My thoughts about Ebola

I follow some of the ongoing discussions about medical science, vaccination, cancer treatments and related areas and occasionally offer a comment.

I’m too busy with studying and job-searching to devote the continual effort needed to comment and reply regularly on the many sites where these topics are discussed. But, once in a while I will toss my hat into the ring and offer my thoughts on the topic at hand.

So, when Carol A Hoernlein PE wrote a blog a few days ago (, I made a comment. She responded and after a few days, I decided to take the time to express my ideas and reasoning in more detail. After spending a fair amount of time writing them up, I chose to reblog my reply here in toto.


Thanks for your reply(s).

Primarily I was responding to the overall tone of your article, but let me discuss some specifics and explain further.

The Fear Factor

Personally, I’m worried more about someone with a ski mask and a gun coming in to rob a restaurant or bank where I was than I am about my personal risk of Ebola. But, if I were in one of the nations in Africa where the current outbreak is occurring, I would definitely be highly concerned. I am certainly glad that many scientists have been working for many years to develop a vaccine against this horrible disease.

Modern Medicine

I was in college in 1970 and remember a talk given to incoming students about the limitations of existing antibiotics and developing resistance to them and the challenge of developing future antibiotics that might work in a different manner. Unfortunately, this strategy has been very difficult to implement.  And only a few years later, President Nixon announced a war on cancer. This has helped fund research and resulted in enormous improvements in survival from many of the worst cancers, such as childhood leukemia. So while things were hopeful then, my view as a science student wasn’t nearly as Panglossian as you describe it.

So, although vaccines may not have been the perfect solution for all diseases, they have mainly born out the promise of their early success. Thanks to the MMR, which was introduced in 1971 and some changes in vaccination requirements, we fought off a rise in measles incidence from 13,000 cases in 1980 to 26,000 cases in 1990. As a result, measles was pronounced eradicated in the U.S. about 10 years ago.


Since we don’t want to pay huge taxes for the government to support massive research into vaccines and drugs, we have to rely on the potential for profit from the one treatment that proves successful to fund the necessary research into the dozen or more alternatives that wind up not working or having too many problems to be useable.

But, science researchers are motivated by many factors in addition to profit. There is the challenge of solving a difficult problem. There is the satisfaction of discovering something new about the world. There is the desire to do something important during your life that will help others and that you can remember with pride and satisfaction. I consider that to be a humanitarian endeavor.

I don’t think the Belgian nurses who died from the disease or the Belgian researchers who identified it considered it to be Africa’s private hell.


I don’t think Bill Gates is donating all the money he has contributed (for which he regularly gets castigated by the anti-vaccination crowd) towards a world-wide vaccination program out of an expectation of future profit.

And, while GSK is manufacturing thousands of doses of their vaccine to have available for emergency use and the trials are being fast-tracked, we are doing the necessary testing to ensure the vaccine is both safe for humans like Ruth Atkins ( and effective against Ebola.

As for your three links later, we’ll see how the Merck case plays out in court. While they may have oversold how well and how long their vaccine protects against mumps, the competitors weren’t that much better. Mumps and pertussis have both proven to be difficult to develop a vaccine that provides the high level and long lasting immunity we really want.

I’ve been following the Thompson case and read his statement. He never uses the word fraud. My perception is that he was concerned about one statistical outlier (black boys vaccinated between 2 and 3 years age) which was not emphasized in the published paper. No data were “manipulated” because the exact same data were used by Hooker with incorrect statistical methods to generate this whole flap. And, since their analysis showed this blip was due to other confounding factors and none of the many studies of vaccination and autism have shown a particular sensitivity by Africans or African-Americans, there doesn’t seem to be a real problem except in the minds of people like Hooker who are looking for somewhere to point their finger.

Tools in the Medicine Chest

Until the GSK vaccine is shown to be safe and effective, those are all we have. And, regrettably for Thomas Eric Duncan, they were too little too late.

The Fear Meter

The great thing about vaccines is that they work even in countries with poor sanitation, lack of clean drinking water and poor access to nutritious food. And, the U.S. had none of those problems in the 1950’s when hundreds of thousands of children (including me and my siblings) got measles every year and hundreds died from it. Measles is a mild illness compared to smallpox or polio, but it is still deadly. I am curious where you got the idea that doctors “convinced folks the only way to deal with an infectious disease is a vaccine”.

The perception described by the comedy writers on The Brady Bunch was certainly not the perception of the thousands of people who suffered side effects of the disease. And it certainly wasn’t the perception of Roald Dahl, for instance. We put up with these diseases because we had to, not because they were a laughing matter.

Ebola is certainly more deadly than measles. But, fortunately it is not nearly as contagious. For the moment, it is only spread by direct contact. By comparison, you can get measles by walking into an elevator two hours after someone sick with the measles left it. So, keeping a patient in facilities designed to contain some of the nastiest diseases known to man is not the threat to people on the streets of Dallas that you seem to describe.

Moving Target

Rapid mutations in diseases are certainly a problem. We will find out when an Ebola vaccine is demonstrated safe enough for field testing whether it is effective enough to contain the disease and eliminate a relatively local outbreak (and I emphasize the term relatively). Unlike the H1N1 strain of influenza, which quickly spread to all continents around the world, Ebola (except for a handful of cases) is still confined to a few countries in Africa.

So there is hope that the current strategies will eventually succeed. But, the development of an effective vaccine would be a huge benefit in this struggle.

Addition on 9 Oct 2014

I checked in on Carol’s post at Epoch Times this morning and discovered my comment last night failed to post or was deleted. I’m fairly certain I saw it displaying on the screen.

Instead, I noticed she had closed comments on the thread.

Comments closed on Epoch Times after my comment failed to post.
Comments closed on Epoch Times after my comment failed to post.

I find this especially ironic, because in one of her comments to Dorit Reiss, she stated:

. I blog at a paper that was created to fight the worst types of censorship from the Chinese Government. I am not afraid of you. I will refute your points because I believe in debate

Actions speak louder than words, Carol!


Thoughts about science, technology and culture as I enter a third career