By William B. Miller, Jr, M.D.
Only a few weeks into a new administration and with it comes unwelcome medical news. The age-old debate about the safety and appropriateness of vaccination has been renewed and a vocal stage has been delivered to a small group of anti-vaccination zealots.
Reports have circulated that Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, a highly visible critic of vaccination, has been invited to chair a commission on vaccination safety by the new administration. If it comes to pass, one result can be accurately predicted. It will become a confused platform of ideological rhetoric that will diminish trust in those scientific bodies charged with making sound judgments for the public welfare. This inevitable outcome is particularly unfortunate since there has never been any advance in medical history that has had a more positive impact on our lives than vaccination.
Humanity has been in eternal conflict with infectious disease throughout history. Perhaps no disease better illustrates the vast range of impacts of epidemic disease than smallpox, which resulted in the deaths of more than 7 million people. Similar horrific mortality was experienced with smallpox. In 18th Century Europe, at least 400,000 people died annually from smallpox. One-third of the survivors went blind. Mortality rates were as high as 60% in some communities. Infant mortality was even more frightening, approaching 80%.
The ultimate success of smallpox vaccination is credited to Sir Edward Jenner in England. In 1796, he successfully introduced the technique of cowpox vaccination demonstrating its subsequent protective effect against smallpox. Today, due to the effectiveness of worldwide smallpox vaccination programs, that disease has been effectively eradicated from the planet. [Read more…]