The Big, Bright Green Vaccine Machine, part 2

TRKeske trkeske at aol.com
Sun Jul 12 21:19:05 EST 1998


Gay people need to think about the question of vaccine safety
in great detail.  It lies at the heart of the question as to how the
AIDS epidemic may have started.

There is a great deal of anti-vaccine literature and anti-vaccine
groups that make vaccines sound absolutely deadly.  There is
pro-vaccine, establishment literature that makes vaccines sound
like the saviors of humankind.   The truth, I believe, is that
vaccines can do a great deal of good, but also carry extreme risks
that are less understood by the general public.

Before I quote other literature, I'll try to give my own analogy to
explain how typical vaccines work, and some definitions that
highlight my nervousness about vaccine danger.

Think of Pearl Harbor as representing the immune system,  the Japanese
army as representing an invading virus (no slight intended to modern-day
Japan).  The state of military preparedness represents the state of immune
system health- having the right number of soldiers, the armaments, a
state of adequate military preparedness.

Obviously, we were caught off-guard at Pearl Harbor, and got a bad
infection, nearly leading to death of the organism.

The way that most vaccines work would be analogous to hauling some
barges of dead Japanese soldiers into the harbor.

What good would this do?  The military leaders wonder, "Where the
hell did these dead soldiers come from?  Are there more around?
Might someone be planning an attack?"   They start to scour the area,
for more.  They go on battle alert.  They bring in more troops and
ammunition.  When the real attack comes, this time they are much
better prepared for it.

Sounds stupid, but it's probably a perfectly valid analogy.

For the "vaccine" to work, the barge needed to have recognizable
dead Japanese soldiers.  You could have killed the soldiers by
burning them to a crisp, but then American military doesn't know
if they are looking at Japanese soldiers, or some leftover charcoal
briquettes from somebody's barbecue.   If you overdo it in killing
the soldiers, then the effect of the vaccine is nullified.

On the other hand, suppose that you tried to kill the Japanese
soldiers by spraying a few bullets that only left minor flesh
wounds.  You would haul barges of enemy soldiers right into
the heart of your own base, potentially letting them overrun

Another danger is if you don't know what else is on the barges
besides the dead soldiers.  Maybe there are time bombs hidden,
that you can't even recognize.  Hauling a hidden time bomb into
your own base could also cause a disaster.

Taking the liberty to word some definitions in my own terms:

      a deadened or deactivated virus, meant to trigger an
      immune response, without causing a real disease, but
      meant to provide lingering protection against future,
      real exposures to the same live virus.

      a virus that has been damaged to a point that it cannot
      cause disease, but not so damaged that it fails to be 
      recognized by the human immune system.  It must retain
      enough similarity that it appears to the immune system as
      being the same thing as the real, live virus.

      a virus that has been damaged and changed, but not so
      damaged that it is incapable of reproduction.  The level and
      type of damage has created an altered, yet still viable, 
      and effectively "new" virus.

A probable truth about vaccines, almost inherent in the definitions:
producing a vaccine is a tight-rope act, carrying an intrinsic risk
of deadly fall, if the balance isn't just right.  Damage the live
virus too much, there is no viable vaccine.  Damage it too little,
there might be a still-viable mutant slipping through.

The production of a vaccine also carries a risk of contamination
from viruses that we can't detect.  This is not because the target
virus mutated or failed to be destroyed.  It is because the vaccine
production may involve using animal tissues, causing exposure
to potential unknowns that lurk in those tissues.

Obviously, when we had not yet developed any test that could detect
the presence of HIV, when we did not even know for what we were
looking, then HIV would have had a window of opportunity to slip
through the vaccine production, unnoticed.

We think that we have effective ways to kill and deactivate
viruses.  However, there could be dangers even from more
exotic things like prions, which are things simpler even than
viruses, and much harder to kill.  Prions are suspected,
for example, in "Mad Cow" disease.

There is no test, yet,  to tell whether a given cow is infected.
Prions are essentially just proteins, and are not killed by
usual methods such as heating  (e.g., when you eat a cooked
hamburger patty, you are still getting protein- it hasn't
been totally "destroyed" as such).

As described in the previous post, of course, a potentially
dangerous monkey virus called SV-40 did in fact make it
past the standard deactivation procedures.

Probably, most of the time, vaccines are fine, the live
virus is deactivated, the vaccine does exactly what you want.

However, every now and then, you are likely to make a
mistake.  When you do make a mistake, you may have injected
your mistake into tens of millions of people, making it a very
enormous mistake, indeed.

You can run tests on volunteers to try to screen against mistakes,
but in this world of 10 year incubation periods, or in the case
of prions, 20, 30, or 40 year incubation periods, it can sometimes
be easy to be fooled.

Mistakes may not happen often, but when they do, they can
be devastating,  This appears to be the bottom line.  Does this
make the bottom line for vaccines a thumbs-up or down?

I'll leave that to individual opinion, but first, we should discuss
it some more.

Tom Keske
Boston, Mass.

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