Recently I received a collection of papers and reminiscences from one of my siblings about one of the branches of my family on my mother’s side.
What was so striking was the prevalence of disease and illness that affected my forbears. I had an uncle who died at age 10 of scarlet fever. My grandfather, who I also never met, died of pernicious anemia, a condition related to the absence of Vitamin B12 in the digestive process.
My sister, thankfully, survived polio as a girl but later succumbed to cancer as an older adult; this has significance because the man who was president at the time of my sister’s birth, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was also a polio survivor, but he needed assistive braces to walk and stand up.
Then there are the stories of my surviving uncle who lived to age 96 and his sister, my mother, who lived to age 91. What makes this noteworthy is that their mother, my grandmother, survived to just age 72. The reason for this I suspect was that my grandmother was a smoker. Without cigarettes my grandmother would probably have lived another 20 years.
Medicine has made enormous strides in my lifetime as polio was eradicated and vaccinations have prevented modern generations of youngsters from getting all kinds of illnesses. But even my wife had whooping cough as an infant, something now rarely contracted which was once common.
In fact, looking at family genealogy, what is striking about many of them is how many children did not survive infancy and childhood. This has all changed as now it is nearly routine for children to get the MMR or mumps, measles and rubella vaccination and others.
As a kid I had mumps, which was a troublesome illness to overcome.
As for scarlet fever, that was cured with antibiotics and so is also never seen now. Smallpox also used to wipe out populations particularly native Americans, who never acquired resistance immunities when exposed to it. But chicken pox is still not uncommon and occurs though not as commonly as it used to.
There’s a generation or 2 of people who have no memories of any of this and who view the promotion of vaccines as sinister conspiracies from the medical-pharmaceutical complex. Vaccinators are viewed as people who would inject their precious babies for their own personal profit.
Anti-vaxxers have spread falsehoods about vaccinations causing autism, a charge which has been thoroughly refuted, but a fact which has been widely ignored among anti-vaccine cultists.
One of those anti-vaxxers is from my own family and for the nearly dozen years since I have had grandchildren I’ve kept my fingers crossed that the kids would never get these illnesses, even though their mother was vaccinated as a kid. That the grandchildren have not contracted the illnesses has to be attributed to herd immunity, which is that their peers have been vaccinated and the diseases have not gotten any footholds within their the children’s peer groups.
Tuberculosis is a disease that can never be eradicated. My great-grandmother on my father’s side died of it, leaving 3 children, including my grandmother, to be raised by her sister. As a nurse in a prison I see medical authorities are vigilant not to allow inmates to be exposed to tuberculosis because it can be spread airborne, especially in close quarters.
It is interesting that anti-vaxxers are not just in the western world. Health workers in Africa, for example, frequently encounter hostility and resistance from parents in remote African villages who are suspicious of vaccines and vaccinators. Some health workers have even been murdered by these villagers.
I don’t give the health industry a free pass on everything. There are probably a number of exotic vaccinations that can be eliminated, but the basic childhood vaccines should still be given.
And don’t be misled by doctor claims that Perdue Pharma, the maker of Oxycontin, deceived them to write out too many prescriptions for pain killers. It was the doctors’ job to know what the medications do and to limit their patients’ access to medicines that are not good for them in excess.