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I’m a Biology Teacher – I Can Help

by John Oliver Smith 6 months ago in Science

To be (Vaccinated) or not to be (Vaccinated) – that is the question.

I’m a Biology Teacher – I Can Help
Photo by Dorothea OLDANI on Unsplash

So, these three guys walk into a bar. There’s a biology teacher, a guy in a wheel-chair with a chronic lung disease, and a social-media addict.

The guy in the wheel-chair says to the bartender, “I’ll have whatever drink has been proven to be safe.”

The bartender goes to the cooler and pulls out a lager, hands it to the guy and says, “This is our oldest brand of beer and, as far as I know, it has been tested year after year. Only one guy I know of, has ever died in connection with drinking this beer.”

The bartender, then looks at the social-media addict and asks, “And, what will you have my friend?”

To which the SMA replies, “I won’t have anything, because I heard that people die from drinking beer. That’s my decision and you have to respect it.”

The bartender raises one eyebrow and turns to the biology teacher and asks, “And, for you sir?”

The biology teacher stands up and looks at the bartender and his two friends and all the other people in the bar and says, “Okay everybody – I want you to stop doing what you’re doing, gather ‘round, listen carefully, and take some notes. I’m going to tell you a story about how viruses work.”

Maybe you have to be a biology teacher to get that joke. Anyway, I am a biology teacher – so, listen carefully and take some notes.

Just relaxing a little, after a hard day in the Biology Lab!!

To begin with, suppose you wake up early one morning, while it is still dark outside. You roll out of bed and make your way downstairs. While you are stumbling to the kitchen, you happen to notice, in a patch of moonlight reflecting off of the hardwood flooring, some tiny little blackish-brown kernels. On closer inspection, you discover that these miniature pellets are actually pieces of mouse shit. At this point you contemplate sweeping them up, and throwing them in the garbage, in hope that the whole thing is just a freak occurrence. But, you realize that if there is a mouse in your house and it is relaxed enough to defecate in the middle of your dining-room floor, there are probably some more unwanted visitors around.

Rule of thumb – if you see mouse shit but no mouse, you have at least two in your house. If you actually see a single mouse on the loose, that means there are ten more hiding out somewhere. If you see more than one at a time, then for certain you have a rodent problem.

By Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

Let’s say you want to nip this one in the bud though. So, you set some traps and put them in strategic locations behind the fridge and in the basement along the baseboards behind the couch. You lay out a little poison mixed with some rolled oats. Then you wait. Each day you check your trap-line and finally, one morning, you find little Mickey, eyes bulging out, and stuck under the catch spring of one of the traps. Further along, you notice his girlfriend Minnie, lying in a crumpled heap next to the “last supper”. Over the next week or so you don’t see any additional furry little creatures, so you are satisfied that your efforts have done the trick in getting rid of the intruders. But, just in case more mice decide to move in, you leave the traps locked and loaded and the toxic bait here and there throughout your abode. You also take it one step further, and slip down to the animal shelter and buy a cat (or a snake) – just as one last bit of insurance. The thinking is that, if your house becomes reinfested with mice (as it easily could be, since it's already happened once), they will be knocked off quickly before they procreate and actually become a bigger problem. What started originally as reactive extermination, can now be looked upon as a proactive and preventative strategy. Over the remaining lifetime of your house, each time a mouse or two make their way into the warmth and coziness of your abode, they are trapped within hours, if not minutes, of entering. You keep the cat (or the snake). The traps and poison remain in place permanently. PROBLEM SOLVED; CASE CLOSED.

Now that we have solved the mouse troubles, let's take a look at another example of infestation and pestilence – a problem that is currently plaguing all of humankind on the planet. This recent attack has been waged primarily by an aggressor, much smaller than the common mouse and, upon a much smaller target than the common house. I’m speaking here of the viral assaults on the human body by the Covid-19 coronavirus specifically. The inaugural version of the nCoV-2019 (SARS C0V-2) virus started wrecking havoc on the human population of the planet in late 2019. Many human activities, which were taken for granted for decades, had either to be altered and modified significantly or halted altogether because of this virus. The world suffered through mandatory masking and necessary lockdowns and isolation for months and months. While we waited and suffered, the medical professionals around the world did their part to care for those infected. Medical scientists went to work, trying to come up with preventative vaccines and possible cures. Donald Trump even did his best to promote the later-to-be-discredited practice of ingesting household disinfectants to stop the virus. Indeed, it took some time for the medical world and immunologists and other people of science to experiment with, test and finally develop vaccines to assist in controlling the spread of the virus and its affects on the human population. But, eventually the hard work and persistence paid off.

