2491: Immune Factory

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
(Redirected from 2491)
Jump to: navigation, search
Immune Factory
In the final vote, the doubters were won over by the strength of the name IMMUNION.
Title text: In the final vote, the doubters were won over by the strength of the name IMMUNION.


This comic is another entry in a series of comics related to the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.

When Hairy received his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, his body began building a defense in the form of antibodies. He has now received his second shot, and is feeling even more unwell than the first time, since his body has ramped up the production of antibodies, as Cueball states. Hairy and Cueball then begin to make comments that metaphorically compare Hairy's immune system to a factory, hence the title Immune Factory.

Vaccines in general work by giving the body's immune system a chance to respond to a pathogen without actually being infected. The immune system responds by producing antibodies, proteins customised to attach to the pathogen, either disabling it directly or marking it for attack by immune cells. After the vaccine (or after an actual illness), the immune system remembers how to make the antibodies and can more quickly respond to future infections. This is why Hairy describes his body as an "antibody factory".

However, many common symptoms of illness (such as fever, soreness, diarrhea and nausea) are actually caused by the body's immune response rather than the infection itself. As a result, vaccines can result in similar symptoms to an illness, albeit milder and of shorter duration.

Hairy extends the "body as factory" metaphor by complaining that, since he feels unwell, the factory must be violating OSHA regulations—that is, rules that protect workers from unsafe work conditions. Hairy says his lymphatic system (a major component of the immune system) is protesting the "brutal" work of responding to the vaccine, as human workers might protest a dangerous workplace.

In real workplaces, one possible response to worker dissatisfaction is for them to unionize, forming an organization that can use their solidarity to bargain for improvements to working conditions. Hairy says that this is what his immune cells have done. It is not clear whether this corresponds to any actual part of the immune response, or whether it is simply a humorous expansion on the "factory" metaphor.

Cueball uses the "union" statement to set up a pun on two meanings of the word "scab". If unions make demands that an employer refuses, their workers may strike, or refuse to work. Employers may keep the workplace running by hiring strikebreakers, non-union workers (or union workers who break ranks with their colleagues). Union members may refer to strikebreakers by the pejorative term "scabs".

Another meaning of "scab" is the hard coating the body produces to cover a bleeding or seeping wound while it heals. Smallpox is a dangerous illness that causes ulcers upon the skin, leading to many small scabs forming as those ulcers heal. Prior to modern vaccination techniques, people were sometimes deliberately infected with smallpox—typically from a person with a mild case—while they were healthy. This process, now called variolation (after Variola, the virus that causes smallpox), could be done in various ways. Some methods used pus or fluid from smallpox ulcers, but others used scabs from the ulcers, dried and powdered. This powder might be rubbed into a cut in the skin, or insufflated (blown up the person's nose).

The pun therefore is that members of the immune system union would not like either kind of scab. Hairy finds the pun appalling, and tells Cueball to leave.

The title-text parodies the trend for recent incarnations of unions to rebrand or form anew with a descriptively apt name (possibly with a forced acronym, or styled as one for branding purposes), rather than the (Extended/Very Extended/etc) Three Letter Acronyms of times past. In this case making a portmanteau of "immune union" - IMMUNION. The cleverness of this name apparently convinced some of Hairy's immune cells that were previously opposed to the union to change their minds and join the union.

Actual OSHA regulations that may be broken by the antibody factory, if OSHA regulations applied[edit]

  • 1910.1030(d)(1) [1]
    • General. Universal precautions shall be observed to prevent contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials. Under circumstances in which differentiation between body fluid types is difficult or impossible, all body fluids shall be considered potentially infectious materials.
    • This would be broken because the immune system necessarily is in contact with blood and other bodily fluids.


