Vaccines preserve the public health


Jon Matuszcak in his recent letter misrepresents vaccination requirements in America. There have been many different mandatory vaccinations including smallpox, polio, measles and pertussis among many others. The vaccination requirements vary by state. The website contains a full listing of these required vaccinations. 

The first state to encourage smallpox vaccination was Massachusetts in 1802 and it was also the first to mandate a smallpox vaccination for schoolchildren in 1855. During the five-year smallpox outbreak from 1899 to 1904, there were 164,283 cases. Nearly 300 times fewer cases than our current COVID-19 outbreak, yet cities and states initiated mandatory vaccination. In 1905 the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Jacobson v. Massachusetts upheld the constitutionality of mandatory smallpox vaccination to preserve the public health. In 1922 the court also supported a school district mandatory smallpox vaccination with the statement that a city ordinance was a law of the state — and that it was “within the police power of a state to provide for compulsory vaccination.”

In Germany, a national law passed in 1874 required universal smallpox vaccination. So when I was born there, I was required to receive a smallpox vaccine. As a ten year old solo international traveler in 1960 to visit my grandmother in Germany, I received a second mandated smallpox vaccination. I carried the vaccination card with my airline tickets throughout my travels that included Austria, Switzerland and Portugal. I didn’t think that this was a difficult requirement nor was it an invasion of my privacy. I was protecting myself and others from a deadly disease. In grade school I also received the two alternative polio vaccinations without any authorization from me. I am grateful for every single vaccination I have ever received. 

The vaccine reluctance and the politicalization of vaccination and masks is therefore mystifying. Perhaps the evolution of a new variant,  B.1.1.529 (designated Omicron), detected recently in South Africa will encourage a shift in perspective and behavior. According to the New York Times, this variant has “a very unusual constellation of mutations, with more than 30 in the spike protein alone.” Experiments are underway to determine how these mutations affect vaccine efficacy. Pfizer has already stated that they could make a new mRNA vaccine available in 100 days. The news of the variant and its spread immediately hit the world economic markets with significant losses. Perhaps the continued economic threat, rather than the public health threat, will cause the recalcitrants to take a second look at their vaccine hesitancy.

In 1878 Louis Pasteur spoke to the French Academy of Sciences sayin, “If it is a terrifying thought that life is at the mercy of the multiplication of these minute bodies [microbes], it is a consoling hope that science will not always remain powerless before such enemies.” 

For the next 143 years science developed tools to help control viral pandemics, let’s use them!


Peter Gauss



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