|Bordetella pertussis, the bacteria responsible for whooping cough.|
I encountered a discussion where some parents discuss their choice not to vaccinate their kids. The author cites various factors justifying this choice; that vaccines may compromise the body's ability to fight infection, may cause an allergic reaction, or hinder the healthy development of the immune system; that the ingredients of many vaccines, among which may be chicken, monkey, and aborted human fetal cells, aluminum, and various others, are undesirable to have injected into the body; that there is insufficient research to justify the use of vaccines to prevent disease.
|Child receiving an oral vaccine for polio.|
Evolution is an ongoing process, and the evolution of the human race is in many ways insulated from the process of natural selection. Medical science has insulated sufferers of type 1 diabetes like myself from being selected out of the population by providing synthetic insulin, an artificial means to adapt to a challenge thrust onto me by circumstance. Without this development, I would be dead, and my unique genetic heritage obliterated.
Similarly, vaccines enable the human body to compensate for many an infectious disease. No longer for a disease such as polio or measles or whooping cough need the body be completely unprepared for the onslaught; rather, a vaccine enables the unique signature of these and other contagions to be recognized by the body as pathogens, and enable it to produce an army of antibodies and other agents to systematically eradicate it.
|Collection of poliovirus.|
What if the entire human race stopped using vaccines altogether?
Many people would die. The science that goes into creating and refining vaccines would be absent, leaving the body to fend for itself against the elements, taking on from the environment whatever pathogens stray into its path.
However, many others would live. Sexual reproduction shuffles the cards of our genes between individuals, resulting in novel combinations of genetic traits, some of which will open the door to certain pathogens and slam them shut to others. For those who would survive, over long spans of time across many generations of human beings, the survivors would conceivably refine their immune systems to compensate for whatever pathogens their environment presents.
Of course, microbes also evolve, as evidenced by the emergence of MRSA; an antibiotic which is highly effective against one species of bacteria may prove ineffective against another, enabling the latter to thrive in spite of our best efforts to eliminate it. In the short term, it would seem that ideally vaccines provide relief from suffering by "tuning" the immune system to respond to pathogens. In the long term, however, the utility of vaccines is in my mind questionable.
Let's say we have a bacteria that causes the flesh to rapidly waste away and die, an uncompromisingly lethal, supercharged form of leprosy.
|Man aged 24 suffering from leprosy.|
Science develops a vaccine which tunes the immune system to recognize and destroy this bacteria before it can take hold. Irrespective of whether your DNA already imparts a natural resistance to this bacteria or not, without fail a person who takes the vaccine will resist and survive.
Now, remove the vaccine from the equation. Current and future generations must fend for themselves, and some will inevitably die, while others will suffer no consequences, having survived the bacteria by virtue of their natural immunity.
In the short term, we can dispense with vaccines and let children and adults contract diseases, suffer, and die. In the long term, diseases we fear today might be silently eradicated by our immune systems such that they no longer pose a threat. Vaccines today may indeed insulate us from suffering, and keep natural selection at bay by allowing those with insufficient immunity to withstand disease that might otherwise kill them.
|"River of Time 2" by Scott Boden.|
Question is, do we choose to take on nature without the benefit of safe, effective, rigorously-researched vaccines that do as they claim and prevent disease, or shrug our shoulders and keep a stiff upper lip as time marches on, serving as the ancestors of people in the far future who will benefit from our suffering in the form of immune systems tuned through the generations?
I'm in favor of vaccines, provided that they are researched extensively so that they enable us to safely, effectively augment our ability to combat infectious disease. No offense to any of my future relatives, but if we can combat human suffering in the here and now, we should.