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Praise God for vaccines

Repurposing the BCG tuberculosis vaccine to fight bladder cancer.

In the spring of 2019, I was diagnosed with superficial bladder cancer. The cancerous growth was surgically removed but reappeared nine months later and removed again. My surgeon suggested follow-up treatment at Edmonton’s Cross Cancer Clinic for BCG immunotherapy. BCG stands for Bacillis-Calmette-Guerin. BCG was developed by French doctors Albert Calmette and Camille Guerin in 1921 as a vaccine against tuberculosis and is responsible for having almost eradicated TB today. In my case, the BCG infusion involves placing a small amount of the TB bacillus into my bladder once a week for six weeks to stimulate my body to send antibodies into my bladder to kill the TB bacillus and, as a happy by-product, any stray cancer cells as well.

I write about this personal medical experience to point out that currently more than 17 vaccines exist to control a host of deadly diseases. Among them are vaccines that have almost eliminated such scourges as bubonic plague, smallpox, diphtheria, and polio, to name just a few.

In May of 1796, English country doctor, Edward Jenner, inoculated a young boy with vaccinia virus, and demonstrated immunity against smallpox, which was killing millions of people in Europe. Jenner had noticed that English milkmaids seldom contracted smallpox but did contract a much less virulent form of the disease from the cows they milked. This disease, cowpox, seemed to provide these maids with immunity against the smallpox. Although no one knew anything about viruses in those days, Jenner took fluid from a milkmaid’s cowpox blister and scratched it into the skin of James Phipps, an eight-year-old boy. A single blister rose up on the spot, but James soon recovered. On July 1, Jenner inoculated the boy again, this time with smallpox matter, and no disease developed. The vaccine was a success. The process was named vaccination after the Latin name for cow – vacca.

Plagues of bygone eras

During the 18th and 19th centuries, systematic implementation of mass smallpox immunization culminated in its global eradication in 1979. Many other successful vaccines were developed over the next 150 years, including Louis Pasteur’s work to develop cholera and anthrax vaccines (in 1897 and 1904 respectively). Plague vaccine was developed in the late 19th century, TB vaccine in 1950 (the BCG I’m benefiting from today), anti-diphtheria vaccine in 1926, and whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine in 1948. New tissue culture methods developed between 1950 and 1985 led to the advent of the Salk injectable polio vaccine, and the Sabin oral polio vaccine. Mass vaccination campaigns have now eradicated polio from most regions of the world.

As a Dutch immigrant to Canada at age 5, I (and probably many other CC readers), have three small scars on my left shoulder as a reminder of having received the BCG tuberculosis vaccine seventy years ago as required of all immigrants by the Canadian Government. Today I am benefitting from that same vaccine to fight my bladder cancer. And now the world is dealing with another viral threat of pandemic proportions. Thank God for all the scientists today who have stood on the shoulders of the Jenners, Pasteurs, Salks, and others of the past and have successfully developed new vaccines that can control COVID-19, if only we are all wise enough to be vaccinated. I am greatly saddened by the too many vaccine-hesitant and outright anti-vaxxers (Christians among them) who refuse to acknowledge God’s good gift of current medical science.

Author

  • Bob Bruinsma

    Bob is a retired Professor of Education (The King’s University) living in Edmonton.

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