Vaccination: Day Zero

So, I’m a part of a vaccination study for a university in town. The overall objective of the study is to see which method of three delivery methods beings studied will assist in making the vaccinations of streptococcus pneumonia(S. pneumo) more wide spread. S. pneumo is one of the most common causes of bacterial infections in the lung (pneumonia) and brain and spinal cord (meningitis). It also causes infection in the blood, ears (otitis media), sinuses and other body sites. These infections can be difficult to fight and lead to many deaths worldwide. The method of vaccination delivery I am helping to study(read: being a guinea pig for) is the oral digestion of a trace of the S. pneumo bacteria being carried into my system by another trace of Salmonella Typhi (S. Typhi) bacteria. Vaccines work by presenting the immune system with a small amount of an antigen so that the immune system can produce antibodies that will destroy the less potent antigen while teaching the immune system how to recognize the antigens if they were a stronger pathogen, eg. a full blown virus.

Since the type of vaccine is a live-attenuated vaccine at a high dose, I am not allowed to leave the facility. Since I am shedding the bacteria from my body, I might infect a person with a compromised immune system. Also, I have to avoid contact with babies under the age of 2 years young. Due to the possibility of my carrying the bacteria longer than my stay here, I could middle ear infection, and other complications. The need for me to stay confined is serious.

I am speaking in first person singular but there are actually around eight other people here with me. Upon arriving here this morning, I was offered my choice of room. Now, this is just a converted hospital, so it is a nine by ten foot room with the bed surrounded by lights. There is also a regular television with basic cable channels and the phone with the strange extension as a direct line for the phone .

As the day progressed, I met the rest of the lab rats volunteers while being prepared to receive the vaccine. When it came time, we all stood around a rotunda facing a bottle of Ensure that had been poured into two cups, while our numbers were called for our dosages.

This is about the time my history lessons started flying through my head and all sorts of thoughts of impoverished American Black men and women being injected with syphilis and denied penicillin treatments in Tuskegee, Alabama conducted between 1932 and 1972. For a second, my mind went back to the very term “vaccination” with its roots in the cow pox disease that protected many of the early European settlers from the viral small pox disease that would become a form of the western world’s bio-chemical warfare. During the Native American attack around 1752 on the British terrorist encampment Fort Pitt (which would become Pittsburg, Pennsylvania), Jeffery Amherst, Henry Bouquet, and Simeon Ecuyer, in order to “use every strategem in our power to reduce them”, conjured up the idea to send infected blankets and a handkerchief to the Native Americans in an effort to an “extirpate this execrable race”.

All this passed through my mind as we, upon instruction, quickly gulped two-thirds of the Ensure bottle and then drank the bitter vaccination like a shot of Tequila (actually the phrase “Shot, shot, shot..” was chanted by a nurse and a few of the lab rat volunteers). We then poured the rest of the Ensure into the same container with the remaining droplets of Salmonella Typhi laced with Streptococcus pneumoniae.

So, far I haven’t felt any of the effects, but my immune system has always been pretty strong, and there are only trace incidents, or so I’ve been told.

Of course, what would this post be without me describing the others. It is a motley crew at best: A young brother working on his neurology degree, an agriculturist working on projects in the impoverished areas of the city, a welder, a dietitian, a choir director, and the other alternate that came on with me. I know the descriptions are bland at best, but as the project goes on, I’ll fill you in on the specifics. Thus far the conversations — all starting with a name-statement-name staccato in effort to memorize each others names — have been about societal designators, class designations, the degree-job ratio and sushi. Oh, and the other alternate wants to smuggle in liquor. That ought to be interesting!!