- Part One: The Phenomenon of Immunity
- Illness is a process that everyone experiences repeatedly
in one's lifetime. Until our modern era, illnesses were classified
according to their recognizable signs and symptoms. Today, in addition
to the outward appearance of an illness, we also classify it according
to its unique features detectable with the microscope and with biochemical
tests. Thus many illnesses of similar or identical appearance which
were lumped together in the past can now be distinguished from one another
based on their microscopic or biochemical features. For example,
what for hundreds of years was called influenza is now described as a group
of "influenza-like illnesses", each one associated with a different
- On the other hand, many diseases known for centuries
and recognizable by their typical signs and symptoms have been confirmed
by modern science to be distinct entities, i.e. to be associated each
with its own particular virus or bacterium and with no other. Measles,
chicken pox and scarlet fever are examples of these.
- It has long been known that in some illnesses such as
these, one experience of the illness usually confers lifelong immunity.
A second experience with measles or scarlet fever is extremely rare.
- These observations by physicians and patients throughout
history, as well as careful observations of the stages in a patient's recovery
>from an acute inflammatory illness like measles or scarlet fever, have
led to certain basic concepts in medicine.
- One of these concepts was formulated as "Hering's
Law" in the 19th century, although it was well-recognized and mentioned
by the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates. This law states that
as an illness resolves, its manifest signs and symptoms travel from the
inner vital organs and blood circulation to the outer surface of the body,
often visible as a rash or as a discharge of blood, mucus or pus.
In this way we "throw off" an illness.
- Another basic concept arising from the phenomenology
of illness, i.e. >from observations of the directly perceptible behavior
of human illness, is the concept of immunity to or protection from an illness
that one has had before.
- This immunity to second episodes of certain illnesses
like measles or scarlet fever reveals a knowing function of the human being
in relation to illness. This inner knowing allows us, without any
conscious knowledge or effort, to recognize an illness we've had before
and to thereby resist it or quickly repulse it.
- Hering's law on the other hand is evidence of an innate
doing function of the human being in healing, i.e. we actively clear the
illness from our body, we get it out of our system as we heal. These
inner activities of doing and knowing work more strongly during illness
than in the healthy state, and they were clearly recognized by the ancient
physicians. Hippocrates said illness consisted of the active element
pónos (labor) as well as the passive element pathos (suffering). Illness
is intense inner work. Hippocrates perceived this labor as a cooking
and digesting (pepsis) of our inner poisons during an inflammatory illness.
Today we regard our inner work as a battle against a hostile virus or bacterium.
The all-too-often overlooked point however, is that it is we ourselves
who inwardly, unconsciously determine whether or not to engage in the battle.
The great medical pioneer Hans Selye, M.D., who introduced and elucidated
the role of stress in health and illness explained, "Disease is not
mere surrenderbut also fight for health; unless there is fight there is
no disease (emphasis mine)."1
- The symptoms of an acute inflammatory-infectious illness
begin not when we are infected by a virus or bacterium, but when we respond.
The magnitude of our response is influenced not only by the magnitude of
the infection, but also by the inherent strength of what is responding
in us. For the ancient physicians the responder in us was an aspect
of our human spirit and our inner vitality; our inner healing force.
Today the physical basis of our inner responder is what we call our immune
system. The phenomenon of immunity hasn't changed, but our thinking
about it has.
- The severity of the early symptoms of a particular illness
is directly proportional to the vigor of our immune response and indirectly
to the burden and noxiousness of the infection to which we are responding.
The surprising fact is that most of the symptoms of an infectious disease
are caused not by the germs themselves but by our own activity of the immune
system in fighting the germs. The germ "invasion" of our
body is often silent, and can take place gradually over a long period of
time without disturbing us. It is only when our immune system decides
to do battle with the encroaching germs that we start to feel sick.
- The metaphor of battle is a convenient, but not fully
accurate description of the relationship between our immune system and
the proliferating viruses or bacteria during an acute inflammatory/infectious
illness. Pasteur's germ theory assumes that disease germs have a
predatory nature: that they prey on our flesh for their own survival,
while contributing nothing to us in return. The germ theory further
assumes that the harmful or lethal effects of infectious/inflammatory diseases
are a direct result of this predation of the human body by germs.
