I have a serious problem with vaccine skeptics who are over 70. When they were children, they saw mothers march from door-to-door, collecting dimes to fund polio research. And they witnessed the nationwide relief when first Jonas Salk developed the “killed” vaccine and then Sabin developed the “attenuated” oral vaccine administered as drops in sugar cubes.

Alongside that effort was a longstanding drive to vaccinate against smallpox. Us older folks still have that scar on our left shoulder. Thanks to vaccination, the last case in the U.S. was in 1949. Worldwide vaccination and quarantine ended smallpox in the wild in the 1970s in Somalia, Africa. In 1976, I witnessed the deeply pock-marked face of a smallpox survivor in the streets of Macao. Now, I could understand the tremendous motivation of a population that suffered smallpox — so disfiguring and fatal in one-third of the victims --- usually children.

In 2019, we had also eliminated measles from the United States through requiring childhood vaccination for school attendance. Measles is one of the most contagious diseases, with a contagion rate of 12-to-18 (meaning that one person transmits it to up to 18 others). With such a high rate of transmission, nearly 95% of schoolchildren need to be vaccinated to halt the transmission to the few children who cannot be vaccinated due to immunity disorders. However, the anti-vax campaign on the West Coast had dropped the level of vaccinated schoolchildren to a point where measles was re-introduced from overseas and took off.

All states have vaccination requirements for schoolchildren, but different states allow a different assortment of exemptions. Obviously, the immune-compromised students need and receive a medical exemption. But some states also allowed exemption for religious or personal philosophy. A handful of states narrowed the exemption to medical only.

This right of a state and its schools to mandate vaccination was solidly established long ago in 1905, when the Supreme Court ruled in Jacobson v. Massachusetts that a state can mandate vaccines and impose criminal fines on those not in compliance. When Indiana University required COVID-19 vaccinations and students petitioned the Supreme Court, Justice Amy Coney Barrett refused to step in, rejecting the case on Aug. 12, and citing Jacobson.

In 2019, before this pandemic, I was awarded for a radio commentary recorded on the measles anti-vaxxer dilemma. I described how “science was self-defeating.” By eliminating those early major epidemics that caused widespread pain, suffering and death, a new generation grew up free from these experiences and as a result no longer valued the benefits brought by vaccination. In other words, the success of science undermined the future motivation for vaccination.

But now, in this current pandemic, my explanation of anti-vaxxers as youngsters who grew up without major epidemic experience falls short. There is now a much larger element of politics and confirmation bias that is rejecting science, embracing falsehoods, and threatening health worldwide.

And that presents a personal problem because I try to follow my speech professor’s rule to “...remember at all times the inherent dignity of humans for that is more important than any other concern....” Those over 70 have had direct experience in the effectiveness of vaccines in eliminating polio and smallpox. And yet many are choosing instead to believe in abstract media messages that are in total contradiction to what they personally experienced in childhood. But how can I express utter contempt for those readers or listeners who put media over experience, without assaulting their dignity?

My professor continued, noting that a speaker/writer must be adequately informed because there is no right to disseminate ignorance, to think straight for there is no right to promote confusion, and to be socially responsible and bear in mind the welfare of those affected. So I will clarify. My contempt is for the dissemination of ignorance, promotion of confusion and disregard for people’s welfare.

If we had today’s media back in the 1950s, as well as the political polarization of this time, we would still today be living with folks in iron lungs, children on crutches, and one-third of smallpox victims dying each season.

(6) comments

CSD

This opinion piece should perhaps come with a warning label. Before telling anyone over 70 what they should or should not do with respect to Covid vaccination, I would suggest they read and consider the work of Liang-Kung Chen entitled COVID-19 Vaccination and Frailty in Older Adults published in the September-October 2021 issue of the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, freely available online at https://tinyurl.com/5eksp84s.

As Chen states, "For vulnerable older adults with existing frailty and disability, recommendations for vaccination are always challenging due to several conditions: 1) infections of older adults with limited mobility are more commonly due to caregivers, 2) lower immunogenicity, especially the T-cell immune responses to vaccinations, limiting the clinical efficacy, and 3) greater risk for adverse events to vaccines."

I believe we have had at least one potential vaccine-related fatality involving a frail elderly person in our community, and I'm confident that Dr. Schrock would not want to inadvertently add to that count. Please make an informed decision in consultation with your medical provider that's based on a risk-benefit analysis that is unique to your own individual circumstances.

bobinberea

I appreciate this piece by John Richard Schrock. It is informed and thoughtful. The next to last paragraph strikes me as especially wise: "My professor continued, noting that a speaker/writer must be adequately informed because there is no right to disseminate ignorance, to think straight for there is no right to promote confusion, and to be socially responsible and bear in mind the welfare of those affected. So I will clarify. My contempt is for the dissemination of ignorance, promotion of confusion and disregard for people’s welfare." I wish the anti-vax brigade would take these wise words to heart.

MWS

This is a good article for vaccines except it does not apply to Covid vaccines. These are very different. The side effects for these vaccines are more voluminous per VAERS than all the side effects of all the other vaccines combined. The other vaccines were tested over a period of years of clinical trials and did not have any connection to aborted fetuses. Health officials did not lie about the other vaccines like they have these. The Covid vaccines carry a series of red flags: 50% of the workers at the CDC don't want the vaccine. 30% of all health workers, including doctors and nurses in the U.S. don't want the vaccine. What do they know we don't? 70% of African Americans don't want the vaccine. Why? We were told in the beginning that if you got vaccinated you could go back to normal, stop wearing masks, stop social distancing and you would be safe. We now know the vaccine does not prevent you from getting Covid and does not keep it from spreading to others. The brain dead commentators on The View were "vaccinated up the wazooo" and two of them came down with Covid on the air! The entire virus and vaccine roll out has been a hoax led by Dr. Fauci, who turned out to be a pathological liar. They closed down restaurants and churches to stop the spread of Covid and left open Walmart, Sam's Club, Costco, Home Depot, strip clubs, liquor stores. They mandated masks for everyone except celebrities, politicians, Obama birthday parties, the Emmys, the Oscars and many others. The mandated vaccines for everyone except 600K workers at the post office, Congress and their staffers and illegal immigrants crossing the boarder and Afghan refugees being flown to the U.S. They condemned Trump rallies and Sturgis as superspreaders and said nothing about BLM and Antifa burning down cities, rioting, looting and protesting. It's been a massive fraud and an avalanche of lies from day one. If you lie to the American people, they will notice and remain skeptical of future lies.

Aim_High

It's hilarious how triggered you Trump cultists are over Obamas little birthday party, lol. And somehow you can't understand why America is triggered over conservative lies about the vaccines and lies about masks being ineffective. The conservative party is like a two-year long nonstop Obama birthday party where almost half the country was invited.

Fremonster

MWS, Your arguments to surrender to the Covid-19 Virus are growing more and more desperate. Your failed logic and attempts to hit all the hot button issues around the vaccine reflect that fact. It's really hard to believe that you care so much about your fellow Americans that you want them to "just tough it out" and let the Virus have it's way. When you lie to the American people, they will remember. I do hope that Americans understand and remember that Trump's version of the New Republican Party discourages nearly all virus control measures.

MWS

I agree. Facts are difficult.

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