If you have read any of my posts to date, it will come as no surprise that I am a staunch vaxxer! There are a number of reasons for this including that two of my close relatives are or have been medical doctors, that I studied microbiology and subsequently virology at university, and, not least, because to me, it’s the overwhelmingly rational position to hold.
That’s not to say that vaccines are a cure-all or that vaccination never goes wrong or has unintended side-effects. But it is to propose that without vaccination, millions upon millions of humans would have met with premature deaths in the past one hundred and fifty years. That we can indulge in the luxury of questioning the value of vaccination in the world today is in part the result of its success. As we find ourselves moving into a new era of pandemics and antibiotic resistance, we may no longer have that luxury.
When I say that supporting vaccination as a procedure is the ‘overwhelmingly rational position to hold’, it may be that a quick review of its record as a disease prevention and life-saving method is in order. We have been living so long with the benefits of vaccination that we take them for granted, along with antibiotics and public sanitation, as a fundamental pillar of population health, especially in the developed world. The truth is that we are immensely privileged to have these resources and it is some kind of sacrilege to take them for granted or squander them. I would argue that endangering public health by refusing vaccination during a pandemic on the basis of unchecked misinformation is the same kind of sacrilege and tantamount to squandering these invaluable resources.
The World Health Organisation lists twenty-four available vaccines in use globally against a wide range of diseases caused by a variety of parasites including viruses and bacteria. Among those diseases are polio, cholera, diphtheria, measles, flu, rabies, typhoid, TB and yellow fever. They also list a further twenty-four vaccines in development (‘pipeline vaccines’) including malaria, HIV and norovirus.
One disease not on this list is smallpox. There is a vaccine against smallpox, but it doesn’t make the current list because this is no longer a human disease. Outside of a couple of laboratory freezers, this virus does not exist in nature. It has become extinct through human vaccination.
A history of smallpox tells us much about the story of vaccines and their potential to save us from disease and pandemics. Maybe we can learn something from history, if only not to repeat our mistakes….