With the best of intentions are we slowly rendering our population incapable of developing natural, adaptive immunity? In his upcoming book, Doc, Terry Grossman M.D. gives a powerful example of this as he discusses the pros and cons of vaccines. I would like to expand on the subject.
In 2005, a study by W Katherine Yih et al, was published demonstrating that from 1998-2003 “As varicella vaccine coverage in children increased, the incidence of varicella (chickenpox) decreased [by 79%] and the occurrence of herpes zoster (shingles) increased [by 90%]”. These figures are beyond statistically significant. Similar trends were observed in several areas where the varicella vaccine was initially introduced. The explanation for the unexpected emergence of shingles was this. In any given population, there would have been an ongoing percentage of people with active varicella infection. Chronic, low-grade exposure to the virus throughout the population ensures that it remains on the immune system’s “radar screen” and is therefore kept at bay by our own adaptive immunity. Vaccinations work in a similar fashion. Another study done by Bryson et. Al. predicted that “a substantial increase in herpes zoster cases over the first 30–50 years after the initiation of mass vaccination, peaking about 20 years after the start of mass vaccination at an incidence of 51 percent over the pre-vaccination level and eventually falling below the initial incidence”. doi: 10.1016/S0264-410X(02)00180-9 Another study conducted in Germany also concluded there was sufficient evidence to suggest that varicella vaccinations lead to higher incidents of herpes zoster in the older population.
To be objective, before 2003, herpes zoster was not identified as a nationally notifiable disease, and no states in the US required reporting of cases. The study mentioned above seems to have accounted for record discrepancies within the chosen test site. However, a study came out in 2008 doi: 10.1086/522162 demonstrating that some areas where the varicella vaccine was introduced saw minimal change in reporting of herpes zoster cases. There is one claim in this study that I take major issue with. They state “Evidence from population-based studies suggests that rates of HZ [herpes zoster] were increasing in the United States before the introduction of the varicella vaccination program.” Another study states that the incidence of herpes zoster has been increasing since 1945. In both of these studies, several crucial data points were not accounted for. First, there was no oversight or requirement in reporting of herpes zoster events before the introduction of the vaccine in 1995. Second, access to health care has increased between 1945 and the present. Reports of incidents would not have been consistent through any subsection of the general population. I’m not saying they don’t have some valid points but in a scientific paper, these are presumptive and irresponsible statements. Their conclusion should have been that the data is inconsistent and not available.
There are always unknowns. However, the current research suggests that the introduction of the varicella vaccine saved an average of 90 lives per year and created an anthropogenic chasm in an entire system, between virus and human, that had evolved over the millennia to reach a steady state. Trends like this have the potential to remove human beings from the interconnected web of Evolution and Natural Selection. In this way, technology loses its place as a luxury and instead becomes a necessity of human survival.by