Addressing the rumour that mRNA Covid vaccines can cause infertility

Cross-post from Facebook


I’ve now had 2 different friends on 2 different continents mention the rumour that mRNA vaccines will cause infertility due to “shedding of the genetic instructions” for the corona spike protein messing up the “naturally occurring spike proteins” in the human body. So i decided to post a copy of my answer publicly in case anybody else needs it.


Human reproductive tissues don’t contain any “spike” protein. I assume this is the result of confusion with placental syncytins which are derived from the ENVELOPE protein of endogenous retroviruses. These are retroviruses which became integrated into the human genome millions of years ago and now form an important part of the mother-baby interface in the placenta. 

Retroviruses are completely unrelated to coronaviruses so it’s highly unlikely there’s any similarity between the SARS-CoV-2 spike and placental syncytins.

About the “shedding” part of the question: neither of the mRNA vaccines contains sequences that would allow them to be self-replicating so it’s also extremely unlikely that they would be shed in any meaningful quantity. The mRNA molecules might stick around in your body for a few days or weeks but they’re gonna disappear eventually.

About the objection that nobody has “compare the genetic instructions to create the proteins to one another. He only compared the final product of the spike protein”:

I know you know what translation is, but in case your friend needs a little review – there’s no way for the “genetic instructions” i.e. the mRNA itself to trigger a specific immune response or anything else that could mess up reproduction or fertility. The whole point of mRNA is that it gets translated into protein and it’s the proteins that do stuff. It’s like the difference between the blueprint to build a machine, versus the actual machine. 

I hope this is enough to set your friend’s mind at ease.
#TolongViralkan #covidvaccines #mythbusting #fakenews

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As in a mirror, dimly

(crossposted from Facebook/added links/might expand on my thoughts later)

Someone on a Malaysian expats group shared that they were trying to learn Chinese so other people started sharing their experiences, I wrote a very cheong hei comment so I thought I’d repost it to my own timeline if anybody cares.I grew up in an anglophone family because mum Hokkien dad Cantonese. Unfortunately when growing up we didn’t get exposed to a lot of Chinese TV or other pop culture because my dad is a pastor so we weren’t allowed to watch stuff with supernatural elements (rules out all the kungfu and hantu stuff). I’ve tried to learn Chinese a few times in my life, the outcomes so far…

1. My mum tried to teach me with some old-fashioned primers… I cried crocodile tears until she released me. I could read very fast in English at an early age and didn’t see the point of struggling to reading boring “kindergarten baby” books in a more complicated script.

2. Sent to POL* class in Standard 3, total disaster. The laoshi focussed on teaching the other kids who could already speak a bit of Chinese, so I with zero was left behind. The next year my parents didn’t force me to continue. * (“pupil’s own language”, Mandarin and Tamil classes held for Chinese and Indian students respectively in Malaysian national schools, usually outside school hours)

3. Took Chinese (Mandarin) for 1 year in college in the USA. I actually managed to make some progress with this and enjoyed a 2 week field trip to Beijing and Shanghai. But dropped off afterwards because I didn’t have any opportunity to use it.

4. What really burned me on trying to learn Chinese any more was the bitchy attitude of my colleagues in Singapore. I had some Singaporean and ex-Malaysian Chinese colleagues who were all-around horrible people and hostile to any outsiders including non-Chinese and bananas like me. After that I gave up trying to learn Mandarin for a long time.

5. During the pandemic I discovered Chinese BL novels** through a random comment on Facebook about The Untamed/Chen Qing Ling and ended up reading a bunch of English fan translations and watching a couple of the TV adaptations.

**Yes, I know BL novels are problematic, written and consumed mostly by heterosexual girls and women, fetishising gay men, promoting toxic relationships, etc. We’re in a pandemic, I’ve become considerably less judgemental of what other people do to blow off steam. I finally understand my friend who years ago said she needed “Twilight” to get her through Christmas at her in-laws.

That’s when I decided to give it another go because a) I don’t mind learning a language if there’s content that’s interesting enough for me to latch on to and b) no matter how good a translation is, you still miss a lot.

