Tennessee Moves To Change Classification of “Vaccine Lettuce” To A Drug

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Vaccines are a controversial topic. While there is little evidence that vaccines are widely harmful to individuals to receive them, that hasn’t stopped misinformation about vaccines from spreading in waves. Vaccines are one of the best developments of modern medicine, but growing distrust of medicine and the government has led to the resurgence of some diseases from long ago. 

Distrust of Vaccines

Anti-vax sentiment is nothing new. Since the first proper vaccine was created in the late 18th century, there have been individuals who distrusted the use of vaccines as a method to prevent disease from spreading. 

Source: Wikimedia/Whispyhistory

The first vaccine was not a proper vaccine the way that we consider it today. Rather, it was a method of inoculation against smallpox. Dr. Edward Jenner was a doctor who noticed that people who were infected with cowpox, were ultimately less susceptible to getting smallpox, the major killing disease of the time. 

The Creation of the Smallpox Vaccine

In order to test whether the cowpox virus was the cause of the immunity against smallpox, Jenner proceeded to do a small experiment. He inoculated a young boy in his community with matter collected from a cowpox sore, allowing him to get briefly ill with a local reaction to the virus matter. 

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Two months later, after allowing the young boy to recover from the illness, Jenner inoculated him again, this time with virus matter from a smallpox sore. Instead of getting deathly ill from smallpox, though, the boy remained perfectly healthy and had no reaction. He was the first person successfully vaccinated against smallpox, and set off a centuries-long movement towards vaccinating against various diseases. 

Anti-Vax Through the Years

The history of anti-vaccination sentiment goes back before vaccines were truly established, but after the creation of the smallpox vaccine, it became particularly virulent. In the mid 1850’s, English law required that babies be vaccinated within three to six months of birth, setting a precedent for the state regulation of physical bodies.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

This was fiercely resisted, and the first anti-compulsory-vaccination pamphlet was published in 1854 by John Gibbs. From there, the sentiment spread, and by the mid-1860’s anti vaccine sediment was active in the working class, the labor aristocracy, and the lower middle class of Britain. 

And In America

A similar pattern followed in the United States. In 1855, the state of Massachusetts instituted a mandatory vaccination law, and in 1879, the Anti-Vaccination Society of America was founded, after a visit from British anti-vaccine activist William Tebb. 

Source: Reddit

A series of legal cases in the early twentieth century upheld the legality and necessity of mandatory vaccination, though. The court case Jacobson v Massachusetts determined that “the liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States to every person within its jurisdiction does not import an absolute right in each person to be, at all times and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restraint. There are manifold restraints to which every person is necessarily subject for the common good.”

The Wakefield “Study”

The early twentieth century saw further anti-vaccine sentiment, but it largely dissolved throughout the majority of the century. However, in the late twentieth century, the sentiment was brought back with a bang due to a paper that was released by a British physician, Andrew Wakefield. 

Source: Peter Macdiarmid

In 1998, Wakefield published a study that claimed that the MMR vaccine had been conclusively and definitively linked to the development of autism in children. The study was deeply and fundamentally flawed, but it created a resurgence in the anti-vax movement despite being retracted in 2010 and Wakefield ultimately losing his medical license over it. 

Anti-Vax sentiment on the Rise in America

Since the publication of the Wakefield study, the prevalence of anti-vax sentiment in the United States has increased massively. Pockets of anti-vaccination communities have even led to the resurgence of diseases that were once almost eliminated by vaccines. 

Source: Flickr/Fibonacci Blue

One example is measles, which has seen a terrifying comeback in recent years due to anti-vax ideology. Measles is highly contagious and can be incredibly deadly for young children, though the true impacts of many of these childhood illnesses have been misconstrued by many anti-vax propagandists. 

Different Ways to Distribute

Anti-vax sentiment as well as challenges in storing vaccines and getting them into vulnerable populations have led doctors and researchers to expand their horizons, considering different ways to distribute vaccines that would be more effective and equitable than shots. 

Source: Wikimedia/Keith Weller

One consideration has been edible vaccines. A 2013 paper noted different attempts to implant vaccine materials into different types of foodstuff, including potatoes, bananas, corn, soybeans, and rice. 

Edible Vaccines: A Backup Plan

The idea behind edible vaccines is fairly simple. Successfully placing vaccines in plant material would mean that they wouldn’t have to be stored at low temperatures, which is currently the case for many different types of injectable vaccines. 

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Additionally, vaccines in food could, theoretically, be sold at the grocery store alongside their non-vaccine modified counterparts. There’s a question of cost, of course, but it could be a good option for allowing less-served communities to get vaccines when they don’t have access to the doctor.

A Bill on Vaccine-Modified Foods

Of course, vaccines fall under the purview of the Food and Drug Administration of the government, and these types of vaccine-modified foods would be no different. This is why a bill recently passed in Tennessee’s Senate, classifying foods with vaccine materials added as a drug. 

Source: X/AFPTN

The bill, titled HB 1894, passed both the House and the state Senate in Tennessee overwhelmingly. It would classify any food that “contains a vaccine or vaccine material” as a drug under Tennessee law, meaning that the food would have to be labeled accordingly. 

An Unnecessary Measure?

The bill defines vaccine material as a substance intended to “stimulate the production of antibodies and provide immunity against disease. It would not ban vaccine-imbued foods from being sold in the state, but would require them to carry the same sort of medical labeling as injectable vaccines or medications. 

Source: Flickr/NIAID

Proponents of the bill cited ongoing research into this method of distributing vaccines, and communicated the need to give people the recommended dose of the vaccine. Opponents, on the other hand, questioned the bill’s necessity, and whether these types of modified foods would ever reasonably be able to be sold alongside unvaccinated counterparts in grocery stores. 

Questioning the Bill

One state senator, Heidi Campbell, asked for evidence of “any instances of there being food offered in the state of Tennessee that contains vaccines.” She stated that the research being done into vaccine-imbued foods did not reasonably correlate to the retail offering of these types of vegetables, especially when considering the potential cost. 

Source: Eric England

Advocates of the bill, though state that there were no specific examples of vaccine-modified foods being sold in the state, but that the point of the bill was to ensure that there were regulations in place should such sales occur. 

Ensuring Regulations are in Place

Scott Cepicky, the Republican who originally sponsored the bill, said in February that lettuces containing vaccines would require a prescription “to make sure that we know how much of the lettuce you have to eat based off of your body type.”

Source: Wikimedia/AfroBrazilian

This is based off a research project done at the University of California, looking into whether pathogen-targeting mRNA, like that used in COVID-19 vaccines, could be implanted in the cells of edible plants to replicate, and then be consumed. “We are testing this approach with spinach and lettuce and have long-term goals of people growing it in their own gardens,” said Juan Pablo Giraldo, the lead researcher in 2021. 

A Good Future Option

Edible vaccines are definitely a consideration of the far future, but regulations regarding the medicines will eventually be necessary. While the Tennessee legislature may have been jumping the gun by passing this bill before the research is completely solid, having the legislation in place is not a bad thing for the eventuality. 

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Creating more options for vaccines to combat anti-vax sentiment is a positive development, though there will always be pushback. Regardless, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and vaccines are good for society, and good for the future of mankind.

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James Cross

Written by James Cross

James Cross, an enigmatic writer from the historic city of Boston. James' writing delves into mysteries, true crime, and the unexplained, crafting compelling narratives that keep readers and viewers on the edge of their seats. His viral articles, blog posts, and documentary-style videos explore real-life enigmas and unsolved cases, inviting audiences to join the quest for answers. James' ability to turn real mysteries into shareable content has made him a sensation in the world of storytelling.

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