- In early microscopic studies of host tissues in acute
inflammatory/infectious diseases, Pasteur, Koch and their colleagues repeatedly
observed that germs were proliferating while many host cells were dying.
They made the critical assumption, upon which all further thinking has
been based, that the germs attack and destroy otherwise healthy cells,
thus causing direct harm to the human body.
- It would have been equally justified by the observable
facts to assume that the cells were dying for inapparent biochemical reasons
and that the proliferating germs were attracted to the site of increased
cell death and decay just as flies, crows and vultures are attracted to
death in outer nature. A choice was available early on between regarding
germs as predators and regarding them as scavengers. The nineteenth-century
thinking of the time was captivated by the Darwinian images of "Nature
red in tooth and claw" and the relentless struggle for survival.
The decision to see germs as predators was perhaps inevitable, and that
has made all the difference in our current thinking about illness and health.
That early decision by Pasteur and his followers led to medicine's present
nearly-exclusive focus on combating germs, while neglecting all the subtle
but far-reaching ways to strengthen the host against lasting harm from
- Just as flies, crows and vultures were regarded by the
Native Americans as playing a necessary and helpful role in the great chain
of Being, so too with germs which scavenge death and decay within our bodies.
The true causes of inflammatory/infectious illnesses will ultimately be
found to reside not in the germs, but in the various human frailties which
allow the forces of death and decay to predominate in us. The scavenging
germs are the markers of our waxing and waning states of physiologic imbalance
when cell death and decay temporarily exceed their normal limits.
- The metaphor of battle between immune system and germs
is justified provided we remember that our real enemies are the forces
of death and decay. The germs themselves become sacrificial victims
marked for destruction by our immune system because their role is to absorb
the products of death and decay. Germs become poisonous to us through
embodying the poisons we create. In "battling" germs, the
real battle is to overcome ourselves and to refine our nature. This
concept is implicit in the following discussion of how our immune system
does battle with germs.
- Using battle as our metaphor, we can imagine three possible
scenarios. In the first, the attacking army is not strong, but the
defenders are, and the attackers are routed from the field in a bloody
but one-sided and brief battle in which the defenders suffer no casualties.
This describes a typical case of a benign but acute inflammatory-infectious
illness like roseola which usually expresses itself in a very high fever
of 105° or 106°F and an extensive rash despite being no threat
whatsoever to the host.
- A second scenario would be when the opposing armies are
evenly matched and there is a fierce battle with many casualties on both
sides. This could describe an acute life-threatening inflammatory
illness like septicemia or an overwhelming pneumonia, in which recovery
or death is equally likely.
- In the third scenario, the war reporter arrives late
at the battlefield and finds no carnage, in fact little or no evidence
of any previous battle. The defending army is quiet and no attackers
can be seen. The reporter at first concludes that it was a very quick
and easy victory for the defenders and the attackers have fled. On
closer investigation, however, he finds that no battle took place because
the defenders were unable or unwilling to fight. What our reporter
at first thought was the defending army in reality consists of non-combatant
defenders who have been quietly and massively infiltrated by the attackers.
The attackers blend in, occupying the defenders' homeland, and any defenders
who would fight them have gone underground where they intermittently harass
and provoke the occupying enemy.
- The point of this elaborate metaphor is to demonstrate
by analogy that the absence of fevers and other symptoms and signs of inflammatory
illness (the absence of a battle) does not always mean that our immune
system (the defending army) has been victorious!
- Today it is more often the case that when we don't fight
our battles vigorously and often enough, i.e. when our fevers and discharging
inflammations are very seldom and mild, then we are liable to be infiltrated
by the enemy in disguise and suffer from chronic allergic or autoimmune
disorders. This concept today is called the hygiene hypothesis.
In the 1920's Rudolf Steiner expounded essentially the same concept as
a mutual interplay between opposing forces of inflammation and of sclerosis,
in which the healthy state is a dynamic balance between the two.
- Returning to our third scenario, there are of course
times when the absence of a battle, i.e. absence of obvious disease symptoms,
indeed does mean that the defending army has easily routed the enemy and
is truly immune from further attack. Thus we see that two entirely
opposite outcomes, 1. immunity from attack and 2. quiet infiltration by
the attackers into the defenders' homeland (the host body) can have the
exact same appearance superficially. This analogy applies precisely
to another pair of similar-appearing but inwardly opposite states, i.e.
the true immunity conferred by overcoming illness as opposed to the apparent
immunity conferred by vaccination. In both cases the host appears
to be healthy due to the absence of illness, but true health is much more
than the absence of overt illness. We will illustrate this point
further when we discuss smallpox in part 3.