I also recently saw a blog post, I think it was by some Indian guy, who commented that Chinese culture is basically the only civilisation that has 2000+ years of continuous history (debatable, but…). There was also a tweet by some Chinese girl saying that in Chinese, it’s totally normal to quote something that someone said 2000 years ago and expect people to understand the reference***.

When you read novel translations there are sooooooooooooooo many footnotes explaining the historical/literary references. And I feel like I’m missing out on all that.

When we were small my dad taught us to recite a couple of the classic poems in Cantonese (the chong chin meng yit gwong one (Jing Ye Si by Li Bai), and the one about the beanstalks cooking the beans (The Seven-Step Verse)) but that’s really all the handle I have on 2000+ years of literature.

*** Of course people do this with Western literature and history too. But from the very cursory impression I’ve had of Chinese pop culture so far, the sheer density of how much people quote and make reference to ancient literature and history is way higher.

So I’m currently brushing up my Mandarin/written Chinese on Duolingo and learning Penang Hokkien on Memrise.

Sekian, terima kasih if you made it to the end of my long story.

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Lord of the Rings audiobook reread

Little details I didn’t pay attention to when I was a kid: the journal of the recolonisation was written by multiple people in multiple scripts. Near the end when they were under attack, someone, probably Ori, switched to elven script instead of the runes favoured by the dwarves. Why? They were in a hurry, and you can’t write runes in cursive.

The relationship I enjoy the most in the trilogy is Gandalf and Pippin. Pippin being the youngest in the whole jingbang obviously undergoes the most personal growth, from being this annoying tweenager who throws rocks randomly and complains that hiking sucks, to standing up to the insane Steward of Gondor and saving Faramir’s life. Gandalf doesn’t hesitate to scold him – Gandalf is never a bully, he knows that Pippin’s irrepressible personality can take it. Maybe for him, scolding Pippin also offers a bit of stress relief.

Under the hood, the way he puts up with Pippin being a si gin nah epitomises how he has an abiding faith in the importance of “smallfolk”. Not just hobbits but also various characters who are not kings, aristocrats, or mighty warriors.

It’s quite staggering how the ancient dwarves carved out a complex that extended FORTY MILES east to west and who knows how many levels up and down under the mountains.

  • 11th April in real life, 15 January 3019 , just after losing Gandalf escaping from Moria

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Oh Leila

Half an hour to curfew. The streets are already silent.

People often ask me if I’m afraid to be out at night. To cycle at night. To walk at night, a woman alone in Durban.

It seems foolhardy but in six years no harm has come to me on two wheels. I have had my house ransacked. I have had been robbed at gunpoint on foot and in a car. But at my most fragile, moving at speed on two wheels empty as spiderwebs with nothing interposed between the hard road and my body, I feel invulnerable. And the rush of the wind is most entrancing when it’s cool and dark. The rush hour traffic is gone and the road is mine.

Then when I get home, there’s the dog waiting at the door, wagging so hard her hind feet tapdance. Selfish as I am, I feel terrible saying no to those big dark eyes like a baby seal’s. To prevent the explosion of canine madness while catching my breath I need to pretend to be resolutely callous, to plop myself on a chair and whip out the phone as if I plan to Facebook for an hour. The second I move toward the bedroom to peel off my sweaty jeans for running shorts, she knows what’s up. Her feet do not touch the floor.

The name she came with was Leila. I saw someone explain the reason why animals come with such awkward “shelter names” is that animal shelter workers have so many dogs and cats come through their doors that they don’t have time to pick good ones. Some might, but this dog does not have an ounce of romance in her lean, springy little body, all legs and a jet-turbine ribcage. This is not the Leila of Cheb Mami and Sting’s “Desert Rose”, or the “Layla” that got Eric Clapton down on his knees. I relabelled her.

I don’t dare to go all the way to the park after dark. Just past the school and to the corner with the Italian restaurant so she can eat some of the nice grass on a particular verge and back. I greet a security guard briefly. A few gangly young men in sports clothing are waiting outside the school gate, chatting. They eye me curiously as I pass, this strange boyish woman doing a crazy thing like walking her dog after dark. I wonder if they’re nervous that their parents will not come to fetch them in time.