[Cueball walks in from the left, hand held up in front of him, to where Hairy is sitting in an armchair facing away, sick from a second vaccination. Hairy is wrapped in a blanket and holding a steaming mug, and his hair is messy.]
Cueball: I guess the first shot made your body build defenses, and now it's ramping up production.
Hairy: So I've become an antibody factory.
[Cueball has walked around the chair and is now facing Hairy, whose mug continues to steam just as much.]
Hairy: I don't feel great. I think my factory has some OSHA violations.
Hairy: My lymphatic system is protesting brutal working conditions.
[In a frame-less panel, Cueball continues to stand in front of Hairy, whose mug is steaming less.]
Hairy: Update: my immune cells have unionized.
Cueball: Common side effect. Helps maintain a healthy balance.
[Cueball has raised a finger into the air, while Hairy is pointing in Cueball's direction. Hairy's mug is no longer steaming.]
Cueball: Immune system unions are actually why we stopped doing variolation.
Hairy: Oh? Why?
Cueball: They don't like scabs.
Hairy: Ugh. Leave.

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ comment.png add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


I don't feel qualified to start this description, but this page has relevant info to explain the pun in the last panel: Strikebreaker - Wikipedia - Vaedez (talk) 03:36, 20 July 2021 (UTC)

I've yet to visit your link, but I suspect I would have explained that self-same thing. Plus the "IMMUNION" thing being a parody of something I know happened in the UK (don't know about the US, but why not?) where the Bottle Washers And Associated Kitchen Trades Union stops being known by its proud old acronym of BWAAKTU and 'rebrands' as something that sounds like a team name from The Apprentice, becoming "Sinceriton" or "Dynamotion" or something that looks like it should be an aptonym with a valid backronym like "SINKU". 04:58, 20 July 2021 (UTC)

When I read the comic, I inferred that this was his second dose - the first dose made his body build up defenses, in contrast with now, when it's ramping up production and making him feel really bad. 05:40, 20 July 2021 (UTC)

I agree, I think the comic displays Hairy suffering the reactions to his second shot rather than the first. Bischoff (talk) 07:00, 20 July 2021 (UTC)
Personally, my first dose (of AZ/Oxford, for reference) crept up on me and, after several hours, gave me a totally unanticipated (the way one thinks one is immortal, clearly going to be taking such stuff in one's stride, right?) whole-body set of muscular aches and pains and day or two of general dreadfulness, the depths of which seem to be reflected in Hairy's depiction almost to a tee.
The second dose (when I was more prepared for the reaction/repurcussions, and now knew where I'd find an almost-expired pack of flu-tablets that I wish I remembered I'd had the first time when I didn't even want to crawl out of bed much, but had never even opened) was therefore pessimistically anticipated to be just as bad but actually only half my body seemed to ache for the duration (still worse than any winter cold/flu I could quantify from recent memory) and I bounced back much quicker. (This time having deliberately resisted taking the newly rediscovered standard medicine-aisle anti-inflammatories, painkillers and/or whatever that I only ever bought in 'just in case' long before Covid or its vaccines were ever an immediate issue.)
Anecdotal, I know. And I post my inability to/restraint from self-medication just to frame the relative degree of effects felt (I would have popped the pills the first time round, if I knew I could have, and that's something I just don't like doing on principle, as I (over?)trust my body to get through most circumstances, short of those important enough to require such a vaccination). I'm not a masochist, just a bit more inclined to wait and see.
Plus given it's assumed to be in the US it's probably going to be Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna (not the same mechanism as AZ's primer). Or maybe Janssen (which is more so). That greatly adds uncertainty to the usual mix of everyone having their own individual response to nominally identical treatment. But this is my own personal datum point, lacking any others. 10:37, 20 July 2021 (UTC)

When Cueball replies "common side effect" to Hairy remarking that his immune cells have "unionized", what side effect is that referring to exactly? The current text of this explanation page says "It is not clear whether [Hairy's statement of immune-cell unionization] corresponds to any actual part of the immune response", but Cueball's reply seems to imply that there is a correspondence. - Vaedez (talk) 09:34, 20 July 2021 (UTC)

I believe the "unionisation" and refering to it as a common side effect refers to fever. Fever being a reaction of the immune system to a threat, as well as a common side effect of many vaccines. 23:02, 20 July 2021 (UTC)

I remember there's actually a few parodies of the immune factory, other then this. Should they be mentioned/a new category created? 2425 is one Eelitee (talk) 23:15, 23 July 2021 (UTC)