- To complete our phenomenological description of immunity,
we must note that in addition to the functions of clearing illnesses from
the body and of recognizing the illnesses it has previously encountered,
the immune system has another cognitive or knowing capacity. This
is the discrimination of self from non-self and the ability to "tolerate",
i.e. to not treat as foreign and to not react to, any elements of self.
This remarkable knowing of the immune system also extends to its ability
to tolerate, in pregnancy, a massive foreign presence in the body, the
fetus, without reacting to it at all.
- Thus we see the incredible skill and apparent purposefulness
of doing and the discriminating capacity of knowing possessed by the immune
system. Although modern science rarely uses the words "knowing"
and "doing" in its descriptions of the immune system, nevertheless
distinct knowing and doing functions are very clearly and unavoidably implied
in all scientific writing on immunology. Science prefers to focus
on the molecular level, hoping to find in molecular events the elusive
key to understanding, if not why, at least how the immune system does what
- Today the immune system is most often described in articles
and textbooks as comprising those bodily organs, cells and functions which
discriminate between self and non-self. The molecules of self or
non-self which the immune system can recognize are called antigens.
One branch of the immune system, called the humoral immune system, consists
primarily of antibodies which are protein molecules made by the body to
specifically interact with foreign antigens. Antibodies attach themselves
to any foreign antigens like bacteria or parasites which may exist in blood
or body fluids outside of the body's cells. Antibodies are attracted
to such extracellular antigens and usually coat these antigens as one step
in the complex process of the destruction, digestion and elimination of
foreign matter in us by our immune system.
- We come now to a beginner's question, one seldom or never
asked in the science of immunology. It is, why does our immune system
work in such an inconsistent way, providing for permanent immunity from
recurrence only after certain illnesses and not after others? A "why"
question such as this is usually considered irrelevant in modern science,
while the equivalent "how" question is actively pursued.
In the case of immunity to illness, it is the "how" questions
that have led science to the idea and the practice of vaccination.
- For science the pertinent question is, how can we imitate
nature and bring about lifelong immunity to an infectious-inflammatory
illness, but without having to experience the illness first? The
first task would be to learn exactly how nature itself manages to maintain
permanent immunity in us after a first experience of illness. What
is this process of lifelong maintenance of resistance to a particular illness?
Can science duplicate it?
- Part Two: How Do Vaccinations Work?
- It is an interesting fact that sometimes a practical
scientific breakthrough happens out of an intuition, a hunch, long before
the discoverer or anyone else is able to explain just how and why this
particular breakthrough works. This is true of the work of Jenner
and Pasteur, the great initiators of the practice of vaccination. Astoundingly,
in our modern era when vaccinations are so widely acclaimed and practiced,
science still cannot explain how they work.
- In the New Scientist magazine of May 27, 2000, an article
on AIDS vaccine research quotes the following from two scientists:
"I'm amazed by the amount of basic science we don't know," and
"the assumption that successful vaccines work by simply producing
antibodies is almost certainly wrong." The article then describes
how one vaccine researcher found that in a certain viral disease of horses,
vaccination was successful in inducing antibodies against the virus, nevertheless
the vaccinated horses died faster than the unvaccinated ones! Referring
to our present ignorance as to just why these vaccinated horses would succumb,
he stated, "It's an issue people haven't wanted to think about, but
we might have to."
- Vaccine science and practice have always been based on
certain assumptions, which we are only now beginning to examine.
One of these is that antibodies in the blood (humoral immunity) confer
protection against an illness, and that the level of antibodies correlates
with the degree of protection. This relationship between measurable
antibodies in the blood and apparent protection >from illness has been
observed for decades in many types of infectious diseases. It is
not known however whether the antibodies persisting in the blood for months
or years after an infectious disease are themselves responsible for protecting
us from recurrences of that disease or whether they are merely markers
of a protection that is accomplished by another part of the immune system.
