Sunday, August 22, 2021

The Great Vaccine Debate

Ernst & Friederike Lindeman were my great, great grandparents.  As of 1877, they had seven children.  On Saturday, August 4th of that year, they lost their 10-year-old daughter, Helene, to diphtheria.  The next day, their 9-year-old son, Arthur, passed from the same cause.  On Monday, they said goodbye to their 12-year-old daughter, Bertha.  On Tuesday, they lost their daughter, Maria, who was almost 7 years old.  Thursday claimed their almost 5-year-old son, Ernst.  And on Friday, they lost their last two children – 3-year-old Georg and 13-month-old Emilie.  In less than one week’s time, Ernst and Friederike went from having a full house to starting over with just the two of them because of diphtheria.  The peak of the diphtheria epidemic was between 1921 and 1925, with 206,000 cases resulting in 15,520 deaths.  The diphtheria vaccine was developed in the 1920s, and people are still vaccinated against diphtheria along with pertussis and tetanus today with a shot commonly known as DTaP.  As for Ernst and Friederike, they went on to have seven more children, one being my feisty great grandmother, Anna.

With the current controversy surrounding COVID vaccination, I decided to research how early vaccines were developed and tested before being widely used.  My searching took me back to 1721, when people who didn’t really know much about immunity attempted to prevent smallpox infections by scratching a small amount of the pus from a smallpox lesion into a healthy person’s skin.  Unfortunately, some people contracted full blown smallpox from this experiment, and those who developed only a mild case were still carriers of the disease, spreading the full illness to those they came in contact with.

In 1796, Edward Jenner tried something different – he scratched pus from a cowpox lesion onto a child’s skin then exposed the child to smallpox.  The child remained healthy.  Cowpox was similar to smallpox, but much less severe.  Jenner spread the word of his results to other physicians, seeking nothing in return.  Soon, physicians around the world used this approach.  To deliver the vaccine to other countries, orphans were infected and put on ships, carrying the vaccine in their lesions.

Obviously, many improvements have been made to the inoculation approach in the years that followed.  Smallpox claimed over 300 million lives during just the 20th century, but in 1980, the World Health Organization declared smallpox eradicated.  It is the only infectious disease to receive that status, and it was achieved through a vaccination approach that began with no scientific controls and frankly, a complete lack of ethics.  Thank goodness we’ve advanced since then.

Someone recently asked me my opinion on the current COVID-19 vaccination situation. The rest of what I’m about to say reflects my understanding and opinion, I am not an expert on these topics and I encourage you to talk to your physician if you have questions. 
First, I wish people had taken the recommended precautions related to sheltering in place, wearing masks, washing hands and maintaining 6 feet of distance from others so that COVID-19 vaccines weren’t needed. But here we are, so here are my thoughts:

  • Very few viruses can be cured with medication.  The way of dealing with almost every virus is to treat the symptoms, reduce their severity through the use of antivirals, allow your body to build it’s own immunity by creating antibodies in response to being infected, or avoid serious infection through vaccination.  We don’t have 100% effective medications to treat the symptoms of COVID-19 or reduce the severity of the disease after symptoms start.  I support vaccination because it reduces severity of the disease.
  • Some viruses are prone to mutating more than others.  DNA based viruses, like smallpox, are more stable.  That is why we were able to eradicate it after it had been spreading for centuries.  RNA based viruses, like the flu, the common cold, and COVID-19, are prone to making mistakes when they replicate, which causes mutations.  The longer a virus goes unchecked, the more likely variants will form.  As variants turn into new strains, it becomes harder to prevent infection through vaccination.  Chickenpox doesn’t mutate, so you will only get it once.  Influenza does mutate, which is why there is a new flu vaccine every year.  This is the primary reason I support emergency use vaccines -  I don't want us to be in a situation where we have to develop new vaccines annually for COVID-19 variants (we don't catch all annual variants with the flu vaccine, the same would be true for COVID-19).  Time is of the essence if we want to slow the rate of transmission to prevent variants and new strains.
  • To reduce the risk of new variants, we also must reduce the number of infected individuals.  Herd immunity is essential.  The “right to choose” frequently comes up in conversation.  I understand this is a sensitive topic.  I support the right to choose, but with prejudice.  I have seen too many people digging in their heels because of misinformation or based on principle rather than on scientific evidence.  If your decision to not get vaccinated is purely to take a stand on your right to choose, I would ask you to reconsider your priorities.  I support the right to choose when there are legitimate medical reasons to not be vaccinated.  However, I also think people should be challenged when their choice provides no benefit to themselves but does reduce the likelihood of us or our children’s generation living in a world where COVID-19 infections are rare, like measles or polio.  At some point, we must acknowledge that being part of a civilized society involves being inconvenienced for the greater good - and for the good of those with medical conditions that prevent them from safely being vaccinated.
  • While the FDA hadn't fully approved the vaccinations before their use, they did authorize them for emergency use, which is far more FDA involvement than any number of over-the-counter supplements, herbal preparations, essential oils, and other unregulated home remedies that people regularly use to improve their health.  Not to mention the things people willingly inject in or through their skin without FDA approval, such as piercings, tattoos, and recreational drugs.
  • Speaking of government oversight, I don’t recommend government mandated vaccinations, but I'm not opposed to organizations requiring evidence of vaccination status.  Daycare providers require it before enrolling your children or sending them to summer camp and that is accepted.  Exceptions are allowed, but they have to be documented.  I know some people think the vaccine is being used to somehow control us.  I don’t personally believe there are enough corrupt people in positions of power or influence to poison the nation or world’s population.  I can remember thinking things had gone too far when seatbelt laws were enacted, but those laws did save lives.
  • IoT and smart devices are a hobby of mine.  I don’t believe any type of tracking device is being injected with the vaccine.  Devices that transmit data must be powered.  Devices that contain static information that can be read by a scanner must contain a unique identifier which is associated with your information in a database if they will be used to track you or information about you in a meaningful way.  When I received my vaccine, it was drawn from a multi-use vial.  At no time did anyone scan anything to associate my identity with a microscopic chip.  In addition, you have to hold a scanner very close to a microchip to read any data from it, so it would be fairly obvious if someone was trying to track you.
  • I willingly subjected myself to chemotherapy and radiation, both cancer fighting treatments that are known to have long term effects, because those side effects were less risky than allowing cancer to go untreated.  For me, the decision to get vaccinated to prevent or reduce the severity of COVID-19 was minor in comparison.
  • I trust the scientists.  I trust science when sound research methods are employed and the results are published in peer reviewed journals.  I have not studied the research on the current COVID-19 vaccines, so I can’t say I trust the science, but I do trust the scientists at the organizations that have authorized and recommended their use, and I fully accept that they are human and may make mistakes.  There isn't enough time in the day to fully research every possible threat to my health that I may come across in a day.  I used Zantac.  I used Round-Up.  I got cancer.  I have no idea what caused it, but I'm going to go on living my life rather than spending it personally validating the research behind everything I come in contact with daily if I can reasonably believe it won't harm me.
  • I know people who have personally experienced long terms effects of COVID-19, and people who have lost loved ones to it.  I don't personally know anybody who has experienced a serious side effect of the vaccine.  In general, I have not heard of any vaccine side effects that are is as serious as the risks of COVID-19.  Yes, there are people who have had serious allergic reactions to the vaccine – an allergic reaction is not the same thing as a side effect.  Nonetheless, the rate of serious side effects and reactions is still far less than the rate of those in people who contract COVID-19.
So those are my reasons for being vaccinated and hoping my friends will follow suit. I’m not one to get into heated debates or end relationships over it, but if I can get one person to think about and further research their decision, then writing this was time well spent.