Edward Jenner Vaccinating a Boy
Eugene Ernest Hillemacher
In this age of global travel, can you imagine a world where smallpox still exists? The world would be a very different place, one that I cannot even imagine. The whole dynamic of travel would be very different from the one we experience now. As with the threats of terrorism, many of our freedoms would be in jeopardy, not to mention our lives. Smallpox was a scourge on humanity, a highly infectious communicable disease that killed over one-third of the people it infected, and left the survivors horribly disfigured. Just in the 20th century alone, smallpox was responsible for an estimated 500 million deaths.
In 1796 an English physician by the name of Edward Jenner noticed that milkmaids who had been exposed to cowpox, did not develop smallpox. Jenner took the fluid from a cowpox pustule on a dairymaid's hand and inoculated an 8-year-old boy. Six weeks later, he exposed the boy to smallpox, and the boy did not develop smallpox, but remained well. Jenner coined the term "vaccine" from the word "vaca" which means "cow" in Latin. By 1800 about 100,000 people had been vaccinated worldwide. After vaccination campaigns throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the World Health Organization certified the eradication of smallpox in 1979. One of the scourges of mankind no longer exists.
Now, can you imagine a world without cancer? Scientists have long believed that many cancers are the result of viral infections, and if so, a vaccine can be developed to prevent those cancers. Can you imagine ~~ a vaccination against cancer? Another of the scourges of mankind could be eradicated, or at least greatly reduced. Well, such a vaccine exists right now. It is called Gardasil, and it protects folks from cancers that develop after they have been exposed to certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV), specifically HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18. HPV types 16 and 18 cause an estimated 70% of cervical cancers, and are responsible for most HPV-induced anal, vulvar, vaginal, and penile cancers. Farah Fawcett died of anal cancer at the age of 61. It is a horrible disease, and she died a horrible, protracted death.
Newflash: Human sexuality is here to stay, and unfortunately, along with it the sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are here to stay as well. And here is the shocking news: Of the 18.9 million new cases of STIs each year, 9.1 million (48%) occur among 15- to 24-year-olds, even though this age group represents only one-quarter of the sexually active population. According to a 2008 study by the CDC, an estimated 1 in 4 teenage girls has at least one STI at any given time.
There has been a lot of backlash against Gardasil in recent weeks ~~ thank you Michele Bachmann ~~ and I think it is unbelievably ignorant. It's not a moral issue, it's a medical issue. If there are opportunities to save millions of lives, how can anyone disagree with that? Vaccines have side effects? Oh, gosh, well, so do smallpox and cancer, the main side effect being death, the second side effect being permanent disfigurement. The smallpox vaccine was not without side effects and in a few cases, approximately 2 in one million, the side effects were severe. But if you really want to know the pros and cons of those odds, ask someone who has had smallpox or cancer.
Every human being on earth should be vaccinated with Gardasil, before they become sexually active. Period. Full stop. End of story. I feel very strongly about this, and I hope the scope of ignorance represented by people like Michele Bachmann will also be eradicated as soon as possible. Is there a vaccination against ignorance? Oh, how I wish...