Immunizations and how they are produced

(Reblogged from “Les Comptes” on Letterdash.  I got a nice lively discussion going there so I’m curious if this place will also bite.  Hehe, bring ’em on!

Note: I have to caution that I didn’t include any refs because the post was done at midnight, hastily inbetween other things I’m polishing up for P’kaboo.  The Solar Wind 3:  “Freedom Fighter”  is very nearly ready for release, we’re just fixing a cover issue and resubmitting to printers.  Ditto “Lupa” by Marie Marshall, and “Forest Circle Quest” by LHW Noble.  Exciting times!!


For Ennui: About the manufacture of vaccines

Sun 29 Jul 2012, 23:55        (1) 11  Comment(s)     Email article

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I’m going to try and put this in a nutshell as the time is rather limited…  but it’s a big topic!


The principle of vaccination has been around for a while; in fact the discovery of dairy maids contracting cowpox and therefore being immune to smallpox, was one of the early steps (surprisingly not the first).

The word “vaccine” is derived from “vax” (the cow) and the cowpox connection.

In today’s technological world there are basically three ways to manufacture vaccines – at least, in principle.

Imagine a virus to be a small space shuttle that carries very distinct encrypted proteins on its shell.  These proteins (“antigens”) are part of its genetic signature.

The body’s immune system recognizes the virus by its antigens.  Each strain of virus has own, unique antigens. For instance, a chickenpox virus has different surface antigens from a measles virus.

When you contract chickenpox, as a child, your immune system wages a war against the invader, creating antibodies that fit like lock-and-key onto the antigens, with molecular precision.  This is part of how the immune system clears up the invasion; more importantly, memory cells in the immune system store the template for the antibodies, carrying some of the antibody on their own surface.

Now, should a second infection occur, these memory cells recognize the invader as something they have already dealt with once; and they trigger the immune system in a fraction of the time it took originally, to produce that specific antibody again and beat down the invasion before it can start.

This is the basis of immunity.

Flu and Cold:  Influenza- and rhinovirus have the nasty habit of changing their surface antigens so fast that the immune system is always up against a “new” invasion; from one infected person to the next the virus is not the same “strain” any longer.  This also explains the less than satisfactory success rate of the flu vaccines.

Vaccination (especially against the stable viruses, typically of the childhood diseases and some dread diseases such as hepatitis B) rests on the principle pf “priming” the immune system against the live virus, by pre-introducing the antigen into the bloodstream.  So far, I take it none of this is news to any of you; but the “refresher” summary was important to understand what follows.

Vaccines get manufactured in three different ways.


Way 1:  Take a small sample of live virus and inject.  The concept:  If the body is exposed to a very small amount it should cope.

The problem:  You are basically infecting a healthy individual with precisely the disease against which you are attempting to protect.  This approach backfires regularly; all that needs to go wrong is that the individual is a bit tired or “off” that day or possibly fighting another infection (such as a cold or flu) for the whole thing to come crashing down.  I’m personally convinced (this is my own opinion) that this type of immunization is mainly responsible for the cases of people catching the disease from the vaccine.

Way 2:  Take the virus, disable or “attenuate” it, and then inject.  The concept:  The body should cope more easily with a weakened or dead virus.

The risk:  While this is a lot safer than “way 1”, there is still a snag.  Even “attenuated” virus can cause disease; but much more dangerously, virus (even dead virus!) has a way of recombining with live strains of other viruses.  Flu virus is especially happy to mate with whatever comes along, causing horrific new combinations (the “bird flu” and the “swine flu” are classic examples of flu virus mating cross-species). Flu virus loves “picking up” genes from other virus.  Of course this is also a risk in the “way 1” immunizations, however is overshadowed in that method by the risk of simply catching the disease from the vaccine.

I did find that they were using attenuated rather than fully virulent virus in the Hep-B immunization they gave me years back.

Way 3:  Take the virus; isolate and purify only the surface antigen, and inject that.  Concept:  The antigen is all the immune system needs, as this is the part it recognizes and gears up against, and remembers.

This is the only really safe method of producing an immunization.  A surface protein cannot recombine with a virus into a new virus, because a protein is not genetic code, it’s an end product of the process.

Potential problem:  Much more far-fetched than in the other two cases, the only potential risk that jumps to mind is a hypersensitive allergic reaction of the body to the protein – always a risk in way 1 and way 2 as well but dwarfed by their own risks.


With this as background one should think that medical science mainly uses the third, and safest, way to create immunizations.

Wrong again.  Sadly money refuses to shut up in this equation.  By far the most common method to produce vaccines is “way” 1:  Just take a small amount of the live virus and inject.  Because isolating virus protein in the lab is expensive in man-hours.  And as with so many commercial things, the whole practice becomes a statistical game.

If you doubt my word, next time you take your child for injections, ask the doctor or the nurse to show you the little bottle with vaccine liquid.  If you wonder, ask the doc what the label means.

These things are not secret.  You’ve only got to understand the jargon they come dressed in.


On that note an anecdote.

A man lay dying.  The doctors were giving up on him; but on the insistence of his wife, a famous doctor was brought to him to try and help.

The doctor examined the patient, and then muttered some grave word – as was the habit of doctors at that time, in Latin.

In the next few days the man made a recovery that was nothing short of miraculous.  As he was released from the hospital, his wife asked him, “so what happened?”

“It was that doctor you organized for me,” said the man, “he was absolutely brilliant!  He merely spoke a magic word over me, and I started getting well right away!”

“What did he say?” asked the wife.

“I clearly remember, and I will never be able to forget,” said the man.  “He said, ‘moribundus‘. ”


… 😉  kalinka…


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