The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference. The opposite of freedom is not tyranny, it is order, as pure freedom is chaos.
Those demanding absolute freedom miss the point. We were promised liberty, which is freedom from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on our way of life, behavior or political views. That includes freedom of religion, speech, press, peaceable assembly or to petition the government.
But that does not mean we are free from restrictions or requirements, only unreasonable ones. We see this reasonableness argument being played out in today’s vaccination debate. Here are my thoughts.
Smallpox (variola virus) killed many by 1721, when Cotton Mather began advocating for variolation to be practiced because he knew the effects of epidemics. Mather, a prominent Boston clergyman, lost his wife, newborn twins, another daughter and the family’s maid within a few weeks in 1713 during a measles outbreak.
Variolation removed diseased material from a patient and infected a healthy person in hopes that a mild, but protective, disease would result. Downside was 1% to 2% died, but that was better than the naturally occurring disease’s death rate of 30%. Unfortunately, they didn’t know those variolated were contagious for some time and, thus, spread the disease.
Smallpox raged through Boston in 1721, killing 7% of the population while sickening thousands. In the 1730s, additional widespread smallpox epidemics took heavy tolls in Boston, New York and Philadelphia.
Benjamin Franklin’s son died of smallpox (1736), and George Washington’s 1775 siege of Boston was complicated by it.
In Quebec, half the 10,000 Continental Army troops fell ill with smallpox in 1776, causing them to retreat and, arguably, resulted in Canada being a separate country.
George Washington mandated smallpox inoculations in 1777.
And that was just smallpox. In 1732, yellow fever struck Charleston, South Carolina, with deaths occurring so frequently that the usual ringing of bells upon a death was forbidden.
In 1735, diphtheria swept through New England. In one town, 32% of children under 10 died. In 1793, yellow fever returned to Philadelphia, killing about 11,000 of 55,000 residents.
Fortunately, the first smallpox vaccine was developed in 1796. Although the smallpox rate dropped, that wasn’t the only threat. Cholera, diphtheria, measles and yellow fever were common, with others still to come.
Measles sickened troops on both sides of the Civil War. Two-thirds of the 660,000 soldiers who died in that conflict were felled by uncontrolled infectious diseases, according to the book, “Viruses, Plagues & History.”
Hours after delivering the Gettysburg Address, President Lincoln apparently became ill with smallpox on the train ride home. Although he recovered, his valet caught it and died.
In 1882, the Anti-Vaccination League held its first meeting based on the false assertion that smallpox wasn’t spread by contagion, but rather by filth.
In the 1900s, the Supreme Court ruled that mandatory smallpox vaccinations were legal (Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 1905). Of the 12,000 people measles killed in 1916, 75% were under the age of 5. And, in 1922, public schools began requiring smallpox vaccines. Court challenges were quickly dismissed.
The last case of naturally occurring U.S. smallpox was in 1949.
The tide turned in the 1950s, with a massive 1.3 million schoolchildren test of Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine.
Results took a year, but when they came in at 80% to 90% efficacy, the government licensed it later the same day.
Smallpox was declared eradicated in 1980 and, in 1994, polio was similarly eliminated from the Americas.
By 2000, U.S. measles was eliminated, worldwide polio cases were down 99% and a pneumococcal vaccine for children was licensed. By 2009, there had been no U.S. cases of diphtheria for five years.
However, in 2014, ebola emerged as a threat and spread to crowded urban areas. And then, I assume you are familiar with COVID-19 hitting the U.S. in 2020.
History teaches that new diseases occur but can be contained with cooperation. Liberty promises us freedom from oppression, but not freedom to do as we choose. Protecting ourselves from pandemics through immunizations isn’t oppression. It’s protection.