It is also not known whether the apparent protection associated with vaccination-induced
antibodies is a benefit pure and simple or whether a hidden cost
to the immune system is involved. The idea of a hidden cost is considered
unthinkable by vaccine researchers for obvious practical reasons, yet it
continues to be a nagging doubt among an ever-widening circle of parents,
consumer advocates, chiropractors, holistic physicians and other discerning
- The AIDS research quoted at the beginning of this article
suggests that it's not the antibodies which protect us, but rather it's
the cellular immune system. Also called the cell-mediated immune
system, it comprises the white blood cells, all the lymph nodes and lymphatic
tissue throughout the body and is concentrated in the thymus, tonsils,
adenoids, spleen and bone marrow. It is generally agreed that the
primary function of the cellular immune system is to destroy foreign intracellular
antigens like viruses and some bacteria as well as the cells that harbor
them. This is accomplished by the various white blood cells which
are able to move inside, outside and through the walls of our blood vessels
and to access every part of the body.
- In the past I have been tempted to assign the immune
system's doing function to the cell-mediated branch and its knowing function
to the humoral antibody-mediated branch. This neat division of function
is not borne out by the facts. Research shows us that each branch
participates in functions of both knowing and doing, although most of the
immune system's muscle to destroy, digest and drive out intruders is flexed
by its cell-mediated branch. Thus, while immune system functions
of knowing and doing may be conceptually distinct, in the physical reality
they are overlapping in an exceedingly complex orchestration of organs,
cells, molecules, hormones and chemical messengers.
- There are also other aspects of the immune system which
are beyond the scope of this article. Reading a modern textbook of
immunology can be frustrating as one finds a bewildering array of cellular,
molecular and antibody-mediated processes which science has discovered
without knowing how they all fit together and manage to cooperate in health
and in illness in the human being. It's something like hoping to
find an understanding of how an automobile performs by studying its disassembled
parts in an auto parts shop.
- At the present time, it is thought that the encounter
between self and non-self, that is, between the immune system and a foreign
"invader" like a virus or bacterium begins in the domain of the
cellular immune system with a cell called the antigen-presenting cell.
If the foreign guests are not great in number or in their noxiousness,
the cellular immune system is able to dispatch them, digest them and clear
them from the body without ever calling into action its coworker the humoral
or antibody-mediated immune system. This explains the very important
fact that without our awareness we are continually infected with many small
numbers of different germs in our body, some of them nasty, and the cells
of our immune system continually shepherd them and keep them in check without
the assistance of antibodies.
- Like dust and other unseen debris, these microorganisms
enter our bodies as we breathe, eat and drink. Only when the number
or rate of growth of germs exceeds a certain threshold are they then recognized
by the humoral immune system, resulting in the formation of antibodies
specific to the particular provocative bug. At this stage we may
have only mild fleeting symptoms or none whatsoever. This explains
how we may be found to have antibodies against illnesses we don't remember
ever having had! This is called "subclinical infection",
i.e. infection without symptoms, and it happens commonly.
- Thus science has discerned three levels of infection.
The lowest level is our steady-state equilibrium of everyday life in which
we peacefully co-exist with our inner menagerie of germs without needing
to form detectable antibodies against them. At this lowest level
our cellular immune system is quietly busy keeping our bugs in line and
when necessary pruning the flock. Thus, although small numbers of
disease agents are within us, out cellular immune system sees to it that
we remain well and free of disease symptoms, and that our germs are under
- At the second level of infection, we temporarily relax
our vigilance and allow a certain group of germs to begin rapidly multiplying
to the point where the humoral immune system is alerted and begins to produce
antibodies against the offending bugs. This sets off a cascade of
immune system functions which succeed in fairly quickly quelling our rebelling
germs, so quickly that the person hosting all these inner happenings is
unaware of having just gone through a subclinical illness. The identity
of the wayward germ can afterwards be diagnosed by the presence in the
blood serum of the specific antibodies produced against it by the humoral
- At the third level of infection things get seriously
out of control and all our inner alarm bells go off as a tribe of germs
proliferates wildly and provokes the full defensive reaction of our immune
system. This is called the "acute inflammatory response",
which usually includes fever, release of stress hormones by the adrenal
glands, increased flow of blood, lymph, mucus, and a streaming of white
blood cells to the inflamed area. The human host of these wisdom-filled
events now feels sick and may experience pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea,
weakness, chills and fever. We have now emerged from the realm of
the subclinical to a full-blown clinical illness, with all of its intense
and often frightening symptoms. It is critical to a healthy understanding
of these things to realize that we never merely suffer through an illness
in a passive, one-dimensional way. In an acute illness, parts of
us that in health are most active, like our mind and our muscles, are subdued,
while other parts like our blood, glands and immune system are much more
active than normal. Thus every illness rouses us to become more inwardly
active than usual, and this inner activity of ours is the cooking through,
the sweating out and the throwing off of the illness. This is hard
work, and every illness calls upon and exercises capacities in us which
otherwise would have remained dormant. Adults often notice these
new capacities as a change in attitude or outlook after an illness. Children
often manifest positive changes in their behavior or development after
overcoming an acute inflammation or fever.
