Vaccination 16 October 2019.

Some diseases can be transmitted from one person to another person or from other sources to humans.  These “transmissible” diseases include HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, measles, pertussis/whooping cough, syphilis,[1] Hepatitis B, pneumonia, influenza, a host of tropical diseases, and smallpox,  .

Fortunately, the human body has a defense system called the immune system.  Unfortunately, it isn’t always strong enough to resist diseases, especially “new” diseases that a community has not encountered before.  The body has to develop immunities over time.  For thousands of years, people have known that people who have been sick with a disease and survived, then don’t catch it again in the future.  They are immune.

Sometime between 900 and 1000 AD, a Chinese doctor wondered if giving somebody a very mild case of an infectious disease could make them immune to the more severe version.  Basically, make a small cut, pour in some infected material,[2] bandage up the cut, and wait for the patient to get not-as-sick.  Over time, this important knowledge migrated westward from China to India to the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East.

From 1716 to 1718, Sir Edward Wortley-Montagu (1678-1761)—a very rich British aristocrat—served as ambassador in the Ottoman Empire.  He took along his wife, Lady Mary Wortley-Montague.  She was beautiful, intelligent, and very independent minded.  Her younger brother had died of smallpox and she had lived through a case herself.  When she accompanied her husband to Istanbul, her inquiring mind vacuumed-up information.  One thing she picked up was that the Turks had a method for preventing full-blown smallpox.  She had it applied to their young son.  Back in England, she became a strong advocate for this method, called inoculation.

It didn’t catch on entirely because the risk of developing full-blown smallpox.  Then, in 1796, Dr. Edward Jenner tried inoculating a patient with the related, but far less dangerous, disease called cowpox.  This worked very well without running any grave risks.  The Latin word for cow is “vacca,” so Jenner’s method came to be called “vaccination.”

In the 20th Century, the American medical researcher, Dr. Maurice Hilleman (1919-2005) discovered vaccines for forty diseases.[3]  He saved more lives than any medical researcher in the Twentieth Century.  For much of his career, he worked for Merck in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

Since 1945, the World Health Organization of the United Nations has sponsored vaccination programs around the world.  Especially in the “developing world” these efforts have massively reduced childhood deaths.  In 1990, there were 93 deaths per 1000 live births; in 2017, there were 39 deaths per 1000 live births.  If you don’t want to do the math yourself, this is 1 in 11 children dying before reaching age 5 in 1990; versus 1 in 26 children dying before reaching age 5 in 2017.  Anyway you cut it, this is a great story of human progress.[4]  Not that it will appear on the nightly news.

[1] When my Dad was in the Army, guys with syphilis used to say that they must have caught the disease in a bathroom.  Doctors often asked “Wasn’t the tile floor cold?”

[2] The powdered scab of smallpox patients, for example.  I never said it would be pretty.

[3] Including those for measles, mumps, chickenpox, influenza, pneumonia, meningitis, and Hepatitis A and B.

[4] See: “The Man Who Saved a Billion Lives.”

More American Public Opinion.

What do Americans think about pornography? Generally, they’re against it. Only 35 percent of men regard watching porn is morally acceptable; only 23 percent of women regard it as morally acceptable. However, a big chunk of Americans beg to differ. Cell-phone porn—“intimate” photographs of self or other—can be found on the phones of 20 percent of Americans. The number is almost twice as high—39 percent—for those under 30.[1]

What do Americans think about the death penalty? In 1996, 78 percent of Americans supported the death penalty. By 2014, support had fallen, but polls differed considerably as to by how much. One poll found that it had dropped to 55 percent. Among whites, 63 percent supported the death penalty, while only 36 percent of African-Americans supported it. Another poll found that 65 percent supported the death penalty ‘for convicted murderers.” Among Republicans, 82 percent supported the death penalty, while 53 percent of Democrats supported it.[2] So, maybe this is another case of how you phrase the question.

What do people at the outer ends of the political spectrum think about opportunity in America? If you work hard, you can get ahead say 80 percent of conservative Republicans, while a mere 36 percent of liberal Democrats believe that to be true. Government programs can help reduce poverty say 62 percent of liberal Democrats, while only 21 percent of conservative Republicans believe this to be true.[3]

What do Americans think about vaccination? The vast majority—83 percent—think that vaccines are safe, versus only 9 percent who think that they are unsafe. However, young people who never saw someone walking in braces from the effects of polio or vomited all over the white dress shirt of the kid in front of him during a Christmas concert because chicken-pox picked a damned poor time to arrive are much more likely to doubt vaccination. Some 21 percent of adults under thirty believe that vaccination can cause autism. In contrast, only 11 percent of adults aged 45 to 64 and 3 percent of those over 65 believe this nonsense.[4]

What do Americans believe about climate change? Most of them believe that government should be doing something to fight it. Thus, 91 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of Independents, and 51 percent of Republicans think that government should be taking action to counter climate change. That is, a majority of people of every political allegiance believe climate change to be a reality and one that can be countered by public policy.[5]

What do Americans think about military interventions in the Middle East? Back in Fall 2013, 67 percent of Americans supported President Obama’s climb-down over air strikes against the Assad regime after it had been alleged that the government had used chemical weapons against rebels. The Russians then brokered a deal to get rid of Assad’s arsenal of chemical weapons. Scarcely a third—37 percent—favored launching air strikes if the Syrians reneged on that deal. A year later, 76 percent supported air strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but 61 percent opposed sending ground forces even though 70 percent thought that ISIS had the means to attack the United States itself. The legacy of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is evident: only 35 percent of the military veterans of those wars believe that both were worth fighting.[6]

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 21 March 2014, p. 17; “Poll Watch,” The Week, 19 September 2014, p. 19.

[2] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 11 April 2014, p. 15; “Poll Watch,” The Week, 16 May 2014, p. 19.

[3] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 14 March 2014, p. 19.

[4] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 13 February 2015, p. 15; “Poll Watch,” The Week, 20 February 2015, p. 19.

[5] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 13 February 2015, p. 15.

[6] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 27 September 2013, p. 17; “Poll Watch,” The Week, 11 April 2014, p. 15; “Poll Watch,” The Week, 19 September 2014, p. 19.