Viruses cause over 20% of cancer cases worldwide — and it should be celebrated that we have vaccines that can prevent some of those cancers. Considering the fear that many people have of cancer, getting these vaccines should be a high priority.
Part of the reason that these cancer vaccines are not a high priority is probably that cancer may not appear until long after the viral infection. If cancer appeared soon after the virus attacks, the cause and effect would be very clear, probably making the vaccine a much higher priority.
This article is going to focus on preventative cancer vaccines. There are cancer vaccines that are being developed as treatments for cancer — for example, there is a new mRNA vaccine that may be useful in treating colorectal cancer.
These “cancer vaccines” train the immune system, much like preventative vaccines, to attack existent cancer but they cannot prevent it. Furthermore, these types of vaccines are individually designed for each patient — in essence, unique antigens on the cancer cell surface are isolated and used to induce the immune system to attack the cancer cells. It’s a therapeutic technique that will still be used in conjunction with surgery and other adjuvant therapies like chemotherapy.
I might discuss this type of “cancer vaccines” more in the future as they become more prevalent, but for this article, I am going to be discussing preventative cancer vaccines.
Some of the latest nonsense from anti-vaxxers is that “viruses don’t mutate” or “the COVID virus does not mutate in the unvaccinated.” They use this unscientific garbage to justify their own lack of vaccination or why the vaccine is useless.
Of course, most of us understand that those two statements are fundamentally wrong. I partially discussed this in a previous post that attempted to refute a common anti-vaxxer claim that viruses become less virulent over time. That claim wasn’t even close to the truth.
So let’s take a close look at these nonsensical claims from our anti-vaccine friends that the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 does or does not mutate. (Note — for simplicity, I’m going to call it the COVID-19 virus just because fewer people are familiar with the term, SARS-CoV-2.)
Apparently, a 125-year-old debunked idea about virus evolution has circulated around the anti-vaccine world. They believe that if viruses are left on their own, they always evolve to become less virulent to humans. That’s why they falsely claim that the Omicron variant is almost nothing and very soon SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, will evolve into something that we can ignore.
The old Skeptical Raptor is going to take a deep breath and hope he doesn’t lose any brain cells repeating that to all of you. Anti-vaxxers and COVID-19 deniers are wrong, completely and utterly wrong. It’s as if they never took a class on virology, evolution, or anything else germane to the discussion.
I know that any of you spending time reading this article are already listing out a dozen things that debunk this myth. Because we all know that first, that’s not how evolution works, and second, there are dozens of viruses that are known from the dawn of human history that have remained virulent over thousands of years.
Let’s take a look at this nonsense. Maybe I’ll give you some information to debunk some anti-vaxxer or COVID-19 denier nonsense.
Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease.
Viruses are the ultimate parasites. Viruses are little packages of genetic material whose whole existence is about finding a host cell they can enter, use the cell’s machinery to make copies of themselves, often killing the cell in the process, and move to another cell – often inflicting substantial damage on the whole host organism (when the host is not a single cell).
Obviously, no human is like that. Nor is a movement like anti-vaccine social mobilization. But the term “viral” has been used to describe things that are not actually viruses. In several ways, the anti-vaccine movement can be argued to have similar qualities to viruses.
First, viruses succeed by misrepresenting themselves. They get into cells by convincing the cell’s receptors that they should be pulled in, that they belong. In a similar way, anti-vaccine social mobilization simulates other social movement’s use of the law by misrepresenting legal claims – blatantly or less blatantly.
They present settlements as wins. They present a case that rejected an argument that the Childhood National Vaccine Injury Act embodied the idea that vaccines are “unavoidably safe” by saying “US supreme court ruled vaccines “unavoidably UNsafe” [sic] in 2011.”
Second, anti-vaccine activists are parasitic in the sense that they coopt previously successful legal claims used by other movements. For example, in attacking laws trying to tighten vaccine mandates anti-vaccine activists compared them to segregation, going as far as to refer to Jim Crow, Rosa Parks, and separate water fountains.
In more than one lawsuit they cited Brown v. Board of Education to support a claim of discrimination (Reiss, 2018). More recently, they invoked the language of “my body, my choice” used by supporters of reproductive rights, and to the Me Too movement.
Third, anti-vaccine activists’ content goes viral. Although the content does not often break outside their network, the coordinated nature of their network and their sophisticated efforts make it quickly go viral within the network.
In these different ways, the anti-vaccine social mobilization has a viral-like quality, with more than one meaning, that is unlike the social movement previously written about.
As the editor, I’d like to add a fourth point. Viruses have no intelligence or free will. They are organisms at the edge of life, barely living. Compare that to the anti-vaccine social mobilization. Just saying.
I had to take several years of immunology courses, just to get my science degrees, and I know I just scratched the surface. The problem is that the immune system is a complex interactive network of organs, blood, cells, proteins, factors, messengers and numerous other biological parts. If you tried to draw lines of interaction between these constituent biological parts, it would look like an airline flight map, with a nearly infinite number of interconnected activity.
That’s why I laugh hysterically whenever someone says “eat more broccoli, it boosts the immune system” because the immune system is so complicated, you could may be able to make one part of it work better, but if all the other parts remain the same, nothing has changed. In fact, the human immune system works pretty well almost all of the time, unless there is some chronic condition that suppresses it. Continue reading “A nerdy explanation of the vaccine immune response”
This article is all about fist bumps. And diseases. And bad science.
For the handful of you who are culturally naïve, let’s quickly describe the fist bump itself. It is a greeting, in lieu of a handshake, which is performed when two individuals acknowledge each other with a closed fist gently tapping each other. There are, of course, all kinds of flourishes and embellishments added to a fist bump, which are unique expressions of individuality. I like the hand explosion after a fist bump, but that’s probably uncool.
If you thought fist bumps are a recent cultural creation, you’d be wrong. Apparently, Greek charioteers did it. And motorcycle riders who pulled up next to each other at red lights have been doing it since the 1940’s. The gesture has been relatively popular in the American game of baseball for at least 50 years. President Barack Obama regularly fist bumps instead of offering a handshake, even with his wife, Michelle. Researching this story, I always thought it was modern and fashionable, but I find out it’s antiquated, but possibly still fashionable.
The original infographic had a glaring error that I missed. It also had a potentially confusing bit of information. Although someone with a critical mind would quickly figure it out, I don’t think I should be pushing out an infographic that has glaring inaccuracies. I’ve contacted the author to correct, and if they respond with a better one, I’ll repost.