Doubters may slow solving crisis - Keith Roulston editorial
As we prepare to mark the end of 2020, we find ourselves with few things we really want to remember and many we’d like to forget, but probably won’t.
In this year of witnessing crazy attributes of human attitudes it’s perhaps unsurprising that a major concern for the medical community is if, now that we finally have the vaccine we’ve been hoping for, enough people will get vaccinated to offer herd immunity.
On this, at least, there was good news last week. In an Ipsos/Radio-Canada poll of 3,000 people, 64 per cent said they would probably or certainly get vaccinated, while 16 per cent said they definitely would not.
It’s not that people aren’t still cautious. Only 36 per cent said they’d get vaccinated as soon as possible. Another 38 per cent said they’d wait one or two months to make sure everything’s going well, and 15 per cent said they’d wait several months.
Similarly, in the U.S., in mid-November before the announcement of vaccine success, 58 per cent of the adults who were surveyed were willing to be vaccinated, up from 50 per cent in September but down from 66 per cent in June.
All this is, of course, before the anti-vaccination movement really gets active sowing doubts about the safety of the vaccine.
As someone who grew up in the 1950s, I find this opposition to science and vaccinations mystifying. Science was something that changed our lives. My old family doctor, Dr. William Victor Johnston, even named his memoire Before The Age of Miracles, about starting his family practice in the 1920s. During his 40 years of practice his job saw the introduction of penicillin, X-rays, antibiotics and many other life-saving tools.
As a kid, we lived in fear of the polio virus, a plague that had been tormenting Ontario every summer since 1920, some years only producing a few dozen infections and other years surging to 2,500. That peak occurred in 1937 and left a constant reminder of its virulence for those of us in Lucknow through a friendly young man who was crippled on the verge of adulthood and spent the rest of his life repairing shoes and always supporting local sports teams.
So when word spread through the media in 1957 that Dr. Jonas Salk had invented a vaccine for the virus, there was little hesitancy to be vaccinated. When the Ontario government held mass vaccination clinics to protect the population as quickly as possible, people lined up. By 1963 polio had virtually disappeared.
The other fearsome killer, this time usually of adults, was tuberculosis (TB). Year after year some people died while others’ breathing was badly damaged. Special sanitoriums were set up where people could live in clean, dry air.
But things were changing. In Ontario, all milk sold after 1937 was required to be pasteurized to kill off the bacteria that sometimes jumped between the species in milk to cause TB. After the Second World War with the widespread availability of antibiotics among the general population, it was learned that antibiotics could kill the bacteria.
Now it was important to search out as many people with TB as possible. In the late 1950s, the provincial government built special vans with X-ray machines and sent them to tour communities to mass-X-ray the population. I was young and naive and there may have been protests but I don’t remember them. I mostly remember the relief that another plague was about to be wiped out.
There probably were objectors – there usually are, dating way back to 1721 when inoculations for smallpox were introduced in Britain and the U.S. (leaders had learned the technique in Turkey).
And, as usual, church leaders who see the world through different eyes resisted, finding Bible passages to support their views.
In Boston, the inoculation program was led by Rev. Cotton Mather. Across the ocean in London, the anti-inoculation campaign was led by Rev. Edmund Massey, whose sermons were so popular they were reprinted on flyers.
In a 1722 sermon entitled “The Dangerous and Sinful Practice of Inoculation”, Massey argued that diseases are sent by God to punish sin and that any attempt to prevent smallpox via inoculation is a “diabolical operation”.
Today the campaign against vaccination is apt to be spearheaded by a Hollywood celebrity warning parents they’re endangering their children by having them vaccinated against childhood diseases like measles and mumps.
Well I won’t be listening to the critics. Sign me up for the earliest date I can get the shot. I can hardly wait to get back inside a theatre, to go to a ball game, to attend community events or a community barbecue. I’ll risk a rare chance something might go wrong for a good chance to return to normal.