Vax Americana

Science and I have never been the best of friends. Not scientists: why, some of them are my friends. Going through school, however, one weakness showed itself over and over again.

I feel like I mostly went through the motions in my science classes, and rarely did I understand our objective for classroom experiments. Science my sophomore year in high school involved bugs: everyone was supposed to produce an insect collection. Trying to kill and then pin a single insect put me off the project altogether.

Without discussing it with the teacher, I turned in a report on insects instead, and received a D. I’m sure the report was written above D level, but that wasn’t the assignment, so I guess I’m lucky I didn’t get an F.

I did ask, a year or two later, to get out of accounting to go dissect a sheep’s brain with some science class not mine, because that sounded more interesting than accounting (where I also rarely understood what was going on), and I did enjoy the astronomy classes I voluntarily took in college.

In general, though, it ought to be safe to say that I don’t get a lot of science. Which brings me to vaccines.

Up until recently, I never gave vaccines much thought. My parents took me to the doctor on a regular basis for assorted vaccinations; as an adult, I acquiesce every time a medico looks at my chart and tells me I’m due for some shot or another. I put off flu shots for many years, although they became part of my regular fall routine four or five years back.

What I don’t understand much about is the science behind these shots. I’m guessing I’m hardly alone, although we are all now learning about the process, sort of.

It is clear to me, watching and reading the news, that the race for a vaccine against covid is unprecedented, both in scope and money. But that’s about all that’s clear. As a layperson in the world o’ science, I have absolutely no idea what to believe.

I know who NOT to believe, which includes the leaders of Russia and — incredibly, but by his own stupid admission, over and over again to Bob Woodward — the United States. Beyond that, the rest seems all over the map. Vaccine by the Election Day. By the end of the year. By early 2021. By summer 2021. Perhaps 2022.

The fastest vaccine ever developed was for the mumps, and that process took four years. The “standard” process appears to require five years to a decade, although I heard someone the other day opine that if a covid vaccine works on a fast-track, it may revolutionize the way vaccines are brought to market.

Then there’s AIDS, thirty years in and still no vaccine, and the part where those flu shots I get annually sometimes aren’t effective at all against that year’s strain, and rarely seem to be a panacea for the population at large — I am left with the impression that if 40 percent of those getting the shot are immune, then it’s a good year.

I gather this novel coronavirus is a large virus, and we are still figuring out what damage it’s capable of inside the human body. We know it can bring death, but we don’t know the long-term effects on survivors because we have no long-term to study yet. Although I did read just yesterday a doctor’s report on a study of 100 survivors, 78 of which now manifest heart abnormalities, 60 of them with inflamed heart muscle.

I have no idea how or if this affects the vaccine process, but it’s also worth noting that 90 percent of the money being spent on covid research is going into vaccines as opposed to treatment.

A science-type friend tells me no vaccine has ever been developed for a coronavirus, several of which cause the common cold. Ditto for the vaccines that are taking the RNA approach (which is about all I can tell you — for real information you should try a science source or a scientist) — this is a new tack in the world o’ vaccines.

One of the companies being backed by U.S. money has never brought a vaccine of any sort for any disease to market. Cautionary tales abound around the story of President Gerald Ford and his attempt to rush a vaccine for a strain of H1N1 flu. Somewhere around 500 people developed Guillain-Barre Syndrome after receiving that vaccine, causing it to be withdrawn.

A current trial was paused because one person developed spinal paralysis. I think I heard — but this could be bad information — that a second volunteer developed similar symptoms, but they decided this was not a function of the vaccine and resumed the trial.

Although covid has hit minority populations particularly hard, these groups are not adequately represented in the trials. And don’t forget that our delusional “I can solve everything myself, and already have” leader has eschewed any participation with the World Health Organization’s efforts toward a vaccine.

So there are an assortment of issues, despite the billions upon billions being thrust at this problem, but the main issue I am noticing is that we all seem to assume that the day a vaccine comes out, we will suddenly all be free to resume our lives as normal.

Dr. David Agus of CBS, whom I have decided is overly optimistic about too many things, is “hoping and praying” that we will have a vaccine this fall, but even this extroverted optimist said that should that happen, most people still aren’t going to receive the vaccine until the middle of next year.

Apparently the vaccine is one thing; coming up with delivery mechanisms is another. There are little glass vials to source, and other supplies I’m completely blanking on right now. There’s the population factor, and the logistics of vaccinating literal billions of people.

Assuming they want to be vaccinated. There are those who oppose any and all vaccines, and I have to assume they won’t want this one, either. (I also kind of assume a large portion of this crowd doesn’t think this virus actually exists. If it does exist, it isn’t the threat it’s painted as; if it ever was a threat, it’s going away now. That’s what they’ve been told. Keep calm, don’t panic — isn’t that what’s really important?)

Added to this regular crowd of anti-vaxxers might be people like me, generally accepting of vaccines but concerned about the frenetic pace and, more important, the politicization of this particular vaccine.

I don’t want covid, especially if it’s going to turn out that it’s going to impact the cardio-vascular system perhaps for the remainder of my life, but I also don’t want spinal paralysis, either.

Looking at an administration fueled by conspiracy theories, I have one of my own: the government agencies are now filled with craven toadies who are going to say and do whatever they think will make a mercurial, unstable pissant happy. Assorted departments have already rushed to tout unproven treatments for covid, so why not willfully rush out an unproven vaccine?

It’s obvious I’m not going to be eligible for the first rounds of the vaccine no matter what, and since we don’t seem to have any heartburn at all about 200,000 Americans dead from this virus, many of those needlessly (don’t panic!), what’s more deaths or problematic reactions if they come from the vaccine?

So I’m waiting, and watching, but so far, despite the money and effort, I’m not feeling as encouraged as so many others seem to be.

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