- Having successfully passed the challenge of a particular
illness, we may not need to experience it again. Something about the illness
and our response to it has made us immune to its recurrence. If we
knew what that something was, perhaps we could learn how to use it to create
health and prevent illness. Of course, this is the basic concept
of vaccination, but the all-important question is, does vaccination accomplish
what we think it does?
- We've already suggested that it's probably the cellular
immune system, and not antibodies, which protect us against illness.
Surely antibodies can have no role in either preventing or overcoming first
bouts of infectious-inflammatory illness, because they are formed only
after the illness has peaked. It must be the cellular immune system
which confers the resistance to, as well as the capacity to overcome,
both first episodes and subsequent episodes of infectious disease.
To understand how this might happen, it is helpful to examine more closely
the very illness and its vaccination which started the whole debate:
- Part Three: Smallpox And Its Vaccination
- That vaccines can confer a degree of protection from
certain infectious-inflammatory illnesses is clear. What is not clear,
as mentioned earlier, is exactly what vaccinations do to the immune system
to bring about their protective effect. Researchers generally agree
that vaccines do not prevent the particular virus or bacterium from entering
the body nor from beginning to multiply within it. It is thought
instead that the vaccines stimulate or "prime" the immune system
to quickly eradicate the offending germ soon after it begins to infect
- Let us consider how this process might work in the case
of smallpox. Our knowledge about smallpox and its vaccination is
based on over 200 years of study of this dramatic and much-feared illness
by physicians in many countries.
- The natural course of the illness begins when one "catches"
smallpox from someone with a smallpox rash or from the mucus or pus of
smallpox on a patient's bedclothes or dressings. For the next twelve
days there are no signs or symptoms at all and the new patient is not contagious
even though the smallpox virus is multiplying within the body. On
or about the twelfth day large numbers of smallpox virus enter the blood
(viremia) and the "toxemic" phase of the illness begins, meaning
a poisoning or contamination of the blood circulation. This blood
poisoning of smallpox is the beginning of the overt illness, with symptoms
of fever, prostration, severe headache, backache, limb pains and sometimes
vomiting. After three or four days of these symptoms the typical
smallpox rash begins to erupt and in the next one to two days the fever
falls to almost normal and the patient feels much better.
- The skin eruption begins as red spots which over the
next few days evolve into raised pimples, which then change to blisters
which then become pus-filled (pustules). On the 11th to 13th day
of the illness the pustules begin to dry up and form crusts or scabs which
then fall off by the end of the third week of the illness. The fever
usually returns, less severely, after the pustules appear and then becomes
normal as the crusts and scabs form. If one dies >from smallpox,
it may be in the first week of the illness if the toxemia is very severe,
but most smallpox deaths have occurred toward the end of the second week
after the pustules appear.
- The majority of smallpox patients survive, and the falling
away of the dried-up scabs from the skin signifies the final stage of healing,
approximately 33 days after catching the infection. The dramatic
course of smallpox illustrates very well some of the concepts discussed
earlier in this article. The twelve-day incubation period during
which the smallpox virus actively multiplies in the body without provoking
the slightest symptom confirms the point that it is our response to infection,
not the infection itself, which causes the typical disease symptoms of
fever, aches and pains and extreme weakness.
