Smallpox–Polio–Whooping Cough–Measles–Tetanus–Contaminated Water–Dental Caries...the list goes on.
The accomplishments of vaccination, chlorination and fluoridation in this last scientific century are so profound. Yet, many in this next generation are ready to return to the Dark Ages. Why?
Ironically, the success of science eliminates the very experience-base that led to the medical breakthroughs and the eradication of many infectious diseases.
My earliest memories are of the fear in my parents’ voices following the radio announcement that polio cases had again shown up in our community. It was 1951 and they closed the public pools. Pre-schoolers like me stayed at home. The tragedy of polio, often crippling the very young and leaving many Americans in iron lungs threw a shadow over that summer.
When the Jonas Salk polio vaccine was finally released, everyone was relieved. I gladly took my shot and later booster shot, and my parents fears subsided. Even when the Cutter Lab released a bad batch of vaccine where the virus was not fully “killed,” and it caused polio cases, we had faith that the scientists would correct it. Indeed they did. Polio has been eradicated from this continent and heroic efforts are being made to wipe it out in the final corners of the earth.
That indeed happened with smallpox. The last case in the U.S. was 1949. Worldwide vaccination and quarantine ended smallpox in the wild in the 1970s in Somalia. I witnessed the deeply pock-marked face of a smallpox survivor in the streets of Macao in 1976 and understand the tremendous motivation that a population that witnessed this plague would have to end such a disease—so disfiguring and often fatal.
Early American history is laden with the statistics of children who died an early death or were stunted from the damage of contaminated water. Today’s water treatment plants utilize chlorine or ozone to dramatically drop the counts of harmful waterborne bacteria.
And as I travel in Asia or meet with international colleagues from Russia who nearly universally have lost permanent teeth at an early age from lack of fluoridation, I am saddened by their needless pain, suffering and continual discomfort that they will have all of their life.
But we now see concerted efforts to end chlorination, fluoridation, and vaccination in the United States. There are several causes. But the main one is the very success of science itself. When a new generation grows up without any direct knowledge of dreaded infectious diseases, they no longer have the awareness or memories to make the trivial needlestick seem needed.
The United States provides its children with one-third the science education of other developed countries. Most never receive any knowledgeable instruction in how our bodies work and therefore lack the “owner’s manual” knowledge that is common in other developed countries.
Our new generation is jaded by media. Historical footage of cases of smallpox or tetanus or polio are little match for zombie movies and anti-vaccination propaganda.
And the Internet makes it far easier to spread conspiracy theories about “big pharma” and the medical-industrial complex.
Pioneer families who settled the Great Plains often had ten or more children because so many died in their first few years from tetanus and diarrheal dehydration. They had so many children so that perhaps a few would survive. Today, with modern medicine we can have two children with a reasonable expectation that both will survive.
But with serious infectious disease gone from their experience base, a new generation is susceptible to false claims that vaccines, etc. are harmful and were never effective. This is smallpox denial and polio denial!
We live in an age when the press often gives equal time to unequal ideas.
I can only ask: If today’s Internet existed back in the 1940s to 1970s, could we have eradicated smallpox and polio from America?
And do the proponents of forsaking modern medicine really want to assume responsibility for the literally millions of victims on earth who would have died without these vaccinations and modern treatments?