I have a question about vaccines, well, more about viruses and diseases in general. I have a character that ends up getting trapped back in time (medieval times), and I was wondering how his body would react to being in a whole other time. Would the vaccines he would have gotten in our time as a child and such be of any help when it comes to his body’s immune system dealing with the new time? Or would have the viruses mutated and change so much over all that time that it’d be of no use to him?
Hey there nonny!
So viruses play the evolutionary game known as “How much can I change each time I copy myself while still being able to copy myself more later?” Basically, they have adapted to a high rate of transcription errors to ensure that when they are copied, they have some form of variability. The cold and influenza viruses are massively good at this. It’s why you keep getting “the cold” over and over: it’s a different strain each time around.
(There’s actually a drug that works by pushing the transcription error rate to be high enough that the RNA can’t reliably copy itself and the virus literally messes itself up to death. Science is Freaking Neat™ .)
So viral diseases in general are going to be very different from the things they’ve had in the past, though particularly with bacteria, the “safer” / less murdery strains were around in the past, mostly because we put a lot of evolutionary pressure on bacteria with the (over-)use of antibiotics.
It’s also… so Bubonic Plague? That thing that wiped out a third of Europe (and lots of other places too)? That’s curable with a good course of antibiotics.
All of that said, your character has a major advantage over their medieval counterparts.
They understand germ theory.
Look at a medieval person, even a doctor, and tell them that diseases are caused by germs and bacteria and viruses and they will think you have six heads and need to be taken away. They didn’t have the optics power to see the microorganisms, so they didn’t know about them.
Your character will do better than average simply by washing their hands as frequently as possible and washing their food, and trying to get water from as far up the river (ie before it’s been pooped in) as they can.
Meanwhile, their neighbors will be convinced that disease is the result of the Evil Eye or of a “miasma” of evil. Doctors might diagnose an imbalance of the humors and bloodlet people.
This is legitimately what smart people believed and were taught. And some day they’ll say “Holy cow, the 21st century Earthanoids believed and did what?!” in shock and disbelief.
In any case. Their vaccines may protect them from some of the viruses going around at the time, but they also have the educational advantage that the locals don’t have.
Best of luck with your story!
xoxo, Aunt Scripty
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