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OPINION: Vaccines save lives

Vaccines are so effective, many of the diseases they prevent have become "legends" to modern people, columnist Todd Whitcombe says

In 1798, Edward Jenner published his work on smallpox. He had noted milkmaids who had cowpox were afforded some measure of immunity against the disease. By inoculating James Phipps with the liquid from cowpox pustules, he was able induce a similar immunity. This was the first deliberate vaccination in recorded history and opened up a field of scientific inquiry.

Since then, many diseases have been eradicated or controlled using vaccines – 1885 rabies, 1888 diptheria, 1896 cholera, 1897 plague, 1914 tetanus, 1915 pertussis, 1927 tuberculosis, 1935 yellow fever, 1942 – the first influenza vaccine, 1955 polio, 1963 measles, 1966 rubella, 1967 mumps, 1977 pneumococcal, 1981 hepatitis B, 1995 hepatitis A and 2021 malaria.

For 200 years, scientists have been studying various diseases and slowly, steadily, eradicating them. 

When was the last time you heard of someone getting smallpox? The last case of naturally acquired smallpox occurred in Somolia in 1977. Indeed, many of the diseases which used to kill thousands or millions of people worldwide every year are now under control and can be dealt with via the simple expediency of getting immunized.

We take these advances in medicine for granted. Step on a rusty nail? You get a tetanus shot. Worried about polio? No need, as we have a vaccine for that.

But we also forget. For the past 50 years, vaccines have eliminated many of the major killers of children and the elderly. We don’t see the death and destruction the diseases once caused. In effect, the impact of these diseases on society has drifted into “legend.”

Not surprisingly, then, I overheard a conversation recently about vaccines. One of the individuals said “Well, I don’t understand why they make children get vaccinated. I mean, have you ever heard of a kid with polio? It’s ridiculous.”

Vaccines are the reason you don’t hear of children with polio. 

The natural transmission of the disease has effectively been wiped out with the exception of a few small regions in Africa. And within a few years, it will be eradicated completely.

But stop with the vaccinations and polio will rear its ugly head once again. Say what you want about modern medicine, but vaccines save lives. 

About that there is no question.