Tags: vaccines | viruses | pandemic | smallpox

The Unvaccinated Can Be a Risk to the Health of All

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Tuesday, 12 Sep 2017 04:52 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Society has good reason to advance the inoculation of all its members against the greatest viral plagues that have ravaged the Earth, and it’s enunciated quite succinctly in the film "Jurassic Park" by actor Jeff Goldblum’s character, Dr. Ian Malcolm: “Life finds a way.” Indeed, viruses are quite single-mindedly persistent in finding a way — to infect a few of us, then more of us, then sweeping away entire populations.

These smallest and most basically primitive creatures are certainly among the greatest adversaries of humankind. To underestimate them is an extremely dangerous whimsy. They have brought down entire civilizations in the past and there’s no reason to rule out that their run is over.

Viruses, lingering in the netherworld between animate and inanimate, are such primordial organisms that they just barely even quality as being “alive.” Some are incredibly small, composed of only 180,000 atoms. They have no ability to metabolize on their own and are inert until they come into contact with a potential host cell, into which they breach, inject their own genetic material, and commandeer the cell to replicate copies of the invading virus. At that point, the infected organism might have no recourse other than death. Antibiotics don’t work to kill viruses since they aren’t bacteria at all. Unfortunately, nothing works on numerous viruses.

The only defense mankind has against many viruses is to prevent the invader from getting a foothold in the first place, and that protection comes in the form of vaccines. Biologists take healthy (and dangerous) viruses and weaken or kill them — using ultraviolet irradiation, harmful chemicals, heat, etc. — and then inject these half-dead or lifeless specimens into a child’s body. The human immune system goes into action as the body becomes aware of this wholly staged “invasion.” The antibodies sent out to defend against what would be more than a match under any other circumstance are under these contrived conditions given enough time to not only formulate the method to dispatch these moribund invaders — who hardly resist in such a weakened state — but to also induce “memory B cells” for the future, for the next time around when the invasion might be real. In this way, vaccinated children gain a certain immunity to the threat of the virus throughout their life. The immune system has learned how to beat the virus when the fight was “fixed,” and now has that skill ingrained.

That’s a neat trick, yet one which those wary of traditional vaccines correctly declare isn’t totally without risk. Some parents who worry about rare yet severe reactions are reluctant to inject minute killers, however enervated, into the bodies of their children, and consider that decision no one’s concern but their own. Yet, widespread and sustained outbreaks among unvaccinated populations can indeed bleed over into those having received their inoculations, as no vaccine is dead certain and bullet-proof. Moreover, viruses fight back, by mutating, with some doing so with astounding rapidly — thousands of times faster than human mutation rates. They morph into slightly different configurations in order to compete, since natural selection holds sway in the microscopic realm as well. Each time an unvaccinated individual contracts a virus many variants are reproduced during the course of the infection. Virologists must consider the danger that one of those strains may wind up sufficiently altered to be unrecognized by the immune system of even those vaccinated against a previous version of the virus. Unvaccinated populations provide just the biological arena where these evolutionary dynamics can play out, a fertile laboratory where the next generation of smallpox, measles, yellow fever and all the rest might make a come-back. Modified versions of those and/or other diseases let loose upon the world could be impervious to everything wrought by mankind’s time, toil, trouble and treasure to vaccinate billions, possibly giving rise to the next chapter in the long series of unparalleled horrors that is the history of pandemics on this planet.

Smallpox, measles, and mumps in the sixteenth century annihilated ninety to ninety-five percent of the Mesoamerican population in Mexico and Central America. Terrible outbreaks of either measles or smallpox circa 165-180 AD and 250-270 AD devastated the Roman Empire, blows from which it never fully recovered. In the 1800s yellow fever decimated Philadelphia, New Orleans, St. Louis, Memphis, Savannah, Baltimore, New York. The great influenza pandemic of 1918-19 made the World War that had just ended seem a cakewalk — infecting one third of the entire planet’s population and killing as many as 50 million people worldwide.

Indeed, viruses are supremely dangerous, and life does find a way. If we are foolish enough to be lackadaisical about them, many of our progeny might live long enough only to regret our imprudence.

David Nabhan is a science writer, the author of "Earthquake Prediction: Dawn of the New Seismology" (2017) and three previous books on earthquakes. Nabhan is also a science fiction writer ("Pilots of Borealis," 2015) and the author of many scores of newspaper and magazine op-eds. Nabhan has been featured on television and talk radio all over the world. His website is www.earthquakepredictors.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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DavidNabhan
Indeed, viruses are supremely dangerous, and life does find a way. If we are foolish enough to be lackadaisical about them, many of our progeny might live long enough only to regret our imprudence.
vaccines, viruses, pandemic, smallpox
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2017-52-12
Tuesday, 12 Sep 2017 04:52 PM
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