March 03, 2022
Today’s NY Times Morning feed posted an article on the difficulty of getting the 80 million eligible persons in the US to receive inoculations against the covid virus. The first interest in inoculations in America came from an enslaved man brought to Boston from West Africa. Onesimus had lived in an area of West Africa where inoculations for smallpox were common. He had been deliberately infected with smallpox to make him immune to the severe version. Onesimus told his owner, Cotton Mather, about the practice. Mather was one of the colonies’ most prominent religious leaders in the 1720’s, as well as having a keen interest in science. When smallpox began spreading in Boston in the 1720’s, Mather campaigned for inoculations. Mather was met with fierce criticism as some argued the inoculations violated God’s will and others debunked it as folklore. Arguments against inoculations were powerful because their use is counterintuitive. Mather claimed people could avoid getting sick by getting sick.
Another early evangelist for inoculations was Benjamin Franklin, stemming from his own brush with smallpox. As disease swept Philadelphia in 1736, the Franklin’s decided not to inoculate their 4-year-old son as he was sick with a cold. Their son contracted smallpox and died, and rumors spread that Franky had died from the inoculation rather than the disease. Franklin wrote the true story in his newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette, and in the following years tried to persuade others to avoid his mistake. In a pro-inoculation pamphlet Franklin wrote, “Surely parents will no longer refuse to accept and thankfully use a discovery God in his mercy has been pleased to bless mankind with.”
Modern inoculations are not as counterintuitive as we now know drugs can teach the immune system to respond to a deadly virus without having to use the actual virus. Inoculations are still considered strange by some, as an unknown cocktail of foreign substances are injected into the body. Every new vaccine has had its skeptics and historically the two most effective responses to skepticism have been government mandates and relentless, calm persuasion. Covid mandates are unrealistic in the US today, although it has been tried on a lesser scale, and persuasion will be required. Persuasion means taking seriously the concerns of skeptics and creating opportunities for doctors, nurses, relatives, friends, and other trusted people to explain why inoculations can be counterintuitive yet lifesaving. Dr. Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general, said “You build trust by listening to people, helping them feel they’re respected and valued.”
THOUGHTS: Vaccine mandates have been used by governments since the 18th century and have been tried in recent years in response to disease outbreaks (smallpox and polio). The covid death toll in the US exceeds 950,000, and many of those deaths occurred after inoculations were available. Congress approved the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA) in 1986 and established the National Vaccine Program within the US. There are ten mandated vaccines that are routinely given to protect infants or children from the ravages of disease. Since covid is not on the list, listening to concerns and respecting feelings is the best way to save lives. Follow the science. Do the work. Change is coming and it starts with you.