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Memories of the 28th Century

Vaccine of No?

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Life is a Gamble

It seems that some people are lining up to refuse that Coronavirus vaccines that are being developed. That might be a good gamble, but vaccines have saved many, many more lives than they have hurt, but the odds vary dramatically from disease to disease.

The first vaccine was for Smallpox, and the word “vaccine” was derived from that, because a culture of Cowpox was given to a healthy person, who would develop immunity from that. Since Cowpox was being used, there were no full cases of Smallpox from the vaccine, but some people did have a lesser disease. Considering that Smallpox had a mortality rate of more than 30%, getting sick for a few days was not a problem, but there were a few people who might have other problems. The odds of death from Smallpox vaccine were about one in a million. Putting that against the probability of death shows an advantage of about thirty-three thousand. The decision was quite clear that vaccination was good.

The odds aren't as clear with some other diseases. For example, for measles: “Death from measles was reported in approximately 0.2% of the cases in the United States from 1985 through 1992.” . On the other hand, there were no deaths caused by the vaccine, so the advantage of the vaccine is infinite, even though Measles is a disease that usually is an inconvenience, rather than a danger, for most people, but Measles was a disaster for American Indians and some other people.

For Influenza the advantage of the vaccine is similar to Measles. The mortality rate of annual Influenza is about 1 %; although there are years when it is higher. The rate of complications from the vaccine is negligible, but there have been varieties of Influenza that were extremely dangerous. The 1918 Spanish Flu killed more than fifty million, worldwide.

The comparison between diseases and vaccines varies for each disease, and for a few diseases, there are other factors. The Common Cold, Rhinovirus, has the advantage that the virus prefers to attack cells that are cancerous in preference, especially skin cancer, melanoma, and lung cancer. I suspect that the human immune system never built a complete defense against the Common Cold, because it could be advantageous to have a cold, but the vaccine against the Common Cold has the ordinary, rare complications, so the calculations for the vaccine come out very much against taking it.

I decided to write this after I saw a post on Pravda's English forum that made absurd claims about the vaccines being developed to protect against Coronavirus. The post mentioned that are inconsequential, such as mercury, eggs, and other things that may be involved in making vaccines, even though they are not in the final product. Unfortunately, some people have bad reactions to vaccines and other medicines, but the bad reactions occur in a tiny proportion of those who have the vaccines, and sometime there are other reasons for favoring vaccines. When I was young, polio was fairly common; there were outbreaks every year. The mortality rate was rather high, 2 to 5% in children and higher for adults, and the lifelong problems from polio were horrible, and some people died from secondary problems. When the vaccine was developed, there was no question about getting it. Since the vaccines were introduced in the 1950's, Polio has become rare; although it has not yet been eliminated.

The human immune system is amazing, There are several levels of protection against bacteria and viruses and other attackers. During and immediately after in infection, antibodies are created to attack the invaders, and after that infection is put done, the antibodies are no longer built, but T Cells are programmed to kill cells that are infected in the future, and there are other immune processes that slay viruses, see linked article.

Immunology is not a simple matter, and vaccines are quite complicated. Inherited immune responses are even more complicated, but they are very important, but it is not a clear matter. There are people who have inherited immunity to various diseases, and the result has included hundred of thousands (or even millions) of American Indians dying from measles and Smallpox that they caught from people of European ancestry, among whom a small percentage were slain by those diseases. But the decision whether one should take a vaccine is personal, and it depends on the several factors. As an example, I will comment on why I do not take vaccines for Influenza.

The immunity resulting for vaccinations to Influenza are short term, lasting no more than a couple of years, while immunity from infection with Influenza is long term, and this immunity provides partial immunity from related strains of Influenza virus, while the vaccination is only for a single variety. The complications from the vaccinations are negligible, but the net calculation is that the vaccination is not as useful as a good immune system is over the long run. People who have had Influenza many times over the decades are generally protected from Influenza, and that effect became clear in the 1918 pandemic, when people over 55 were mostly immune to the pandemic, because there was a similar Influenza around 1880.

The current corona virus is similar in that way, so people who have had colds that were caused by corona virus have gained some degree of immunity by Killer T Cells having the instruction set for detecting cells that have been infected by corona virus, even though the instruction set is not specific to SARS Cov 2.

As for adverse reactions to vaccines, the incidence is extremely low for reactions other than the normally expected soreness at the point of injection and brief low level fever. So the conclusion is that one judge the odds of major illness from a virus versus a chance of a minor reaction to the vaccine. Diseases with low mortality rates and only rare cases of serious illness, such as with Flu and Coronavirus, there may not be enough advantage gained from the vaccine to make it worth the trouble, unless one has a pre-existing condition that makes one susceptible to a serious or fatal case. For a major disease, such as Smallpox or Polio, the odds clearly dictate that one should get the vaccine. For many diseases there are populations that are prone to serious consequences from Measles, as one example, so people in the populations that are prone to serious effects should take the vaccine.