Love in the Time of Covid #9 – To Vax or Not To Vax?

covid 19

That is indeed a question.

I have very good friends who sit on both sides of this ‘question’. I would vax, but am not going to un-friend my very dear friends who wouldn’t.

Although I say I would vax. When I was picking up my prescription before Christmas at my local chemist, I was offered the seasonal flu vaccine. So many daggers flew from my eyes I pretty much emptied my arsenal. Why would I want a flu vaccine? I’ve had flu before and it’s never done me any harm. Surely natural immunity’s a good thing? When I got home I realised that having had a heart operation and being over 50, of course I was in the bracket to be offered a flu vaccine. And now knowing a whole lot more about covid 19, I understand that it’s not about me and my illness, it’s about protecting the whole population. Especially the old and the vulnerable, who I could infect and unknowingly kill, whilst getting better myself.

As hunter gatherers, we lived a fair distance apart, and diseases burned themselves out quickly. About 12 000 years ago, a hunter erected a pen around a couple of wild sheep and cabbages and we started to live together, in groups. Infectious diseases had a field day. We are already post human and need vaccines just to live next door to one another.

We vaccinated our populations before knowing what a germ was. When bacteria were first seen through a magnifying glass in pond water, no one thought it could make people ill. In 1850, Robert Koch in Germany proved that TB was caused by bacteria, rather than being inherited, as was widely believed at the time. The first vaccine was discovered by Edward Jenner, who successfully vaccinated a boy against cowpox in 1796 (hence the word vaccine from Latin vacca = cow), and this was the basis for the modern smallpox vaccination. Smallpox was certified as globally eradicated in 1980. Thanks to the vaccine. Water purification and vaccine programmes were imposed on the general public, though not without resistance. How could you be protected from a disease by being injected with it? But at the beginning of the 20th Century, diseases were being controlled, cities were self-sustaining and faith in science and rationalism was high.

This changed with the 1918 flu epidemic. Regulated healthcare and homeopathic remedies existed side by side. Nothing was considered conventional or alternative, they were just different. The horse and the motor car travelled together in the streets, and quantum theory existed, as did witches. Many people in the industrial world turned to medical doctors for treatment, but the scientific community had no answers, as viruses had not been discovered yet. The infection was thought to be bacterial, and government laboratories produced large quantities of vaccines against the bacteria. This did nothing because in fact the flu was caused by a virus. Consequently the American Medical Association advised its members not to put faith in vaccines. The New York Times said science had failed to guard us and The Times ran stories of neglect and lack of foresight (mm sounds familiar), and that someone should be answerable for the nation’s health.

Doctors started prescribing the recently developed Aspirin, but in far too large quantities which did more harm than good, increasing the mis-trust in science. So doctors fell back on older techniques, and homeopathic remedies had a resurgence. Alternative medicine was able to claim higher cure rates, and rightly so, at the time, as good nursing and attentive healers can pay dividends to a patient’s sense of well being and strengthened immunity. A lot of the cures were no more effective than placebos, but the effect of positive thinking can be a very powerful thing, linked to the trust established between a patient and their doctor. Without medicine, religion became another source of comfort, and among the bitterest enemies of conventional medicine were the Christian Scientists. They claimed prayer alone had proved superior and their following grew rapidly, believing themselves to be untouchable. Much like Donald Trump ‘wearing the armour of God’ and holding a bible above his head (and upside down) for a photo opp outside St John’s Episcopal Church last Monday, after threatening military action on his own nation.

At least I think that’s an upside down bible…

When a virus infects a person, anti bodies are formed, that attach themselves to the virus. This prevents the virus from attaching itself to us and causing harm. These antibodies remain in the blood for years and hence we can be ‘immune’ if the same flu virus comes knocking in the future.

As a virus is a parasite, and can only reproduce inside a host, scientists had a problem back in 1918, trying to recreate it in the lab for vaccine making purposes. It was 1931 before a virus was successfully grown in a fertilised chicken’s egg, and 1936 before the first flu vaccine was produced, way after the pandemic had passed. The virus in the egg produced more of itself, and the weakest versions were grown in another egg. This process was repeated 30 times until the resulting virus didn’t replicate very well at all. This vaccine was injected into people, who experienced very mild symptoms, but were protected against re-infection. All this, before a flu virus was actually seen for the first time in 1943.

Now, again, confidence in vaccines is low in many countries. In August 2019 the UK lost its status as a country that had eliminated measles after a declining MMR vaccine take up. In late 2018, Brooklyn New York City saw the largest outbreak of the disease in nearly 30 years. The Global Vaccine Summit is currently being hosted in the UK, on line. It seeks to raise 6 billion pounds from around 70 countries so we can continue to immunise half of the world’s children against deadly diseases such as measles, polio and diptheria and prevent them making a comeback. Already this year, as a direct result of the covid 19 pandemic, almost 40 million children in Pakistan missed their Polio vaccination after nation-wide programmes were halted.

Unless we have a water tight track and trace system, without a vaccine, the threat of infection will never go away. And that’s if we even find one. We were promised an HIV vaccine in 5 years, 30 years ago. Germany and South Korea are managing to keep covid 19 at bay, post lock down, with track and trace, but there is little room for error. At the moment, our system in the UK is said to be ready for ‘Autumn’. And a track and trace system operating in the face of world wide Black Lives Matter demonstrations and rioting is another moral wrangle. The abhorrent and inhumane treatment of the black population at the (often white) hands of those controlling us all, is an injustice that has prevailed far too long. The blood is on all of our hands as a complicit society and through direct social action we can strive for a goal of real change. And I’m mortifyingly white to say this, but…

Black Lives Matter demonstration in Portsmouth, UK

However, (ok, I chickened out of but), there is still a pandemic out there, and I hope against hope that there isn’t a further climb in numbers two to three weeks down the line, or once again we will be letting down the weaker members of our society, who as a civilisation are the very people we should be taking the most care of.

We don’t yet know if people who catch covid 19 acquire long term immunity. But we need to recognise that there is a general public who have very valid questions and concerns. What are the motives of the big pharma companies? Is Bill Gates going to micro chip us all? And if the vaccine is rushed through does that mean bypassing safety concerns? No one has so far said that a covid 19 vaccine would be mandatory. However, to achieve herd immunity, 80% of the world’s population would need to take up the vaccine. A recent study of Fox viewers in America showed that only 60% of their viewers had faith in vaccinations. Americans who voted for Donald Trump are also prone to anti vaccination attitudes, exacerbated by his tweets. Some people are ideologically opposed to vaccines, some just don’t like needles whereas others are more vaccine hesitant. On line there lives a vocal community of vaccine doubters armed with reasons why vaccines should not be the norm. Maybe on line is where we need to see more balanced and scientific reasons why people should be vaccinated to give both sides of the argument.

Bill Gates (and I know not everyone trusts him!) said in an interview on Radio 4 recently, that regardless of who invents it, the vaccine will be produced by pharmaceutical countries all over the world, working together. The companies with capacity are currently building factories in different countries to cope with demand. The widespread use of the vaccine will be limited by logistics rather than by manufacture. But can the big pharma giants ever be trusted by the public to be helping the world rather than profiteering?

And apparently he’s not looking to micro chip everybody. He did say we will know who has and hasn’t been vaccinated. But this will be down to medical records rather than nano technology.

On the plus side, if a vaccine is found, and if it works, it may just convince a generation that it took a vaccine to return us to normality. And look towards a future where lock down and economic disasters are more avoidable.

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