Thoughts on Vaccines

I’m finishing up a book bought quite a while ago but just now had the time to read: Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik (a journalist) and rabidMonica Murphy (a veterinarian) (Penguin Books, 2012).  It’s been a fascinating read.  Rabies is virtually always fatal in humans and since ancient times the fear of rabies across the globe has been acute and has been the basis for our myths of werewolves, vampires, and later, zombies. It is a horrible disease for both humans and animals, and only brought under control by the work of Louis Pasteur.

Pasteur worked for years on a cure for rabies – we have no idea the fear it engendered in people even less than 100 years ago – and eventually developed a cure, first tested on a young boy in France who had been bitten by a rabid dog in 1885.  The protocol, which must be administered prior to the onset of symptoms to work, was successful and this was the first person bitten by a rabid dog known to recover.  News of this cure spread, and in late 1885 four American boys who had been bitten by a rabid dog were sent to France for the shots. They all recovered completely.

An American physician wrote an article to appeal for funds to send the boys, whose families were of modest means.  He wrote, in part:

Let us prove to the world that we are intelligent enough to appreciate the advance of science and liberal and humane enough to help those who cannot help themselves.

Eventually a vaccine was developed for dogs, reducing the incidence of rabies in most parts of the world to almost nothing.  Rabies still persists in wild animals such as bats but 99% of human rabies infections comes from dogs.

“Let us prove to the world that we are intelligent enough to appreciate the advance of science…”

Pasteur Institutes were established throughout Europe and the doctors therein discovered the infectious agents and/or vaccines for: cholera, anthrax, diphtheria, anti-venom serums for snake bites, tuberculosis, typhus, plague.  Over 100 years later, some people now question the efficacy of vaccines that prevent human diseases that used to maim or kill hundreds of thousands world-wide.  They question the “wisdom” of injecting a form of the disease itself, not understanding that THIS IS HOW VACCINES ACTUALLY WORK.

I am very grateful that my parents got me all the shots necessary as a child, including the new-fangled polio vaccine. (I remember that as a series of treated sugar cubes.  Over the course of several weeks we’d go to the clinic set up at the local high school on Sundays after church and joined the lines with lots of others to get our inoculation.)  And to bring this back around to the equestrian side, I religiously make sure Angel gets his spring and fall shots every year.  They have a West Nile vaccine for horses; as soon as they have one for humans I’ll take that, too.

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