By CDC on Unsplash

As an aside, when the Salk Vaccine for polio was developed in the 1950s, it took Dr. Salk and his small team of medical professionals several years to lay the groundwork, test, develop and finally deliver the vaccine to the general public. Currently, vaccines developed in the third decade of the 21st century, must undergo the same amount and degree of testing and safety standardization as the vaccines created in the 1950s. However, because of much larger research teams (working simultaneously from labs in many different countries), lightning-fast communication, computer simulation, high-tech data-basing and number crunching, sophisticated medical networking and contemporary medical training, even better and more efficient vaccines can be rolled-out to the general public and, in relatively short order. It can all happen in a matter of months or even weeks. Skeptics who debate and question the safety of modern vaccines because of the limited time necessary to develop them, fail to take into account that we now live in the 21st century and that medical science has improved and grown exponentially over the last 60 to 70 years. It makes perfect sense that we should be able to accomplish the same things, but in much less time.

By CDC on Unsplash

Anyway, let’s talk more about the nCoV-2019 virus itself. When this virus invades your body (Recall the story about the mice invading your house?), it specifically attacks the cells of your respiratory system. First it uses it’s body shape and the shape and / or chemical make-up of the cells in your body’s airways to facilitate physical attachment. Once hooked up to your cells, the virus penetrates the cell and uses the cell’s "brains" and cell machinery to make copies of itself. Once these many, many new copies have been produced and developed, they exit your host cell, leaving it badly damaged and beyond much hope of repair. The new viral bodies then go out in search of more respiratory cells to infect. The rate of viral population growth is exponential in nature. One virus body can infect a host cell and ultimately trigger the production of countless new virus bodies each time a host cell divides. The death of more and more and more of your respiratory cells in the nose and throat and bronchia and lungs, causes more and more and more distress within your system. The minor cold symptoms that were the case in the beginning, now manifest as major impairments in breathing. Fortunately by now, your body’s immune system has also kicked into action. Antibodies are produced which attack the new virus specifically. These antibodies are being produced at the same time that you are dreadfully sick at home from work or fighting for your own life in some hospital ward. The only problem is that the virus has already had a head start. Before your body even detected the presence of the virus and got the specific antibody production up and running, the virus had already been through a generation or two of repopulation and respiratory-cell destruction. From here on in, it is an uphill battle for the immune system to keep up. The body must be coddled with rest, plenty of fluids, adequate oxygen to assist much-needed chemical reactions, appropriate temperatures and adequate fuel in order to continue building antibodies to fight the virus. The only problem is that by now, your respiratory system is so compromised that you do not feel very much like eating, drinking, breathing or maintaining proper external temperatures. You basically are unable to assist your own body in defending itself. If you cannot get to a hospital to help you with this, you may just continue to get sicker and finally end up dying at home, unable to continue fighting the good fight.

By HH E on Unsplash

Whoa!!!

Enter vaccine. If, before you are ever infected by the nCoV-2019 virus (SARS CoV-2), you happen to be treated with a vaccine, your body’s immune system is pre-stimulated into producing antibodies to specifically target and destroy the virus in question. Either dead virus fragments or “one-off” RNA instruction sequences used for building “viral-shape-proteins”, are introduced into your body at the time of vaccination. These tiny bits of innocuous matter are not capable of attacking your body, so they are not at all dangerous. However, because of their shape or their ability to teach your cells how to make a virus-like “spike” protruding from your cell wall, they are capable of “tricking” your immune system into thinking they are dangerous. The immune system quickly springs into action and assembles the “machinery” necessary to build nCoV-2019 antibodies and then starts production. This extra activity in the body sometimes causes fatigue, low-grade fever, muscle soreness and other symptoms of a cold, but these are not symptoms of a viral attack. Rather, they are signs that your immune system is at work. As soon as the body averts the apparent danger simulated in the “drill”, production slows and comes to a halt. The immune system then reverts to regular “everyday” vigilance for other such invasions (real or not). The nice thing about how the immune system works though, is that a good number of the antibodies that are produced as an effect of the vaccine, are never destroyed or recycled. They stick around, basically forever, to initiate any new battles in the future should the same virus reappear. They also act as blueprints for the assembly of the same antibody machinery, should the real virus ever attempt to invade next year or in ten years time. Because the immune system is now keenly aware of the existence of the nCoV-2019 virus and the possibility of invasion, it will, in the future, be ready to fight – possibly before the initial virus is able to invade your body’s respiratory cells at all, and probably before it is capable of producing any subsequent generations of new viral bodies. The result of all this is that, now whenever your body comes in contact with that specific virus and is infected, the virus is basically ambushed once it gets inside. An inhabitation of what might have been weeks without the effects of a vaccine, now has become a residence of probably only a few days. With the use of a vaccine, the virus can still infect the body but the viral bodies are destroyed there and do not pose the threat of leaving that body to infect other people. Their existence is terminated inside of a fully vaccinated person’s body. On the other hand, if the body is NOT vaccinated, the virus thrives and repopulates for generation after generation after generation within that body and the new generations do not die, and the viruses can then escape via coughing, sneezing, breathing, singing or talking to infect other people. This prolonged existence is facilitated through the extra time it takes the immune system to figure out just what the hell is going on. If new hosts are vaccinated, the cycle is stopped within that vaccinated person. If however, the next infected person is NOT vaccinated, the virus is not ambushed and destroyed within, and the cycle continues, generation after generation after generation, with millions and millions and millions of individual virus bodies in each generation in each human host. And, the more generations of nCoV-2019 that are produced (a virus generation may occur in minutes, hours or days as compared to a human generation of 25 to 30 years), the more likely there will be mutations and variants of the original virus. And, the more variants and mutations that are produced, the more problems we will have with similar viruses in the future.

