How Do Vaccines Work?

Author // Richard Moskowitz, MD

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How Do Vaccines Work?
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It is dangerously misleading and indeed false to claim that a vaccine makes us “immune” or “protects” us against an acute disease. In fact, it only drives the infection deeper into the interior and causes us to harbor it chronically, with the result that our responses to it become weaker and weaker, and show less and less tendency to heal or resolve themselves spontaneously. To consider that possibility, I will examine the process of coming down with and recovering from a typical acute disease like the measles, in contrast to what we can observe after giving the measles vaccine.

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As is well known, measles is primarily a virus of the respiratory tract, both because it is acquired by inhalation of infected droplets in the air, and because these droplets are produced by coughing and sneezing of patients with the disease. Once inhaled by a susceptible person, the virus then undergoes a long period of silent multiplication, first in the tonsils, adenoids, and accessory lymphoid tissues of the nasopharynx, later in the regional lymph nodes of the head and neck, and eventually, several days later, passes into the blood and enters the spleen, the liver, the thymus, and the bone marrow, the visceral organs of the immune system.1 Throughout this “incubation period,” lasting from 10 to 14 days, the patient usually feels quite well, and experiences few if any symptoms.2

By the time that the first symptoms appear, circulating antibodies are already detectable in the blood, while the height of the symptomatology coincides with the peak of the antibody response.3 In other words, the illness we know as “the measles” is precisely the attempt of the immune system to eliminate the virus from the blood, mainly by sneezing and coughing, i.e., via the same route that it entered the body in the first place.

Moreover, the process of coming down with and recovering from an acute illness like the measles involves a general mobilization of the entire immune system, including:

  1. inflammation of previously sensitized tissues at the portal of entry;

  2. activation of white cells and macrophages that find and destroy the foreign elements; and

  3. release of special serum protein fractions to expedite these operations. Numerous other mechanisms are also involved, of which the production of specific antibodies is only one (and by no means the most important.)

This splendid outpouring leaves little room for doubt that acute illnesses are in fact the decisive experiences in the normal, physiological maturation of the immune system as a whole. For not only will children who recover from the measles never again be susceptible to it;4 such an experience must also prepare them to respond even more promptly and effectively to whatever other infections they may acquire in the future. Indeed, the ability to mount a vigorous, acute response to organisms of this type must be reckoned among the fundamental requirements of general health and well-being.

In contrast, when the artificially attenuated measles virus is injected directly into the blood, it bypasses the normal portal of entry, producing at most a brief, mild inflammatory reaction at the injection site, but no incubation period, no local sensitization, no real possibility of eliminating it via the same route, and no generalized immune response to prime the immune system in the future. Indeed, by cheating the body in this fashion, we have accomplished precisely what the evolution of the immune system seems to have been designed to prevent: we have introduced the virus directly into the blood and given it free, immediate access to the major immune organs without any obvious way of getting rid of it.

To be sure, we have also achieved the production of specific antibodies against the virus, which can be measured in the blood, but now only as an isolated technical feat, with no massive outpouring and no general improvement in the health of the organism. Indeed, I fear, exactly the opposite is true: the exorbitant price we have to pay for these antibodies is for the maintenance of the virus in the cells of the immune system for prolonged periods of time, maybe permanently, which in turn presupposes a generalized weakening of our capacity to mount an effective response not only to measles, but to other acute infections as well.

Far from producing a genuine immunity, then, I fear that vaccines act by suppressing or interfering with the immune response as a whole, as radiation, chemotherapy, steroids, and other anti-inflammatory drugs do. Artificial immunization isolates antibody production, a single aspect of the immune process, and allows it to stand for the whole, in somewhat the same way that chemical suppression of an elevated blood pressure is taken as a valid substitute for healing the patient whose blood pressure happens to be elevated. My suspicion is that vaccines also make it more difficult to mount a vigorous, acute response to infection in general, by substituting a much weaker chronic response with little or no tendency to heal itself spontaneously.

Moreover, adequate models already exist to predict and identify the types of chronic disease that are likely to result from viruses and other foreign proteins remaining permanently within the cells of the immune system. It has been known for decades that live viruses, for example, can remain latent for years within the host cells without continually or indeed ever provoking acute disease. In most cases, viruses achieve this by attaching their own genetic material as an extra particle or “episome” to that of the host cell and reproducing along with it. This allows the host cell to continue its normal functions for the most part, provided it follows encoded instructions to synthesize viral proteins at the same time.5

Latent viruses have already been implicated in three distinct kinds of chronic disease, namely,

  1. recurrent acute diseases, such as herpes, shingles, warts, etc.6;

  2. “slow-virus” diseases, which are subacute or chronic, usually progressive, and often fatal, such as kuru, Creuzfeldt-Jakob disease, subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), and perhaps Guillain-Barré syndrome;7 and

  3. some tumors, both benign and malignant.8