- The fact that the fever drops and the patient feels much
better after the rash breaks out illustrates Hering's Law. The poisons
circulating in the blood during the toxemic phase cause the most severe
symptoms of smallpox. These symptoms improve considerably once the
blood clears out its poisons by discharging them through the skin, producing
the typical pus-filled blisters of smallpox. The chief danger of
smallpox consists in the degree of blood poisoning and in the huge and
exhausting effort required for the immune system to push the poisons out
of the blood and through the skin. When the toxemia, the poisons,
are overwhelming and the patient lacks the strength to discharge them out
of the body, then the patient may die in the effort, either before the
eruption ever appears or else, utterly spent, afterwards.
- The patients who survive smallpox will have lifelong
neutralizing antibodies to smallpox virus in their blood and permanent
immunity to a second episode of the illness. What does this mean?
- Using the battle metaphor from part one, we could say
that the victorious defending army has acquired much valuable skill, know-how,
and confidence through its combat experience as well as certain medals
awarded to acknowledge their participation in combat. The first three
attributes are comparable to the inner strengthening of the cellular immune
system which is attained through overcoming an illness like smallpox.
The medals as visible tokens of achievement are roughly comparable to the
antibodies visible on simple blood tests indicating that the host has already
won that battle and is likely to be immune to future attacks of the same
- If a foolish general were under the illusion that merely
wearing a combat medal actually conferred the know-how, skill and confidence
gained in battle, then he might propose pinning medals on soldiers with
no combat experience to make them immune to dangerous future battles.
That would bestow the same outward appearance to the seasoned and unseasoned
soldiers alike, belying their experience.
- In the same way, science bestows antibodies through vaccination
and mistakenly assumes that it is bestowing the immune strength that can
only be developed through the experience of illness. In equating
the significance of vaccine-induced antibodies with that of illness-induced
antibodies, science confuses the outer sign of the battle experience with
the experience itself. Antibodies arising through illness are markers
of immunity and (unlike the medals in our battle metaphor) also contribute
to immunity, but antibodies alone are not sufficient to confer lasting
immunity to a particular illness. There are several diseases which
may recur repeatedly, such as herpes outbreaks, despite high antibody levels.
The evidence suggests that it is our cellular immune system which confers
lasting immunity, with antibodies playing a secondary role in the process.
- Immunity is really the result of our experience, of having
gone through, along with our cellular immune system, an active process
(the combat in the metaphor) of learning and strengthening. The immune
system is a limb of us, and it learns from experience just as we do.
Antibodies signify that we've had experience of illness, often repeatedly,
but not necessarily that we've gained anything from the experience. When
on some level we respond with greater initiative to our experience of illness,
actively processing, digesting and ultimately learning from such experience,
then we are usually immune from having to repeat it. In such cases
our cellular immune system has strengthened itself through its active encounter
with, and overcoming of, the illness. In this view, immunity is the
result of having successfully met the challenge of a particular illness
and having gained mastery over it. It is like learning a particular
skill, such as riding a horse, which is then usually retained for life.
On the physiologic level, the skill and mastery we gain in overcoming illness
accrue to our cellular immune system.
- This active process of acquiring mastery cannot be replaced
by a vaccination unless the host's immune response to the vaccination is
essentially identical to its response to the illness itself, even though
reduced in intensity. This would mean that in order to produce genuine
cellular immunity, a vaccination would have to reproduce the experience
of the illness, causing some of the same signs and symptoms, though milder,
that are caused by the illness. To see if this is true, let us look
at smallpox vaccination.
- The vaccination consists of introducing live cowpox (vaccinia)
virus into the skin by multiple superficial punctures in a small area about
1/8 inch diameter on the upper arm. The vaccination site is then
inspected twice after 3 and 9 days to determine if the vaccination "takes"
or not. A primary reaction or "take" evolves as follows:
for three days after the vaccination there is no reaction whatsoever. On
the fourth day a small red pimple appears which gradually grows into a
blister which becomes pus-filled, surrounded by a zone of redness and often
with tender, swollen glands in the armpit and mild fever. This reaction
peaks on the 8th to 10th day, after which the pustule gradually dries up
and forms a scab which eventually falls off leaving a scar.
- Clearly the primary "take" reproduces the experience
of smallpox itself described earlier, but of course in a very limited way
so as to generate only one pock rather than many dozens of them.
The cellular immunity produced by smallpox vaccination is also limited,
lasting from six months to three years. This immunity probably coincides
with the length of time that the exercised "muscle" of the cellular
immune system remains strengthened from its labor of discharging the single
cow pock resulting from the vaccination. The antibodies appearing
in the blood after primary smallpox vaccination may remain for over ten
years, but these antibodies cannot be taken as a trustworthy sign of immunity.