The sodium-yellow lamps illuminate empty roads. The tops of the broken, twisted jacarandas toss lightly in the night breeze. I walk brisk but quiet on sandaled feet, accompanied by the click-click-click of Folly’s claws. The poor thing is neglected; I haven’t been walking her enough and her claws have grown long like a stupid little lapdog’s. When I’m indoors, I’m trapped by a thousand stupid excuses; by work, by poor time management, by internet addiction, by all the necessities of daily life we call “adulting”. But once we’re outside, the free air lifts me like a kite away from the ground.

This dog, if you let her run she would run to the ends of the earth. If the darkness lasted forever, I could walk to the ends of the earth too.

Ya Leila. Oh night.

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What is the taste

Recently, I like to heave open the half-jammed balcony door and take my food or coffee outside. The unspoken, superficial excuse is the piece of paper on the door of the lunchroom printed “Maximum 3 persons in this room”; I pretend to be considerate and yielding. I nod at my colleages before shutting the door on them and sitting down on the narrow tiled floor like a hermit. The private excuse that I first had in my mind was Alan Paton’s phrase “…the stately indigenous trees of the Berea” still stately and beautiful six decades later; one of the little privileges of working here is a few from one of the few high-rise buildings in the Umbilo area.

But the true reason was something that my body yearned for before it was explicit in my mind. I am this weirdo who sits outside in the heat of a Durban summer. Who bakes in the westering sun pouring into the oven between a glass wall and a glass parapet. Who feels the sun draw the sweat from my skin, the tiles radiate into my thighs through the black jeans. I need these breaks from the climate-controlled lab to feel fully incarnate, fully experiencing my body. The lunchroom is also air-conditioned and still doesn’t feel like a far enough escape.

It’s not that I feel disembodied or dissociated in the lab. Something non-biologists don’t understand is how physical, how artisanal lab work is. I can do repetitive tasks over and over again, but it would be completely incorrect to say that I feel like a machine. These are human skills: delicately adjusting the pressure of your thumb to compensate while pipetting liquids of different viscosities, knowing just how fast to mix to avoid blowing bubbles, making a judgement as to when to use reverse or forward technique for measuring out miniscule drops of precious reagents. The focus required is demanding, and the demand is made hundreds of times a day. It is not a career for the incorrigibly clumsly or careless.

But it’s a different kind of physicality. It’s very much an experience of the hands and the eyes. My legs become a mere conveyance. I forget about my entire torso unless it complains. Out on the balcony, I feel everything – tendons stretching as I push my feet against the glass parapet, the muscles of my back against the doors, hair tossing in the puffs of wind that sneak through the gaps in the glass. The soundscape is nothing beautiful – merely the heavy traffic of an industrial road – but it comes through the free air from a distance, not the enclosed space of the lab with hums and beeps and whirs constantly impinging on each other.

Yellow-billed kites wheel over the school up the hill across the road. The coffee is finished and the bowl scraped dry. Back to work.

*Post title is from the Ambition: Nemesis storyline in Fallen London. It is a key phrase in the Chambers of the Heart which activates the quality “One who has Indulged in Unknown Pleasures”.

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The labyrinth

(crossposted to Facebook)

In my dreams there is a labyrinth that comprises the world.

Every landmark building in my earlier life has dissolved into this amalgam. The first time I went to a hospital. The first shopping mall I saw. The stairs of Chowrasta Market. Every church my father has preached in. My schools, primary and then secondary.

Somewhere in there is a food court with stalls that sell the flavours of my childhood. There is an atrium many stories high. If you throw yourself from the railing without caring if you live or die, you will fly. It is riddled with secret passages that I alone know the ways of. These are needed because there is a faceless enemy that stalks me through it.

Again and again I return to its corridors. I have a poor memory for specifics of places. I’m bad with directions. Things shift around in my memory, sliding and rotating like blocks in a game. What I remember are impressions, blurs of colour and feeling.

As I get older, even my young adulthood, university days, begins to fade from the sharp passion of distinct memory and merge with this dreamscape.

I have an extracorporeal vision of myself at twenty-one, in overalls and gardening gloves. Cutting dead peonies outside the library, in the rain, I feel its gray stone walls begin to melt.

