Why would anyone propose a ban on life-saving vaccines?
Recently, some politicians, including Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan, have advocated for legislation that would end all vaccination mandates. Obviously, they are not thinking about the impact this decision would have on the health and well-being of our country.
A strong recommendation for vaccinations as a condition of employment has always existed in some occupations. In healthcare, examples include a requirement for a rubella vaccine to protect pregnant patients and hepatitis B vaccine to protect workers.
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In both of these examples, as with other vaccine requirements, allowances and adjustments are made for those who are physically unable to be vaccinated or who have genuine religious beliefs. It is important to have these exemptions. No one is advocating their elimination.
George Washington’s mandatory vaccines
The army is another example. Anyone who attended training camp ran the gauntlet of mandatory vaccines. Military leaders realize the danger of infectious diseases for soldiers living in nearby neighborhoods and / or in unsanitary conditions.
George Washington asked his troops to take a primitive vaccine against smallpox. The disease was prevalent in the American colonies at the time, and he feared it would bring down his fighting forces.
The volunteers were reluctant to join the US military because of the risk of exposure to smallpox. Historians claim that the heavy losses of English fighters due to smallpox led to the English defeat at the Battle of Saratoga, a pivotal moment for America in the War of Independence.
Washington’s decision was controversial at the time but turned out to be correct.
Thanks to better and safer smallpox vaccines, this viral scourge has been eradicated from the earth. How? ‘Or’ What? Through massive government-led vaccination campaigns that have vaccinated almost everyone.
The requirement that children be immunized against childhood illnesses before entering school is a great achievement in public health. This was a government backed public health pressure applied to help end dangerous childhood illnesses.
Thanks to the current high vaccination rates of 85-90%, young children in this country rarely die of whooping cough, diphtheria or measles.
Polio vaccine is another public health victory
Lest we become complacent, these diseases have not disappeared, but are maintained in other countries that do not have the money or the will to organize mass vaccination campaigns. They are a plane ride or a vacation away.
If we stop insisting that immunization rates remain high, these diseases will return. And once they are, the cost of treating a disease is high, both in direct medical costs and lost productivity. High rates of preventive immunization strengthen our economy and benefit everyone.
Think about members of your community who have lived with paralysis from polio, or who remember family members they have lost to the disease. Another public health victory is the polio vaccine.
The vaccine became widely available in 1955. Government vaccination campaigns in schools and clinics around the world have prevented death and disability. If we can continue, polio will soon be eradicated from all over the world.
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Why require people to be vaccinated?
COVID-19 vaccine requirements in certain workplaces certainly make sense.
Hospitals, for example, need to protect their staff and patients.
The military is demanding COVID vaccination of all active-duty military personnel and all reserves, so that soldiers are ready for deployment.
It also makes good sense to require that employees who work inside commercial planes and crowded airports be vaccinated, given the airborne nature of the virus and the proximity.
Other vital professions should also consider requiring the vaccine to protect their workforce, customers, supply chain and our economic well-being. If we could reach 85-90% of our vaccinated population, we would get herd immunity and the disease would be largely conquered.
We have lost 724,000 lives to COVID in this country. It has weakened our economy and has become highly politicized.
There has always been a small but very large minority of our population who have resisted vaccinations. Internet communications have amplified them. Infectious diseases don’t care what you think. They invade and replicate, devastate societies and change history.
When politicians say they want to eliminate vaccination mandates, the result would be a victory for infectious disease. We would lose the ability to effectively apply the tool that has helped us defeat polio, smallpox, childhood illnesses and maintain a healthy population.
Hospitals, the military and other critical businesses would lose the ability to demand vaccines to keep their staff and customers safe.
Why would politicians advocate this? It is a very shortsighted view, totally ignoring the nature of known and emerging infectious diseases and their potential impact on the well-being and strength of our country.
Jane Stoops lives in Loudonville. She holds a Master of Science in Microbiology and is a Clinical Laboratory Scientist employed at the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University. She has spent 41 years fighting infectious diseases.