By CDC on Unsplash

Viruses are really quite similar to mice then. They are both pests. Mice invade one’s house and viruses invade one’s body. Mice can be prevented from entering your house if you wrap your house in a glass bubble, but that’s costly and mostly inconvenient. Viruses can be prevented from entering your body by isolating yourself from the rest of the world. Viruses are not at all like cheetahs - they cannot hunt a person down at chase speeds of 70 mph. The spread from one human to another must be at close range. The recommended safety distance of two meters, which we have all become very familiar with over the last two years, is actually comparable to the distance from the earth to the moon in the case of humans - not just any overnight jaunt. To continue, mice can also be prevented from entering your house by securing all other buildings so that the neighbour’s mice can’t get out of their houses. This is good for you, but maybe not so sweet for the neighbours. Similarly, viruses can be prevented to some extent from entering your body, by keeping them from escaping the protection of other people’s bodies. Wearing face masks, for example, is actually quite effective as a method of restricting the transmission of viruses away from an infected body. Once your house is infected with mice however, the only way to get rid of them is by setting traps and using poison and encouraging the cat (or snake) to do its part. If the mice get a head-start though, then it takes a great effort to rid your home of the problem. Much like Covid – if you are infected with the virus that causes it, you could be trying to fix the problem for a long, long time. If, however, you buy the cat and you set traps and poison in your house BEFORE you actually ever see a mouse, then should a few decide to come in for a visit, they will be bushwhacked before they ever get a chance to multiply, chew on your shoes and your furniture, and before they pack up and move on to somebody else’s place to cause trouble in new surroundings. Setting mouse-traps and applying rodent poison in strategic spots in your house, or getting a cat, BEFORE you ever have a mouse infestation, is a lot like getting vaccinated for Covid. Neither of these practices will prevent an infestation or infection but all will serve to eliminate its length and severity, should an infection or infestation actually occur sometime in the future. Insurance is insurance is insurance. We always hope we will never need it and we may even think it to be a hoax or a scam. But, if your house burns down and you've got a Tenant Pak or if someone sneezes on the back of your neck and you've already been vaccinated, your ensuing problems will not be nearly as insurmountable as they might have been without that insurance.

There are also groups of antivaxxers who base their refusal to "get the jab" on the social-media-initiated-and-supported idea that governments (who are not to be trusted) and medical scientists (who are not to be trusted) and big pharmaceutical companies (who are only after our money) are merely out to "control" all of us by insisting on mandatory vaccinations for everyone. It may be possible that governments and medical scientists are not entirely above board on certain occasions, and it may be quite likely that Big Pharma is only in it for the money on most occasions, but, in this particular case, which is independent of all other cases, they are all correct in their encouragement of mass vaccinations. As a teacher of Biology, I will verify that they are all correct. They've got it right this time. The science totally supports their "call to arms". If the problem is stopped before it really ever starts, then a further spread of the problem is highly unlikely. If the spread is improbable then everyone benefits. Shouldn’t we all be doing our parts to help our neighbours and friends and family members so that all of them can benefit? As a Biology teacher, my advice then is simple – GET A CAT (or a snake) & GET VACCINATED, and do it NOW – BEFORE there is a real problem to deal with.

I'm a Biology teacher - I can help!!

Class dismissed!!

Science

About the author

John Oliver Smith

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