The official description of the currently available smallpox vaccine in
the U.S., which was manufactured by Wyeth Laboratories, states vaguely
"the level of antibody that protects against smallpox infection is
unknown"2 If we can state blandly that the protective level
of antibody is still unknown after having assumed for several decades that
protection is directly correlated with antibody level, then surely it is
time to rethink that assumption.
- In practice antibody levels were seldom used in the smallpox
era as a measure of immunity. Anyone not vaccinated in the previous
three years was considered to be susceptible to smallpox, regardless of
their antibody level.
- The all-important question is how to interpret the meaning
of reactions to smallpox vaccination which are milder and briefer than
the primary "take" which peaks in ten days, and which does result
in a genuine though short-lived immunity of the cell-mediated system.
- Since the early 1970's only two types of reactions to
smallpox vaccination have been officially recognized, as recommended by
the World Health Organization (WHO). For purposes of greater clarity,
in this discussion I will be referring to the older classification which
recognized three types of normal reactions to smallpox vaccination.
- The second type of normal skin reaction to smallpox vaccination
was called the accelerated or vaccinoid reaction, usually in people who
had some immunity to smallpox at the time of vaccination, either from a
previous experience of the disease or from a previous smallpox vaccination.
In the accelerated reaction, the skin blister which forms is smaller and
reaches its maximum size and intensity between the 3rd and 7th day after
the vaccination. This reaction works in exactly the same way as the
primary reaction but to a lesser degree, boosting the cell-mediated immunity
that is already present, but waning, from the previous vaccination.
- It is the third type of reaction to smallpox vaccination
that in my opinion has created all the problems, that has been at the root
of a 200 year old controversy over the usefulness of smallpox vaccination.
This stems from the fact that this reaction for years was interpreted as
indicating immunity to smallpox, when it often meant exactly the opposite.
In many cases the bearers of this reaction may have had a suppressed cellular
immunity, making them on repeated revaccination more susceptible to smallpox
than an unvaccinated person!
- This third type of reaction to smallpox vaccination was
originally called an immune reaction, then later renamed an early or immediate
reaction. A small pimple forms at the vaccination site which may
evolve into a tiny blister, peaking on the second or third day and diminishing
thereafter. An earlier textbook of viral diseases >from the smallpox
era states the following: "The early or immediate reaction is
an indication of sensitivity to the virus and may be given by persons who
are either susceptible or immune to smallpox.[It] cannot be regarded as
a successful result and cannot be guaranteed to induce or increase the
person's resistance to smallpox."3 This is a typical scientific
understatement that glosses over years of devastating results of smallpox
vaccination in which thousands of vaccinated people who were thought to
be immune based on their so-called "immune reaction" to vaccination
later caught smallpox and died.
- Ian Sinclair, writing on the history of smallpox, states:
- "After an intensive four-year effort to vaccinate
the entire population between the ages of 2 and 50, the Chief Medical Officer
of England announced in May 1871 that 97.5% had been vaccinated.
In the following year, 1872, England experienced its worst ever smallpox
epidemic which claimed 44,840 lives.In the Philippines, prior to U.S. takeover
in 1905, case mortality [death rate] from smallpox was about 10%.In 1918-1919,
with over 95% of the population vaccinated, the worst epidemic in the Philippines'
history occurred resulting in a case mortality of 65%.The 1920 Report of
the Philippines Health Service [stated] 'hundreds of thousands of people
were yearly vaccinated with the most unfortunate result that the 1918 epidemic
looks prima facie as a flagrant failure of the classic immunization toward
- How can this be? How can these historical facts
be reconciled with my earlier statement that a primary take in response
to a first smallpox vaccination results in genuine cellular immunity for
up to three years? The usual explanation offered is that the vaccine
used was inactive due to loss of potency in storage, but this clearly cannot
be the whole answer to the many documented instances of failure of smallpox
vaccination to protect from smallpox.
