Protective clamps – although their European history is more than 200 years old, they still arouse emotions. It could be said that society is divided into absolute supporters, fierce opponents, undecided and the rest – not interested in the subject. Let us leave the latter alone, but let us try to look at the arguments of the two fighting each other – for the “palm of truth” and the support of the undecided camps.
And the effect? The idea of vaccination is getting more and more bogged down in ideology. The undecided have a problem: who to trust? Scientific ideas are subject to some kind of verification, ideologies – not really! For a medical historian it is an extremely fascinating subject of research.
Let us quote some of the arguments raised by vaccination defenders. First of all, preventive vaccination contributes to a significant reduction in the incidence of life-threatening and health-threatening infectious diseases. Secondly, vaccines protect against infectious diseases by protecting against their complications, including death. Thirdly, vaccination reduces healthcare costs.
Secondly, vaccinations cause complications, sometimes more dangerous than an infectious disease itself. Thirdly, the biggest beneficiary of vaccination is the pharmaceutical companies, which earn a lot from the sale of vaccines.
Simple? Not really.
If we add to this the coercion of compulsory vaccination: it is obvious to supporters that vaccination should protect not only the individual but also society, and for opponents it is a violation of the individual’s right to decide about their body and health.
Unfortunately, the fact that the knowledge on vaccination gathered in the course of scientific research and clinical practice is complicated and difficult to translate into a language that everyone understands does not contribute to its solution.
And the simplifications used in the process are conducive to the perpetuation of misunderstandings. In the public debate on vaccination, we often find ourselves in a world of ‘fractional truths’. – half-truths, quarter-true or worse.
But let us try to look at this difficult ideological and ideological problem from a historical perspective – according to the paremia “Medicina curat, historia docet” (Medicina curat, historia docet) – and let us pose a somewhat offensive question: did vaccination free people from the spectre of death due to an epidemic of infectious diseases?
Vaccination – a bit of history
Epidemiological diseases have accompanied humans since they began to settle down, create large communities and domesticate animals. As history shows, in different periods of time different epidemics “came to the fore”, going through a kind of life cycle: from the first appearance, through the apogee – usually the greatest in history epidemic of a given disease, and then stabilizing at a certain level and extinguishing.
Diseases also changed their biology, such as syphilis, which spread in Europe at the turn of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in the form of acute disease, in the following centuries took the form of chronic disease. In the seventeenth century, the deadly harvest was harvested by chicken pox and smallpox, which also raged in the eighteenth century.
There were many reasons for this state of affairs, including the improvement of hygienic and sanitary conditions and increased awareness of behaviours reducing the risk of an epidemic.
Apart from epidemics of infectious diseases attacking people regardless of age, the health problem was caused by epidemics of diseases characteristic mainly for childhood, such as measles, inflammation, diphtheria or whooping cough.
Then the germ reservoir decreased, followed by a decrease in the number of illnesses; as a result of successive births new generations of irresistible individuals appeared, the number of illnesses increased – and so the cycle was repeated.
Vaccination: at source of conflict
However, what is the origin of the idea that it is possible to protect oneself from an infectious disease by administering to the body – in one form or another – its causative factor? It is necessary to stop for a moment by the smallpox.
There were two known forms of smallpox, the so-called variola major, causing even 30% mortality, but less frequent, and variola minor – 1% mortality, but much more common. The greater harvest of smallpox began to take place in the 16th-18th centuries, when plague epidemics gradually ceased to exist.
Smallpox was then endemic in port cities and epidemically in the hinterland, becoming the most common infectious disease and the most common cause of death. There was no effective cure, the organism had to cope on its own, but after the disease remained stable immunity.
This observation was the basis for the vaccination method called variants, known in the East as early as the 10th century, which consisted in administering healthy infectious secretions from the pox pimples of the sick person through incisions in the skin.
As it was then calculated, the mortality rate among non-vaccinated persons was over 14%, and among vaccinated persons – slightly over 2.5%, which spoke in favour of its effectiveness. However, there were also opponents.
Among the vaccinated there were cases of deaths; this method was highly imperfect, if only because different amounts of secretion were administered, “titratin
This idea took over the medical world in the 20th century: didn’t it seem exciting to many researchers to make their dreams of eradicating the epidemic of infectious diseases, which had plagued humanity for centuries, come true?
One of the important factors stimulating pharmaceutical companies to invest in vaccine research was the introduction of mandatory vaccinations in individual countries; financed by public money and independent of individual (read: capricious) preferences of consumers of health industry products and services, they constituted a certain source of income.
It would be absurd to ignore epidemiological data, even if they are imperfect (and they are), indicating that the number of children dying of infectious diseases in Europe is now much smaller than it was a few decades ago. But this cannot be attributed solely to vaccination.
The agreement between opponents and supporters makes it difficult both to completely negate the importance of vaccination in controlling the epidemic of infectious diseases and to treat it as a tool used by man to control the world of microbes. Both approaches are an ideological version of the idea of prevention of infectious diseases through immunisation.
And the discussion about its possibilities and limitations should aim at answering extremely important questions: what is the effectiveness of vaccination and what is its safety?
As it turns out, there are probably the most misunderstandings and the most distrust in this field.
However, is the world of science blameless in this respect? No! Unfortunately, the occasional cases of incomplete and delayed publication of the results of research into vaccines have helped to perpetuate suspicions that there may be something wrong with them.