Smallpox epidemics ravaged the world for millennia. By the 1950s, it is estimated that 50 million cases occurred each year, up to 60% dying from the
“Variolation” against smallpox originated in China using old scabs from healing pustules applied to newly scarified skin. This practice spread to India over the next 200 years, and beyond, to South West Asia and to the Balkans.
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and her brother caught smallpox in England in 1713. She survived, badly scarred; her brother died. Her husband became ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, where she came across this practice of variolation. Her son was successfully infected. At home in London, through her social influence, variolation became fashionable and then widely popular following a royal seal of approval.
Poor technique caused smallpox outbreaks, and variolation was condemned by some religious leaders as dangerous and sinful: it fell into disrepute.
Edward Jenner was variolated aged 8 in 1756, having been severely starved and bled prior: it took him a month to recover. On qualifying as a doctor, he observed that milkmaids suffered from a mild pox disease which spread from udders to hands, and he soon learnt that they never contracted smallpox.
In 1796, Jenner succeeded in demonstrating his “vaccination” technique by scratching an eight-year-old boy with pus from a milkmaid’s pustule, waiting for two months, then re-infecting the boy with pus from a case of smallpox. The child had become immune.
It was not until 1977 that the last case of smallpox was identified, in Somalia. The WHO concluded that the disease had been eradicated by 1980 after a massive 14 year campaign during which an estimated 200 million vaccinations a year had been administered.
The only other disease to be “eradicated” to date is rinderpest, “cattle plague”. Diseases have been “eliminated” from significant regions but can be reintroduced easily. These are measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria and polio. Largely due to anti- vaxxer social media activity in Europe, especially in France, localised measles epidemics are increasing, and travellers are advised by UK and US government agencies to have booster MMR vaccinations.
An October 2020 report from the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) found that “around one in six British people were unlikely to agree to being vaccinated” against COVID-19, “and a similar proportion had yet to make up their mind”.
A recent paper in ‘Nature’ warned that “in a decade the anti-vaccination movement could overwhelm pro-vaccination voices online. If that came to pass, the consequences would stretch far beyond COVID-19”.
Vaccines notoriously take a decade or more to develop. It is astonishing how quickly prospective COVID-19 vaccines have been seemingly magicked out of thin air – perhaps the abracadabra word is CASH? Should some prove to be safe and effective in practice, there will be two obvious problems. Firstly, how efficiently will governments handle the logistics of delivery? Secondly, how long will immunity last? And the two are inter-related.
I think I will leave possible solutions to the first problem to your imagination – or nightmares, more like. As one logistics expert has just said, “it is a sobering challenge”: Pfizer state it will produce up to 50 million doses in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion in 2021, and that is just Pfizer.
We do not know how long the various vaccines will provide adequate protection: only the future will tell us. A man in Hong Kong has been shown to have had the disease twice, infected by two genetically distinct variants. We know of recovered COVID patients who have lost immunity within weeks. Another unknown is how much cross-immunity exists with the common cold coronavirus – probably none.
Herd immunity is optimistically reached at 50% of the population, which, if you take influenza as an example, would take at least two or three epidemic waves to achieve along with an unacceptable mortality rate. The only safe way is to force the R rate down below 1 with vaccination.
Apart from vaccination, we have learnt a modicum over the last 12 months. We have started to understand how to protect ourselves by means other than the financial and psychological disaster of isolation.
First and foremost is vitamin D. It is safe, it is cheap, it is readily available. It is pivotal to our health and it is, beyond any shadow of a doubt, eminently protective against acute respiratory infections if taken in the correct dose, and to anybody with a low blood level – which is the majority of the UK population.(1,2) Especially vulnerable are the elderly (signally men), the overweight, ethnic minority communities, (3) diabetics and those with any underlying chronic ill-health.
The correct anti-viral dose is crucial, and does not relate at all to the vitamin D content of a multivitamin supplement. For adults, a safe upper limit is 10,000 IU a day according to The Endocrine Society, and, to the European Food and Safety Authority, it is 4000 IU. (4) We recommend 4-5,000 IU daily according to body weight. Being a fat-soluble hormone, it is important that the oral oily formulation is contained within a gelatin capsule, not a tablet. The oral spray is just as effective (Sheffield University). Large infrequent doses do not work.
Just to make the point absolutely clear, vitamin D is known to be vital in regulating the immune system; sunlight UV radiation exposure on the skin produces vitamin D; UV intensity is highest near the Equator, and there is a highly positive correlation between lower COVID-19 death rates and a country’s proximity to the Equator. (4,5,6)
There is very little vitamin D in your diet.
During the Second World War crisis, the UK government fortified food with vitamin D: one thing less that we had to worry about at the time. But, this was very much to do with musculoskeletal health, and, along with rationing of food, was strictly controlled by government in conjunction with advice from the National Food Survey. Vitamin D fortification of margarine remains a legal requirement.
In the UK, our government used to take a very serious interest in our diet.
In 2003, the government of sun-deprived Finland made the decision to fortify all fluid milk products and fat spreads with vitamin D. The carefully observed result has been a dramatic improvement in the vitamin D status of the Finnish population. It has been suggested that the Finnish experience be used by many other countries to improve public health. (7)
To date Finland has had a death rate of 15 per million, Sweden 581, UK 821. (8)
The English government is prevaricating over a plan to give 2 million vulnerable and elderly people vitamin D supplements for four months – following the purposeful lead of Scotland.
It is not yet clear whether or not vitamin D levels will affect the efficacy of vaccination.
And so, wash your hands for 20 seconds, and wear a proper mask (not bits off an old skirt) within six feet of each other in public – it’s polite, at least, and soaks up your bug-ridden droplets. The most effective medical-grade masks for filtering viruses are stamped -N99 or -N95: they are reusable. If these are unobtainable, three layers of cotton or silk are acceptable, or, if really creative, incorporate one layer of vacuum cleaner filter or bag.
Ventilation, circulating fresh air, disperses viruses, and so open windows when bearable. Air purifiers with HEPA (high-efficiency particulate arresting) filters run over a period of time are said to remove more than 99% of viruses. This will be important to you when you return to work – if ever.
With regard to the subject of COVID-19, I am sure you will know by now to treat anything you hear or read with a degree of scepticism. Obviously, there are many indeterminable influences at work on fact, on information – politicians protecting their delicate reputations, Big Pharma guarding their immense profits and multiple scientists competing to be heard. There are plenty of “advisers” around doctoring and spinning, and much spurious “modelling”.
1 Martineau A et al – Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory tract infections: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data – PMID28202713
2 Lang P O et al – Can we translate vitamin D immunomodulating effect on innate and adaptive immunity to vaccine response? – PMID25803545
3 Khunti K et al – Is ethnicity linked to incidence or outcomes of covid-19? – PMID32312785
4 Prietl B et al – Vitamin D and immune function – PMID23857223
5 Kara M et al – ‘Scientific Strabismus’ or two related pandemics: coronavirus disease and vitamin D deficiency – PMID32393401
6 Whittemore P B – COVID-19 fatalities, latitude, sunlight, and vitamin D – PMID32599103
7 Raulio S et al – Successful nutrition policy: improvement of vitamin D intake and status in Finnish adults over the last decade – PMID28339536
8 – Worldometer