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“I think that if you go overseas with a superficial attitude, intending to come back home in a year, you won’t get much out of the experience. Particularly if you’re young, you should go with the intention of completely immersing yourself, ready to spend the rest of your life there. You should be determined not to come home until you’ve achieved one goal you’ve set for yourself overseas. “
Tahira Satoshi

I found this quote in literally a plain text file in my Dropbox. Tahira is a high-ranking executive in the pharma company I used to work at before I came to South Africa. I can no longer remember what the context was – probably some big internal company meeting, but obviously I transcribed it because I thought it was wonderful advice and I still do.

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Everything in monochrome. Black sea, sand white in the moonlight, black trees. Ribbons of grey cloud. The black upward arc of an old boat beached long ago.

Flying foxes – huge bats – passing over the face of the moon. Their nightly commute for sweet fruit dangling from trees untouched by human hands.

The dinosaurian scrape, scrape of a turtle dragging herself up the beach. The length of a medium dog, but she weighs as much as a big man. So much weight. You and your partner glance at each other. No rush. She will take her time.

Far down the beach, a ruby star bobs. Another pair of volunteers are bustling around their turtle with a clipboard: when did she start to dig, when to lay, how many eggs, when did she close up. Buried treasures.

The ransom, the debt. Chagar Hutang, Redang.

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A Journal of the Plague Year

Link to my review on Goodreads (same text as below).

The book, free on

This was pretty entertaining reading in the grip of a pandemic. Just to be clear, Defoe himself was a small kid at the time of the Great Plague of London. This first-person account may be based on the journals of his uncle Henry Foe.
Three hundred and fifty-five years seems like a very long time ago. But the ideas and experiences in this book seem surprisingly contemporary, not just because of our circumstances. You can see why historians already call this time the “Early MODERN Era.” He keeps quoting bits of the weekly bills of mortality just like how we’re all pasting screenshots of the latest case numbers on social media.
Despite acknowledging that he is a layman, the narrator has a lot of insights based on observation about disease control. He criticises the shutting up of houses with sick and healthy household members together. This conflates isolation of the sick with quarantine, which properly applies to exposed but healthy people. The narrator notes that rich men who owned 2 houses and were able to send the sick family member away before the authorities shut up their house were often able to save the rest of the family. Chinese epidemiologists who studied the Wuhan outbreak came to the same conclusion – lockdown only slowed the spread, what stopped it was centralised quarantine.
Another epidemiological concept that’s been confirmed in modern studies is a “second wave” when people think it’s over and relax their precautions and rush back to urban centres.
There is also a heartwrenching conversation with a poor boatman who makes a living selling groceries to ship owners or merchants who are living aboard their ships to keep away from the city. Meanwhile he can’t go near his family because his wife and one of his children have the plague, and the child is probably dying. He has to keep himself healthy because they will starve otherwise. It reminded me of the plight of Uber drivers and workers in the “gig economy” or older informal economies who are struggling to make a living right now.
Not all is grim; there is also an entertaining account of two poor men who decide to leave the city, end up meeting up with a small group of other vagrants, and somehow end up convincing villagers that they are an entire gang of armed bandits.
By the way if you are not from London I highly recommend having Google Maps at hand while reading this.

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BSL3 birdwatching

There are two large black-and-white corvids in South Africa, the pied crow and the white-necked raven. The reason I know this is because I had an argument with my partner’s friend who’s an older South African guy. He took us for a drive and we saw a big black and white bird flying in the distance and I said that looks too big to be a crow and the beak is really heavy, I think it’s a raven. He said no, it’s a pied crow, I used to have one as a pet.

Some months later I happened to find a bird book and lo and behold South Africa does have a raven that is also black and white and it does indeed have that scary looking beak which is much thicker than the crow’s.

Anyway last Friday I was working in the Biosafety Level 3 lab at the top of our tower. This time of year the pied crows like to come and hang out on the sunshades that are installed outside the building’s windows. Then I noticed there was A RAVEN sitting right next to a crow! A chance to take a photo of both of them together! But being that I don’t bring personal belongings into BSL3, the only normal camera in the room (besides the confocal microscope) was the laptop that we use for taking labnotes. By the time I had unplugged it and pointed it out the window, the raven had flown away.


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