A Computer Programming analogy to COVID Vaccine safety

Just happened to run into the below Twitter thread. IMO a good illustration on the potential dangers of tinkering with a system – any large system, not to mention a Complex System of Systems, such as the human body – you only have a *partial* understanding of.

The gist of the thread below is: imagine you are a newly minted junior programmer, just starting your first job, and you are asked to modify a piece of functionality of a huge existing code base.

There’s no way you – or anyone else for that matter – can *fully* understand all the functionality, intricacies and dependencies of that existing codebase. Chances are high that any modification you make will result in some unforeseen outcomes, in weird places nowhere near the code you modified, and some of these unexpected outcomes might stop the system from functioning.

Now, if your organization happens to be a great one, strictly following the “best practices” of sw engineering, there will be solid processes and tools in place, test suites etc (“DevOps” is a modern buzzword) hopefully capable of catching many errors / disasters before your new code is deployed, but no matter how extensive testing is done before deployment, there’s always a risk that something unforeseen will break whenever modifying existing code. It might take a long time for the error to show up if you happened to modify a code path that is only rarely executed. Only time and real world usage will eventually reveal whether or not your change was ok.

In programming, when updates despite extensive testing result in problems after deployment, you bite the bullet and issue a fix/patch, that is, a new version which hopefully performs better than the previous one. Or you rollback the system to the previous, stable state. The bottom line is that the vast majority of software systems can be fixed whenever a release has gone wrong. You might get some pissed-off users, but most of the time, nothing fatal occurred.

(Safety Critical Systems, such as flight computers etc is a totally different story, way too different for me to cover here other than saying that once upon a time, when I was involved in development of Safety Critical systems, (DO-178B)  I did a quick back-of-the-envelope estimation on the additional costs involved in such sw development coming from stringent requirements on testing/verification/validation/certification before deployment : according to that estimate, each line of code in a safety critical system costs about 15x compared to non-sc-code)

In vaccines, on the other hand… once you’ve delivered “the jab” – the *bug fix* ! – into the system (your body), there’s no way to ‘patch’ the system if things turn out going south…the deed is done, once and for all.

Asop to software, with vaccines, you  do not have the option to “patch” the system, or roll it back to the previous, functioning state.

You can only pray that the code that the vaccine delivers into your body does EXACTLY what the “programmer” intended: nothing more, nothing less. And the likelihood of such a brilliant “upgrade” when we are dealing with a system of complex systems such as the human body is… well, let me put it this way: not very high.

Thread by @imetatronink: @RWMaloneMD As a computer programmer of over 35 years, my intensive research into these mRNA vaccines has led me to view the matter in similar terms — but with a programmer’s perspective t……
— Read on threadreaderapp.com/thread/1410224290591432711

About swdevperestroika

High tech industry veteran, avid hacker reluctantly transformed to mgmt consultant.
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