Today’s factismal: The fastest way to stop using vaccines is to get more people to use them.
Life is full of paradoxes. And science, even more so. For example, if you speed up while travelling in space, you’ll end up slowing down because your extra energy of motion will be turned into energy of position, moving you higher up where things take longer to complete an orbit. For another example, consider how clearing out the underbrush in a big forest will prevent small fires but create the perfect condition for larger, more destructive ones. Or think about how if we want to stop using vaccines, we have to make everyone use them.
The best example of that last paradox is smallpox. That deadly disease once killed or maimed millions of people each year; today, it is but a fading memory thanks to vaccination. This happened because of a decades-long effort to vaccinate everyone in the world who was susceptible to smallpox. When an outbreak would happen, the scientists would rush to the surrounding communities and vaccinate everyone there creating a “ring vaccination” that prevented the disease from spreading any further. And by vaccinating as many people as possible, they created a herd immunity that kept the outbreaks small and manageable. Every year, they closed the rings and the outbreaks became fewer and smaller until in 1980, smallpox was declared extinct.
But an effort like this can’t stop halfway; we can’t assume that just because a disease has been eradicated in one place that it can’t come back. As long as any place on the globe hosts a disease, it can always come back. Sweden and whooping cough (pertussis) is a terrible example of that. In 1953, Sweden began vaccinating children against whooping cough using a “whole cell pertussis vaccine”; unfortunately, after two decades, the vaccine that they were using was no longer effective and Sweden stopped vaccinating. They thought that because it was no longer found in Sweden, they were safe. They were wrong. In the ten years since the vaccination program was stopped, whooping cough roared back and some 61% of all children in Sweden came down with it – simply because they had stopped using the vaccine before the disease was extinct!
So the lesson should be clear. We can either have diseases that kill and maim millions of people each year or we can have vaccines. And if we have vaccines, then we have to use them consistently and completely and we can’t stop until the disease is history. And once that happens, we can finally stop using the vaccine. So the fastest way to stop using vaccines really is to get more people to use them.
If you’d like to get involved in the program to stop polio using the vaccine, then why not head over to Global Vaccines? They are using their profits from vaccines in countries like the USA to pay for vaccinations in poor countries: