2020. We drove over early in the morning to Hancock County High School where we received our first of two doses of the Moderna vaccine January 2, 2021. 

I fail to understand the source of the many and varied myths about the COVID-19 vaccine.  All of us received many vaccines before entering school for the first time. These vaccines included diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, polio and smallpox. The vaccines for polio and smallpox have been so widely administered throughout the world that these diseases no longer plague us. In fact, the smallpox vaccine was dropped from the vaccination schedule in 1972 because the disease has been eradicated from the USA.

The vaccine against COVID-19 was developed under the “Warp Speed” program by the former President of the USA. I thought the vaccine would have gained widespread acceptance by Trump voters. Instead, this vaccine has been met with hesitancy, skepticism and out right hostility. This virus is apolitical, thus it infects Democrats, Republicans and Independent voters in equal measure. 

As one who was originally infected with this virus in December 2019, before doctors in the USA had ever encountered this virus and knew only that we patients had an infection that was not the flu or strep, I will do anything that is suggested to me to keep from being reinfected. I will gladly take a third dose of the vaccine if being sick for a day will ward off this horrible disease.

Let’s take a look at a few of the myths associated with the COVID-19 vaccine.  

First: A woman of childbearing age will become infertile if she gets vaccinated. Social media is responsible for this bit of misinformation.  (It has been posted on) Facebook that the spike protein in the vaccines is the exact same protein that a woman must have for the placenta of the developing baby to attach to the wall of the uterus. The proteins are totally different. This myth has caused many young women to not be vaccinated. This is one of the most common of all the lies about vaccines. The gossip game has certainly worked here. Just like the old gossip game, where a sentence is repeated to about six people in row. If the sentence first said, “I cut my arm and had to get five stitches,” by the time it gets to the sixth person the arm has been amputated.  The truth is that in the double-blind study concerning vaccine safety and efficacy there were twenty-two babies conceived and all twenty-two arrived as healthy babies.

Second: Some people say that the vaccines were rushed out because of the pandemic without proper time and care in development. People believe that emergency use authorization (EUA) means these vaccines are not safe or effective. The M-RNA technology that these vaccines use has been in development for more than 20 years. Even our own Oak Ridge National Laboratory has contributed to this type of vaccine development. We were on the cusp of releasing the first vaccines using M-RNA technology just prior to the pandemic. Sevierville native, Dolly Parton, donated $1 million from her personal fortune toward the development of the Moderna vaccine.  If this does not calm your fears, consider that more than 134,000,000 of your fellow citizens have received the vaccine with extremely few side effects. Some folks want to wait on full FDA authorization, but then, the vaccine is likely to not be free to the consumer as it is now.  

Third: Many folks believe that if a person has been vaccinated the government can track them.  Perhaps this misconception arose from the messenger RNA name of the vaccine. This type of RNA is not designed to locate anyone. It is designed to carry messages from the nucleus of the cell to code for a particular protein that the cell needs to produce. For anyone who wonders about our government’s ability to track us, I suggest that the first thing the person might want to do is to throw their cell phone out the window as they drive down the highway. Also, make sure you are driving a vehicle from the 1960s, or older, because remember that ON STAR device is watching you.

Fourth: I want to address the outright lies that are being perpetrated concerning the vaccines. I was in a business establishment in Grainger County late last week. I had a chance encounter with a respectful young man. He found out that I was a former biology teacher at the old high school.  He wanted to know what I thought about the COVID vaccines. I was, of course, excited to tell him that I was vaccinated and a proponent of the vaccines. He stated that nobody knows the longterm effects of the vaccine. To this I responded that I still had a big toe and that I had been fully vaccinated for about six months. He then told me that his mother was a registered nurse at one of the Knoxville hospitals. She told him that all the patients that they had in the COVID ICU were from adverse reactions to the vaccines. I told him I did not think this was true, but I could see that this argument was not going to be effective with this young man, so I changed the subject.

I went home and decided that I had to pursue this matter further. You see, this young man was not only exposing me to this erroneous information. There were seven other patrons at this establishment who overheard this conversation. I am sure that anyone who was hesitant about being vaccinated is now cemented in concrete to never get this vaccine. I called the Knox County Health Department to find out if even one person had been admitted to an area hospital because of the COVID vaccine. The person at the switchboard connected me to their epidemiologist. An epidemiologist specializes in infectious diseases. She told me that no one had been admitted to the hospital, not to mention the ICU, because of a COVID vaccine adverse reaction. She told me that if I had known this nurse’s name, she would have been in real trouble for carrying such a tale. We are going to have to confront some of these outrageous claims if we ever hope to return to something like a normal existence.

Folks, we are in a serious time, and we need to arm ourselves with accurate information. I hope you will get a vaccine which could save your life and perhaps someone in your family. Do not wait to contract the delta variant of COVID or perhaps the new lambda variant, because you might not live to regret your lack of action.

Ginger M. Spradlin



How do we change things in our life? Are we totally predestined? Where does the line end between predestined and freewill? I am sure many of us have asked these questions or something similar to them in the past. I would love, on one hand, to have someone or something to blame all my poor decisions on, yet still be able to claim it was my decision or freewill that made that “great accomplishment” possible.

However, most of the time when people are having this discussion, we avoid the facts that would really make predestined or “everything happens for a reason” to cause us possible bitterness toward God. I mean, I don’t intend to make this an argument about religion or God per se, but check your Bible’s concordance for the word predestined and see if there’s not a definite level of it taught. Sure our ways of indoctrination cause us to not be truly honest about this. God knew us before we were created, the typical answer. He knew your heart, glory, etc., but freewill caused you to sin, etc. I understand people. Maybe it’s better to believe what truth you want rather than face some answers that would cause you to reform your entire life. I know how easy it is to believe the things taught to us by tradition, never asking why the person teaching it believes it. I understand how any Christian can show you verses that support exactly the things he’s saying. I can do that too. I have used the Bible to teach some very negative dogmas. I say some of the things I’m saying out of personal experience. I mean lots of the things I believed were based on lies and half-truths. Yet, I believe that finally the scales of indoctrination are falling from my eyes. 

Anyway, I’m trying to stay on topic. Can we change things in our life? I’m talking about the smaller things. As a man thinketh. There’s lots of truth to so many things that’s easily overlooked, especially as the church would call man’s philosophy, pagan teachings, etc. Honestly, does your thinking create your surroundings? I mean literally, can we speak things into existence? Does it seem that every time you have a good run, you have a good run? When it rains, it pours. Though this is true, why is it true? Your mindset. So, understand this. We, literally, can change the happenings in our life. The fact is our energies attract, and of course, repel. All the little sayings of old time have lots of truth to them, just as most religions do. We tend to add to them or bend them to our way of thinking, but the point is, we have the absolute power to change at least the now. We always live in the past or the future, which steals our power to change what matters, the now. See, the past normally leaves us with regrets, and the future causes us to have dread, stress, fear and even positive feelings, such as hope. Yet, the actual place we should focus is the now. See, our energies are like a magnet. You can try it. This requires no faith. You can see it. What it does require is tons of effort and devotion, which seems impossible because of the way we’re taught. 

According to the Kabalistic doctrine, the future exists in the astral light in embryo, as the present existed in embryo in the past. While man is free to act as he pleases, the manner in which he will act was foreknown from all time, not on the ground of fatalism or destiny, but simply on the principle of universal unexchangeable harmony; as it may be foreknown when a musical note is struck, its vibrations will not and cannot change into those of another note. 

Now, I like this response in relation to our earlier freewill versus predestined debate. Yet, there’s so many teachings out there that have the answers. I would’ve missed most of them had I remained in my box, my set ways. See, I’ve been through so many teachings of so many cultures, some good and some bad, according to the people’s perception or set way of looking at it. However, I believe that if you search with all your heart, knock and it shall be answered, that if you truly put your energy into something, even finding something, it will manifest itself, whether it’s a debate between freewill and predestination. It may be, too, that there are tests by which nature, more skillful than any photographer, can bring out and fix these portraits so that those with more acute senses than ours shall see them as on a great canvas, spread over the material universe. 

Can we change the moment, the now? When a thought, good or evil import, is begotten in our brain, it draws to it impulses of like nature, as irresistibly as the magnet attracts iron fillings. 

Justin Dalton