[extropy-chat] Are vaccinations useless?

Russell Wallace russell.wallace at gmail.com
Tue Mar 14 00:12:44 UTC 2006

On 3/13/06, "Hal Finney" <hal at finney.org> wrote:
> In a way, you can see how they might be too generous in some measures.
> Diphtheria's vaccine gets most of the credit; but if that vaccine had
> not been available until the 1960s, chances are the rate of diphtheria
> would have fallen just like measles.  In that case we would not credit
> diphteria vaccination with adding 10 months of life.  So to some extent
> it looks like a matter of timing and luck as to whether a treatment
> came along early enough to get credit or was so late that other factors
> appeared to be responsible.

*nods* Hygiene, sanitation and disinfectants probably together did a lot
more than antibiotics, maybe more than vaccines. Behavioral measures to
prevent the spread of disease too. I remember how I learned the word
"quarantine" as a child - reading books written in earlier decades, where it
was a common occurrence for a character to be spending a fortnight in
quarantine recovering from some disease. It's hard to put numbers on it, but
I suspect such measures had a substantial effect.

One thing I do have some numbers on: the 1918 flu epidemic is officially
blamed for 20 million deaths, but most of the toll in the Third World wasn't
added up; I've seen estimates of the true figure as high as 60 million. It
was an open question for a long time how the world in later years would cope
with another such pandemic. SARS gave us our answer: it was even deadlier
than the 1918 flu, but it was stopped by quarantine, despite the lack of a
vaccine or cure. No way of knowing how many lives were saved thereby, but it
has to be tens of millions.
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