I recently saw that there is a new acne vaccine in the works and my interest was piqued. How on Earth would a vaccine be effective to treat or prevent acne, I wondered? What does that even mean? In order to answer that question, “How would a vaccine reasonably be expected to fight what has long been considered an annoying but benign skin condition that most people grow out of?” we first need to know, what is acne? Don’t we? I always believed acne was “overactive sebaceous glands” that ruptured the follicles and became inflamed and/or infected and I had reason to know a little bit about it — that’s the medical explanation I was always given and I have suffered from severe cystic acne since I was a teenager. How any vaccine would be expected to prevent overactive sebaceous glands or resulting inflammation and/or infections was, at first blush, unclear.
In my own case, I have taken every prescription and over the counter acne treatment imaginable including dubious long-term treatment with antibiotics that were supposed to prevent the deep infections (while simultaneously destroying the gut) and the antibiotics worked until they made me so sick I couldn’t take them anymore. I was 16 when I decided that I didn’t care how bad my skin looked, I just could not and would not tolerate the antibiotics which made me bloated, nauseated, and overall feeling extremely ill. Of course, as soon as I stopped taking the drugs, the acne came right back.
By the time I had suffered through 2 years of college with this allegedly “cosmetic” condition and what was also, in hindsight, years of moderate to severe chronic pain from essentially being covered in chronic abscesses (boils) I broke down and agreed to take Accutane, an oral tablet which works to treat cystic acne but no one knows why it works, just that it does. A mystery cure? Really? That doesn’t help explain what acne is either. When I was prescribed Accutane in the 90s it was known at the time to cause hideous side effects like severely dried and cracked mucous membranes, vision problems, and — wait for it — inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. How in the world, one might ask, would any medication cause an autoimmune disease like Crohn’s? How is that even possible?
Back then, I did in fact develop gastrointestinal symptoms (and vision problems and cracked mucous membranes) that coincided with my treatment with Accutane but I just blew it off and that was not just me being flippant about my health. I was able to easily treat these so-called side effects with what I was told were benign prescription drugs and besides, the only side effect of Accutane my doctors cared about was the 100% likelihood of severe birth defects if a woman has any contact with Accutane while pregnant or in the 3 months before she becomes pregnant. Yes, for some reason, Accutane is severely toxic to the developing fetus — but, I was told, not to the adult patient. The known risk of catastrophic fetal side effects was driven into me deeply and I was forced, if I wanted to treat with the only medication known to quickly and permanently cure severe cystic acne, to take oral contraceptives to avoid becoming pregnant.
And in addition to causing inflammatory bowel disease, Accutane is also extremely toxic to the liver and the drug insert probably said that Accutane patients shouldn’t drink, but my dermatologist, the medical literature and the drug inserts severely downplayed known liver and gastrointestinal
side effects iatrogenic illness and injury and highlighted the one that they thought was the most important, or the one most likely to get them sued — the baby one. Doctors prescribing Accutane to young women (apparently!) didn’t bother to tell them to watch out for signs of IBD or not to drink, but did force the women to concurrently take oral contraceptives to prevent pregnancy even if they were virgins or not “sexually active” to cover the doctors’ own asses as my University campus doctor told me, “In case you get raped.” Of course, oral contraceptives are also known to cause IBD, meaning, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s. The plot thickens.
There have been thousands of individual lawsuits against the maker of Accutane for causing Crohn’s (and birth defects) and when I was taking it I vaguely understood that Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis were listed as “possible side effects” but last I’d heard the newest research was suggesting that any link between Accutane and inflammatory bowel disease was unclear and Accutane patients who had later developed IBD were no longer winning in court. I wondered to myself after receiving my Crohn’s diagnosis if I should look into the possibility of an Accutane lawsuit, but even if I’d had the energy and health to do it, based on the current research, it didn’t seem like current Crohn’s patients had a legal leg to stand on. I wondered to myself, does Accutane really cause Crohn’s — or are patients with cystic acne prone to getting Crohn’s all by themselves — or both? Or what?
Now, reading that there may soon be a vaccine for acne made me wonder again, what the hell is acne anyway, and for that matter, why is it so hard to treat? Now that I’ve suffered from and been researching inflammatory bowel disease for 6 years, I know all too well that inflammation and chronic pain are Western medicine’s Achilles’ heel. Medical doctors have no fucking clue how to treat chronic pain effectively (or are prevented politically and legally from recommending or providing what they know will work like opiates and marijuana) and inflammation has proven to positively stupefy them, where the only even marginally effective Western medical treatment for chronic or severe inflammation is corticosteroids which cause hideous
side effects iatrogenic illness and injury including glaucoma and vision problems, diabetes, osteoporosis, opportunistic infections and death. Of course, autoimmune diseases — including IBD and Crohn’s — implicate both chronic pain and chronic inflammation and are therefore predictably nearly impossible to treat, but that doesn’t stop Big Pharma from lying about and downplaying the seriousness of the diseases and exaggerating the effectiveness of their toxic drugs anyway. Nor does it stop friends and family from blaming autoimmune patients who “fail” to get better when their raging, untreatable diseases do not respond to conventional care. But I digress.
