Ok, so let’s look into the difference between vaccine and antibiotic, as some tend to equate them in terms of their supposed beneficial contributions.
Well, apart from there’s never gonna be a rock band called “The Antibiotics” or, indeed, “The Penicillins” there are more fundamental reasonings to be considered here. Whilst the former are an attempt at prophylaxis the latter are used to assist the body in removing infection by a specific and toxic effect on the body’s bacterial microflora, in particular, those at the site of the ailment.
Antibiotics, as every schoolchild knows, are based on the ability of certain fungi to exude bacteriotoxins when in an ecological conflict. Penicillins being produced in petridishes as observed in 1927 by Alexander Fleming, everyone’s favourite careless, Scottish bacteriologist. A specific, extractable chemical which had the handy additional capacity that it works on bacteria that are in humans as well as those competing with the original fungi. An invaluable new medicine was discovered and there have been a good number of analogous bacteriocidal “antibiotics” discovered since that time.
Each is a specific, single chemical found to have specific, individual, biochemical interactions with specific, bacterial physiological process. They are, thus, targeted products being able to disable bacterial biology. It would be no use utilising cyanide to kill the bacteria for, although totally effective in despatching the infective organism, this chemical would kill the patient as well. The antibiotics are, thus, a great boon in being able to differentiate between patient and infective agency and so lead to cure and recovery of those sick.
Which is all well and good. As everyone knows, antibiotics have become an integral part of modern medicine and are used very widely to assist in the recuperation from bacterial infections. Less well understood is the fact that they are also very greatly used in livestock for such treatments and also for widespread prophylactic “preventive” animal husbandry as well as as an adjunct to feedstocks. They are found to help weight gain irrespective of their antibacterial use and are so included in, for example, poultry fodder.
Having a generational time of as little as half an hour, bacteria can evolve very rapidly. Additionally, they are able to carry small circlets of genes – “plasmids” – much smaller than their whole, also circular, genome. Typically they can group antibacteriocidal functions on such a plasmid, as they achieve such particular capabilities. A single plasmid may carry resistance to many, different bacteriocides – antibiotics – penicillin, streptomycin, ampicillin, chloramphenicols and the like. Furthermore, it is observed that bacterial types are profoundly promiscuous with their plasmids, which can be transferred across species readily, so quickly spreading antibiotic resistance factors amongst a whole bacterial flora and not simply one particular designated type eg Escheriscia coli or Streptococcus typhimurium.
An antibiotic resistance plasmid is a great boon to bacterial survival and is intensely selected in favour of in conditions where antibiotics are in heavy use, such as hospitals, as well as on farms, as discussed above. Thus hospitals – and farms – will develop positive selection for resistant species, such as the now infamous MRSA, multiply resistant streptococcus aureus.
This has more recently limited the utility of antibiotics and the greatest care has to be taken in their use. As they have been so successful as a miracle cure it is difficult for medical staff to resist urgent requests for their use and we are now at a fairly critical phase in this debate and so the future effectiveness of these crucial medicaments.
Early use of bacteriocides is implicated in developmental problems, one line suggesting childhood obesity may follow their use in infancy. Other studies point at how, although antibiotics clearly do only kill bacteria, they do not simply attack the infective species – they are the equivalent of Agent Orange on a Vietnamese forest and wipe out all bacteria in their path. After the course has been completed, then, and the infection cleared, the recovering patient is being recolonised and great care must be taken to ensure balance and the recolonisation by beneficial commensal bacteria and not by a second wave of pathogens.
So, yes, antibiotics have problems as well as clear benefits. The positive impacts can be seen dramatically as patients recover from seemingly dire circumstances. Initially they were most famous for their impact in battle scenarios, where injured fighters with awful wounds are kept gangrene free by use of antibiotics and recovery is vastly improved on days of yore when such was not available – there is less death and amputation, now, thankfully. But the impact on day to day situations has been very substantial, too – an impact which remains obvious and widespread.
Which cannot be said for vaccines, of course. In many ways they are the opposite end of the spectrum, in fact. Each is a cocktail of chemicals, bacterial fragments, bacteria or virus particles mixed into either an injected liquid or, sometimes, a breathable powder or an oral dose, swallowed. There is work ongoing to provide them as a skin surface patch, the “nano-patch”, as well, as I have discussed elsewhere.
There is no single, operational chemical here. This is an attempt to outflank the body’s biology and force it to commit a group of natural cells to develop a response sequence deemed to prepare the body with an ability to have improved response to a putative future infection by a particular bacterial, viral or other organism.
The outcomes of this procedure are unmanaged and success is gauged simply by the body developing an “antibody response” to the included antigens in the vaccine, however many that might be being clouded over in unexamined mystery. Collateral responses are not assessed, however damaging they might be and, of course, there can be no measure of whether the individual ever has to “fight off” the particular infection, nor, if they do, whether the induced antibodies have any impact whatsoever. Unlike antibiotics you cannot ever see a vaccine having any beneficial impact.
You can, of course, frequently see profound examples of collateral damage, however. That’s what vaccines are really good at.