the vaccine controversy
Years ago, school kids lined up in their school auditorium and marched single file past the nurse or doctor that administered the little vaccine innocuoation to prevent Diptheria, Pertussis and Tetanus. We all had our little round TB vaccine marks. Smallpox had been all but eliminated. None of us, or our parents, really gave a second thought to this 'rite of passage' other than the occassional tear shed by us as youngsters. I don't even recall receiving a "participation trophy' as we all tried to show our bravery at getting 'shot'! Were we just sheep blindly following a government mandate, or were there real advantages of preventing a widespread epidemic in populations that were becoming densely urbanized in spite of the boom in suburbia. In order to understand why vaccines have become an issue in the 21st century, perhaps the history of their development, rather than how they are actually produced, needs review.
When the first vaccine was developed in the 1790's, people were dying in large numbers from Smallpox and were clamoring for anything to resolve the crisis of widespread death. Scraping the open sores of smallpox and 'innoculating' (actually called a variolation) an unexposed recipient allowed them to have a sub-clinical case of the disease and eventual immunity from further infection. George Washington did this to his troops to prevent smallpox being spread by the British. Some died from an acute reaction to the innoculation but far more were saved and smallpox was all but eliminated. By 1972, smallpox vaccines were no longer administered in the U.S. However, the disease was spread worldwide by sailors and soldiers during the age of exploration and those populations with no previous exposure, like the Aztecs in Central America, many tribes of North American Indians and other indigenous people around the world, were all but wiped out by the rapidly spread virus. Europe had already experienced similar population decimations by the Bubonic Plague (The Black Death), and Thypoid Fever, bacterial rather than viral infections. To this day, one can be refused entry into some countries if not innocluated against these diseases. Malaria, another animal vectored disease, remains one for which preventive medication is recommended when traveling to areas where it remains a common affliction. Those who have experienced the ravages of this ailment would surely prefer some sort of vaccination rather than the frequent use of medicines that themselves have side-effects. Interestingly, sickle cell anemia, found among black and some mediterranean populations, provides immunity to malaria. Of course that immunity is also not without consequences. Vaccine development moved forward along with with other science and technology and most diseases spread easily from one human population to another were all but eliminated. Are there problems that exist with any medical, scientific, farmimg, fishing, fuel development, or technology development ? Of course ! One must consider, however, if a larger good comes out of that research and development. From a vaccine/anti-vaccine standpoint, debate has reached the point that perhaps we will have to wait for the next big viral outbreaks where the only chance for survival will be with some sort of introduced vaccine. Some of these are currently being quietly developed to boost ones immune system to fight infections like Ebola, HIV, or other hemorrhagic viruses. When the day does arrive that any of these become airborne, population decimation will again occur on this earth. I often wonder who will be the first to clamor for the vaccine that will prevent the death of their 3 yo child, their mother or brother as they watch news of the spread of these problems. Unintended consequences remain the dilemma of short-sighted thinking that inhibits further research and development. In the meanwhile, the resurgence of old viruses we thought were eliminated is occurring so one can only hope that those in the anti-vaccine camp don't suffer through a polio, diptheria, measles or flu outbreak that could have been prevented. It might be difficult to deal with the fact that ones own child was the vector for spreading a virus to others.....but then, maybe that is the real solution to another problem.... the explosion in our planet's population. Perhaps we need to let the old genre of disease and pestilence regain its' foothold as the lead horseman....of the apocalypse