Anyway, I’ve taken the long way around in order to say this: according to the medical literature, the acne vaccine
is designed to reduce the body’s inflammatory response to the toxins secreted by bacteria in the skin.
The body’s inappropriate inflammatory (where inflammatory means immune system) response to common bacteria that everyone has but to which no one is supposed or should be reasonably expected to respond with their immune systems wildly attacking them. If that sounds familiar, it should — that is the very definition of an autoimmune or immune mediated disease.
So is acne itself an autoimmune or immune-mediated disease like multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis or, indeed, like IBD including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s? Do Accutane users get IBD including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s because they already had malfunctioning immune systems — or subclinical IBD — to begin with, and that’s what caused the acne and the need for Accutane in the first place? Because that’s kind of what it’s looking like, but how would a vaccine stop the misdirected autoimmune response? According to EurekAlert, by introducing antibodies to the common bacteria that autoimmune patients seem to react to, the Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) bacteria:
This vaccine would be the first to target bacteria already in human skin, instead of invading pathogens. After first demonstrating that Christie-Atkins-Munch-Peterson (CAMP) factor, a toxin secreted from the Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) bacteria, can induce inflammatory responses, the investigators explored in mice and ex vivo in human skin cells whether they could inhibit inflammation by employing antibodies to neutralize this virulence factor. Their findings show that the application of monoclonal antibodies to CAMP 2 factor did indeed decrease the inflammatory response.
Both the significance of the findings and the need for continuing research were expressed in an accompanying commentary. “While addressing an unmet medical need and providing an appealing approach, acne immunotherapies that target P. acnes-derived factors have to be cautiously designed to avoid unwanted disturbance of the microbiome that guarantees skin homeostasis. Whether or not CAMP factor-targeted vaccines will impact multiple P. acnes subtypes and other commensals has to be determined, but acne immunotherapy presents an interesting avenue to explore nonetheless[.]”
Acne immunotherapies. Mind blown.
I guess I would end this on a cautionary note to anyone reading, or for anyone at all, who has suffered from moderate to severe cystic acne, or anything more than a bump here or there, whether they have taken Accutane or not: you may well be subclinical for an autoimmune or immune-mediated disease. Meaning, you could be already sick with an autoimmune disease like Crohn’s, RA, MS or one of literally hundreds of hideous, disabling and life-changing — or forshortening — diseases and not even know it. Or maybe you do know you’re sick and are still hoping that whatever the hell is wrong with you goes away, or that if you can just find the right supplement, topical, tincture, happy accident or prayer that your life will go back to the way it was before, before you got sick with a confounding, painful and disabling illness that eludes diagnosis, treatment, or cure.
Well. If whatever you have implicates chronic pain or inflammation (or both) I’m afraid you’re shit out of luck as far as Western medical treatment goes for the reasons stated and supported above. They just cannot treat those symptoms to save their very lives (or yours) and I am so, so sorry about that. And if the reason you are suffering from chronic pain and inflammation is because your immune system is attacking you — and from what I can tell, that would be the only reason you ever would suffer that way, meaning that is where chronic inflammation comes from — congratulations? And I am so, so sorry. You are probably a member of a club you never knew existed and do not want to join: the “club” of autoimmune and immune-mediated disease patients who notoriously and universally cannot find healing or relief from Western medicine no matter how hard or for how long they try. And that sucks so badly I cannot even explain it. I don’t even know what else to say about it except that.
And maybe this: from one autoimmune patient to another, try to avoid stress from now on, no matter what it takes. And seriously, seriously consider moving to a cannabis-legal state as soon as you can if you aren’t already living in one. If you are already living in one, it might not hurt to start treating or at least supplementing with medical marijuana now. Look into it, and one way or another, get ready for what’s probably coming. It is truly frightening to think that even a fraction of the literally millions of acne sufferers that have been funding Big Pharma and patronizing dermatologists’ offices all this time are undiagnosed autoimmune patients, but that does seem to be the case. Doesn’t it? What do people think about the so-called acne vaccine and the medical literature describing it? It sounds like an autoimmune nightmare to me, and I don’t think this clip is uncalled for (but it is a little funny in a gallows humor kind of way):