Most vaccines are developed to prevent disease, but medical researchers, like dress designers, are never satisfied with last year’s fashions. Their holy grail at present is the creation of therapeutic vaccines to treat illnesses after we have contracted them. Could a future vaccine cure my bagpipe-playing? Or make Frank Ifield’s ‘Lovesick Blues’ a thing of the past, like his yodelling? (But not Frank — he’ll be 84 by the time you read this.)
All of which started me thinking, because I like to try something new every now and then. Can we look forward to a vaccine that will spirit away a hangover? Or remove the worst effects of chocolate cake from our waistlines and our bibs? What about pre-existing conditions like poverty (having no money) or dottiness (having no brains)? Will some future inoculation be able to change a frog into a prince again, without a princess having to risk infection by kissing him?
Some illnesses don’t trigger an immune response, our bodies simply fail to recognise malevolent cells, while other viruses overwhelm the immune system and shut it down before it can work. Wake up, immune system! Pay attention, for goodness’ sake!
The benefits of vaccination wear off, of course, like that hangover of yours. The hope is that bits of DNA can be injected into cells, instructing them to keep the immune system revved up and alert. Yes, well, I already suggested that, two or three sentences ago, but no thanks are necessary, thank you.
Imagine you could feed slices of someone else’s DNA — excuse the scientific jargon — into your own system. Elvis Lives! may no longer be a forlorn hope. If a good person received strands of DNA from Lord Lucan’s hairbrush, he might be able to reveal where that ignoble murderer went when he disappeared. “Does hair have memories?” I hear you ask, but I don’t own the copyright details for that at present. And anyway, he probably left the brush behind before he fled, so the hair wouldn’t know.
“The role of immunity is much more complicated than we are smart,” said an American biologist. (Coincidentally called Smart, or perhaps he just liked the sound of his own name, even when admitting his shortcomings.) Standard vaccines help your system target foreign invaders, he added, something military men might approve of.
I sometimes look to country and western music to provide solutions to problems, since it’s no more ridiculous a system than listening to pundits and politicians, and far more entertaining. Most country music themes can best be summed up in the plea, “Leave me, or I’ll find somebody who will.” Roger Miller said country and western music had more songs about trains than there were actual trains.
Eminem sings that he wishes he could rewind time like a tape, which rather gives his age away. But we have all wished that, at one time or another. Although right now many of us probably wish we could fast-forward that same tape to the end of Covid time. Or the beginning of retroactive cures, once our immune systems learn to backheel the virus without scoring an own goal. Perhaps we might meet after the match for a drink, if your hangover has gone by then. I know a place where you can yodel along to karaoke.