- The answer is an open secret which has been very well
known for years, but never fully understood: that many first recipients
of smallpox vaccine fail to produce a take (primary reaction) and continue
to fail to do so even when revaccinated many times. The textbook
- "Easton (1945) records of one man who died of confluent
smallpox that vaccination had been attempted at birth, again in 1941 and
ten times in 1943 without a take, thus emphasizing the danger of accepting
even repeated unsuccessful vaccination as evidence of insusceptibility
- This is an excellent example of a vitally important observation
leading to an irrelevant, though not incorrect, conclusion. This
example begs the question: how many repeated failures to react does
it take to justify the concern that continuing to revaccinate may be doing
more harm than good?
- The relevant conclusion, in my opinion, is that due to
differences in immune response capability among individual human beings
at the time of first vaccination, in some individuals the cellular immune
system lacks the muscle to push out the single pock eruption that is the
primary take. The scratching of the virus into the skin of the arm
is a strong challenge to the immune system. A successful take depends
on the ability of the cellular immune system to respond to that challenge
in an equally vigorous way, to push the intruding virus right back out
of the body. It is a simple matter of action and reaction, of challenge
and response. If Charles Atlas challenges a 97-pound weakling to
arm wrestling and his opponent's arm immediately collapses, we would not
think that the challenge ought to be repeated indefinitely if the weak
condition of the responder had no means of improving! Yet in thousands
of individuals in the last 200 years who may have been weakened through
stress, poor nutrition and poverty, whose cellular immune systems were
not vigorous enough to respond to smallpox vaccination with a take, the
effect of repeated revaccination, which was commonly practiced, was to
weaken these individuals' immune systems still further, making them no
doubt more vulnerable to smallpox than they had been before vaccination!
This would explain the disastrous results of the above-mentioned smallpox
vaccination campaigns in England, the Philippines and in many other countries
- The ambivalent nature of the early reaction to smallpox
vaccination is analogous to the third battle scenario mentioned in part
one of this article. When little or no signs of battle (reaction)
are visible, it may mean that the defenders were easily victorious (the
host is immune) or contrariwise it may mean that the defenders lacked the
strength to fight and their homeland was subsequently quietly infiltrated
by the attackers. When a smallpox vaccine recipient lacks the immune
muscle to respond to the viral intrusion of his or her body with a vigorous
pock-forming discharge, then we might expect that most of the intruding
virus has remained in the body. With each revaccination the burden
of vaccinia virus in the body increases, and the suppressive effect of
this viral burden on the cellular immune system also increases, eventually
resulting in a dangerous state of immunosuppresion. This may
also explain the occasional catastrophic effects that were observed resulting
from a brief medical fad in the 1970's: treating recurrent herpes
infections with repeated smallpox vaccinations.
- The disease smallpox and its vaccination are fruitful
subjects to study in order to understand how the immune system works, because
we can observe what happens on the skin as vital clues to what might be
happening inside the body. The main lesson from this study is the
exceedingly important fact that a lack of a vaccine reaction, and by extension
a lack of illness symptoms, can by no means be taken as a sign of immunity
or of health.
- The other critical fact confirmed by our historical experience
with smallpox vaccination is that individual differences in response to
vaccination are extremely important. One size most definitely does
not fit all. It is clear that although the smallpox vaccine was effective
in conferring a temporary immunity in some individuals, an unknown number
of other individuals were probably harmed by the vaccine. With the
smallpox vaccination the adverse effects were fairly obvious, they often
appeared on the skin. With other vaccines in use today the adverse
effects may not be so obvious. We've seen with smallpox that the
same vaccination procedure which temporarily strengthened the cellular
immune system in some individuals probably weakened it in others, especially
upon repeated revaccination.
- The possibility, that the up to 39 doses of 12 different
vaccines which children today receive by school entry may be impacting
the cellular immune systems of many individual children in a negative way,
suggests itself to the open mind. Science has most of the knowledge
and the tools it needs to investigate and to find answers to these unanswered
questions. All it needs now is the will. May it come soon,
for our children's sake.
- 1 Selye, Hans. The Stress of Life. New York:
McGraw-Hill, 1978, p.12
- 2 http://www.cdc.gov/
- 3 Rivers, T.M., and Horsfall, F.L., Jr. Viral and
Rickettsial Infections of Man. Philadelphia: Lippincott,
- 4 http://www.whale.to/cvaccines
- 5 Rivers, T.M., and Horsfall, F.L., Jr.
Viral and Rickettsial Infections of Man. Philadelphia: Lippincott,