Apples to Oranges

Did you ever wonder why you shouldn't compare apples to oranges?  I mean, they’re both fruit.  They both grow on trees.  And in both cases I’d rather have a delicious slice of Boston Cream Pie if given the choice, but a Boston Cream Pie isn’t really a pie, which usually contains fruit grown on trees; it’s a cake with a custard center; I don’t know why they call it a pie when it so clearly is not.  It’s like comparing apples to oranges, which you’re not supposed to do.  Oh dear!

The problem with the apples/oranges comparison prohibition — I say prohibition, I mean maxim, because prohibition sounds like the Comparison Squad of the FBI might turn up and arrest unsuspecting comparers — is that the whole point of comparing things is to illustrate their differences.  If you can’t compare apples to oranges, what can you compare?  Pie to cake?  Regular to menthol?  Analog to digital?  Sweet to savory?  Imperial to metric?  For the purpose intended, oranges just might be the best thing to compare apples to.

Good.  Now that we got that out of the way.  Stop comparing the rapid development of a COVID-19 vaccine to the lack of a vaccine for HIV or cancer or the common cold — it’s like comparing apples to oranges!

I got to thinking about this earlier in the week because in a week dominated by news of Russia’s unwarranted, criminal, barbaric invasion of Ukraine and the historic confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson to be the first African American woman on the highest court in the United States, one of those “awareness days,” like National Psoriasis Day or Adopt-a-shelter-pet Day, went by relatively unnoticed.  Last Sunday was National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, observed on the first day of Spring each year; it was first observed in 2007, and its aim is to encourage Native people (Native Americans, Alaska Natives) in the United States to get educated, get tested, get involved in prevention, and get treated for HIV.  You can find out more here:  https://www.nnhaad.org.

I am not a Native American, nor do I suffer from Psoriasis, but I did adopt my dog Dennis from a shelter and believe strongly in shelter-pet adoption (which you can find out more about here:  https://theshelterpetproject.org); but these “days” serve to promote good, important causes and as a person who has lived with HIV for almost a quarter century and seen firsthand what it can do, I’m going to promote awareness of the disease whenever and wherever I can.  As the unhappy story of Marvin relays on my website (Boys Town), ignorance is the enemy in the fight to bring an end to HIV, so I will highlight and promote any “awareness day” educating people about the disease, even if its some small constituency like Nebraskan poodle owners who drive pickups and listen to Jimmy Buffett.

Setting out to research this post, I kept running across a dangerous comparison.  The gist of it goes like this:

So you’re telling me that after 40 years of research, there’s no vaccine against HIV, and after 100 years of research on cancer, there’s no vaccine, and after 300 years of research into the common cold, there’s no vaccine…but after one year of research, they somehow magically developed a vaccine for COVID-19 at warp speed, and they want to force me to get that shot? Hell no!

I believe you should leave the science to the scientists, the dancing to the dancers, and the hockey to the hockey players.  So I am loathe to opine here, but opine I will because I can now count COVID as something I’ve been through and I am certain that the vaccine is what kept it from being a worse experience given my severely weakened immune system and my history of respiratory (lung) problems that landed me in the pulmonary ICU unable to breathe for fifteen days in August of 2013.  Back then, in my drug-addled state that for some reason made everything look blurry and purple, I punched a nurse and tried to escape, which led to my being restrained by wrist and ankle cuffs; I know what you’re thinking — sounds kinky! — but there was nothing erotic or remotely fun about it.  I kept shouting, “watch out for the fluffy train,” whenever someone walked in the room, and I was convinced I was locked in a broom closet (a closet for sweeping and tidying implements who have not yet accepted their broomness).  A friend thought it was a good idea to record it all on his iPhone so he could play it back for me when I was discharged, and then again and again ad nauseam at parties at which I was in attendance.  When he died in 2016, his nephew asked if I wanted the clip from his phone; I said no.

So I intended to write about HIV in Native communities (cf:  CDC — HIV and American Indian/Alaska Native People) but realized I needed to address this stupid comparison because it kept cropping up and is one of the misleading facts used by vaccine skeptics and anti-vaxxers to spread dangerous and potentially deadly “information.”

I am not an expert on cancer.  I am not an expert on HIV either, except to the extent that as a layman I have educated myself about it because of its unavoidable impact on my life.  One of the reasons scientists have struggled to develop a vaccine for HIV is that it mutates rapidly, evading treatment by hiding out in cells almost (I said almost) like it is sentient; the number of drugs on the market to treat HIV reflects this — some are not as effective against it as others.  Other viruses are not this clever, if you’ll forgive the anthropomorphism.  Successful vaccines for other viruses, such as the flu, rely on inactivated or weakened versions of the virus in the vaccine to boost the vaccinated person’s natural immune response, but weakened HIV has not been shown to be effective in prompting immune responses, not to mention that live HIV is far too dangerous to use in a vaccine injected into an otherwise healthy person.

An important point to remember about HIV is while it is no longer as bad as it once was, we still have over 36,000 new HIV transmissions annually here in the US; it is still a major disease globally, and people are still dying from it.  That said, and as I tried to make clear in my last post, we mustn’t grow complacent about COVID-19.  So if you come across one of these misleading posts on Facebook, Twitter, and the like, or if someone in the break room is spewing this garbage…

STOP!  Instead of spreading the virus and viral misinformation (no pun intended), spread facts and links to dependable resources.  You can find out more about HIV, cancer, and COVID-19 by visiting the “Basics" pages at POZ.com, CancerHealth.com, and COVIDHealth.com respectively.  No one expects you to become an expert in them, that’s what we have doctors and scientists for.  But, your health and the health of the people around you — family, friends, coworkers, customers, that lady at church, that guy at the gym — depends on good information.  Watch out for the fluffy train and remember — ignorance never helped anybody.

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