By Dr. Zulfikar Bux
Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine, Vanderbilt Medical Center
VACCINES have been around for more than a century and have proven their worth time and time again. Numerous diseases have been eradicated or controlled by vaccines. Without vaccines, millions of lives would have been lost and humans would not have been progressive as we have been especially in the 20th and 21st century. We are in a pandemic with no effective way of treating the COVID-19 infection as it continues to wreak havoc worldwide.
However, modern science has finally derived a way for us to control this threat in the form of vaccines. All of a sudden, persons are scared of vaccines and are spreading so many myths about them while the virus continues to take too many lives daily. Today, I will discuss vaccines and how they work and, hopefully, put some ease to the confusion that’s being peddled about them.
How vaccines came about
During a smallpox epidemic in the west of England in 1774, a farmer by the name of Benjamin Jesty decided to try something. He scratched some pus from smallpox lesions on the udders of a cow into the skin of his wife and sons. None of them contracted smallpox. A man by the name of Edward Jenner first started to add science to this theory of vaccines back in 1796. He took material from a blister of someone infected with cowpox and inoculated it into another person’s skin; this was called arm-to-arm inoculation.
It was successful and by the late 1940s, scientific knowledge had developed enough, so that large-scale vaccine production was possible and disease control efforts could begin in earnest. Vaccines that protect against pertussis (1914), diphtheria (1926), and tetanus (1938) were subsequently developed and these three vaccines were combined in 1948 and given as the DTP vaccine. As time progressed, new vaccines were made to protect against diseases that were taking many lives. The world was able to eradicate smallpox because of successful vaccination efforts in the 1970s.
How safe have vaccines been so far
There have been accusations of vaccines causing diseases such as autism, different autoimmune diseases and that it can even weaken your immune system. Most of these accusations come from anti-vaxxers who believe vaccines were created to control the human population. After all of these years of vaccine use, there hasn’t been any credible evidence to suggest that any of these accusations are true. The evidence that has been very clear is the fact that vaccines have prevented many outbreaks and controlled many diseases that they were created to combat. In Guyana, we vaccinate children everyday and almost everyone was vaccinated during their childhood. A child gets about 20 vaccines before he/she reaches school age and yet, we have not seen any major issues related to vaccines after so many years of Guyana’s successful vaccination campaign.
What have vaccines helped us to do so far?
So far, vaccines have helped us to either eradicate or control the following diseases:
* Hepatitis A and B
* Varicella (chicken pox)
* Hemophilus Influenza
Can you imagine how it would have been if we had to live with all of these diseases freely circulating? Human evolution would not have been the same and many deaths and complications would have occurred which could have even threatened the existence of the humans altogether.
Are COVID-19 vaccines different?
Most of the vaccines developed to combat COVID-19 were developed using the same technology as previous vaccines; an inactivated virus or part of a virus is used to mimic the virus in our body and hence, stimulate us to create an immune response. However, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were developed using a new technology and are called mRNA vaccines. This technology basically allows the vaccine to teach our cells to create a structure similar to the part of the virus that binds onto our cells. This then triggers our immune system to make antibodies against it and hence, we develop immunity against the virus.
This mRNA technology has been around for decades but there was never a concerted push for vaccines to be made using its technology until the pandemic started. This pandemic triggered a worldwide response where scientists cooperated like never before and it helped to eliminate bureaucratic steps in vaccine creation. These vaccines had to undergo numerous safety tests and scrutiny from medical professionals and organisations all over the world.
There have been safety issues identified but these are expected when vaccines or any other medications are administered on such large scales. However, there has not been any widespread deaths or major morbidities from any of the COVID-19 vaccines. The data has shown that they are effective against COVID-19 and persons that are properly and fully vaccinated are not the ones that are dying from COVID-19.
You would have most likely taken over 20 vaccines already in your lifetime and you are still alive and well after so many years. If you are doubting vaccines, my question to you is why was it OK for you to be vaccinated and get protection during childhood and it is not OK to do so now when you are faced with a virus that can wipe you out of existence?